Bringing Modern Toss to American Culture

The two questions people ask us most about what we do is where do you get your ideas from and how do you earn a living drawing cack-handed cartoons of demented idiots swearing at each other?
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The two questions people ask us most about what we do is where do you get your ideas from and how do you earn a living drawing cack-handed cartoons of demented idiots swearing at each other? We don't know the answer to either of these but it probably has something to do with living in modern England. With that in mind, we're really looking forward to seeing what American TV audiences will make of our foul Olde World 'ripe' language when Modern Toss joins IFC's Tuesday night Automat line-up on March 17.

We first started writing and drawing cartoons when we met up at Loaded magazine back in the mid-90s, where we were both part of the original team. Loaded was an instant success and changed men's magazines in Britain overnight. It was like being in a rock band. Everyone was drunk all day and used to eat out of bins and sleep under their desks like dogs. One of the first things we did there was a cartoon strip about a psychotic 60s style cockney crook called Villain. It didn't have any jokes or plot in it and it unsettled lot of readers. After that, we sat down and had a bit of a re-think and came up with the much more popular 'Office Pest' - a long running cartoon strip dedicated to experimental violence in the work place. Looking back it was probably where the idea for Modern Toss got started.

The first Modern Toss comic came out in 2004. Our main inspiration for it was that we were both fed up with working for other people. Much of what we do is still about that - finding new ways to tell people to fuck off. It's a very healthy English thing.

The characters we create are mostly based on people we see hanging around shopping centres arguing with each other or just staring at things. English people tend to have very suppressed, simmering tempers that build up for ages, years even, and then suddenly burst out like unblocked drains in a torrent of violent verbal abuse. More often then not, it's aimed at someone who has pushed in front of you in a bus queue. What we do is capture that moment in pencil and preserve it forever. It's our meat and potatoes.

Before the first Modern Toss comic came out, we'd already made our first foray onto the web by putting some cartoons featuring 'Mr. Tourette', a much misunderstood French sign writer whose attempts to re-brand businesses often end in obscenity and embarrassment for all concerned, on our own Modern Toss website in 2003. The site grew from there and we just kept adding a few more every month.

Once our first comic book was complete, we took the first batch into London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in a shopping trolley and the bloke in charge there bought the lot. He moved all the subsidized art magazines out of the way and stuck our comic in a prime spot. It sold out really quickly so we had a go at a second issue, which was even better. Later that year the publishers at Macmillan's whacked both issues together in a bumper cartoon book and it became a best seller in the Christmas market. Since then, we've done 3 more.

After the success of the comics, the famous British street artist, Banksy, rang up and invited us to design some prints for him. We offered him a range of jokes. One of the most popular turned out to be one from our 'Work' range where a man is on the phone saying "I can't come in today so fuck off". Like most of our stuff, it hit a haiku style nerve somewhere. He also invited our character 'Mr. Tourette' to do a sign for his art exhibition shop window. There was a queue round the block in London to watch the words "STINKING ART PISS" being removed by Westminster council two hours after the opening.

The first television series commission came as a bit of a surprise. Some feller from Channel 4 (in the UK) just rang us up and said "Do you want to make a TV version of it," and we said "Alright." We always thought Modern Toss would make a good TV show, but being that all our jokes only lasted 2 seconds, we couldn't figure out how we were going to fill up a full half an hour without writing 3500 jokes per episode. Luckily a few knowledgeable TV people showed us some tricks of the trade, including how to make a single joke last 15 minutes, which turned out to be quite useful. We carried the idea over to an even more successful second series and were nominated for a Palm d'Or award (the highest prize given for Short Films at the Cannes Film Festival) for our experimental work in the field. Tasty!

With all our success, we also soon realized that even our basic brand of animation was going to take the two of us ages to do, so we came up with the idea to pay some real 'people' to muck about instead while we pointed a camera at them. The process turned out to be much quicker and easier. The challenge came in finding people who looked like they came from the world of Toss. We were very lucky in coming up with a crop of top notch idiots who looked brilliant and didn't care what we told them to do.

People are always asking us what our favourite swear word is, but the answer is we haven't really got one. We like them all. Actually we're more into combination swear words than singular usage. Adding a swear word to a normal everyday object and then bolting a verb on the end achieves some surprising result, for example 'Shouting Fuck Trumpet'. Not bad. We can work with that.

Much like the Incredible Hulk, we like to regularly move on and try out different things. One of our latest projects is a range of plastic bags with motivational messages to help kick start the ailing British economy. The first design "BUY MORE SHIT OR WE'RE ALL FUCKED" is already a UK bag sensation. We're knocking them out for a quid each to show that we're prepared to knuckle down and do our bit!

Check out Modern Toss beginning Tuesday, March 17 at 11pm et/pt on IFC.

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