THE GREAT COMIC ARTISTS

#1 ROY WILSON

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Roy Wilson was one of a handful of really outstanding comics artists whose work provided the backbone and template for comics illustration for many years.I can’t imagine an artist whose work hummed with more jollity and kinetic life than Mr Wilson ‘s. Many artists are taken for granted and I suppose that as a child , seeing his work in comics I never really thought that behind all those lively illustrations there was a comic genius at work. Much like great comedy or any great art, no one really sees all that background work which brings the final result.marmy
Roy Wilson might be largely unknown because he succumbed to lung cancer at the relatively young age of sixty five ,in 1965, long before the real appreciation of comic art began in modern times .He had been born in 1900 and had lived through the two world wars and died just as the 1960s really began to swing.In that time  he contributed to a long list of comic papers which included Jester , the Valiant and the Buster. His last strip was one based on the very popular comedy team, “Morcambe and Wise”.

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I hadn’t properly noticed his work until I purchased a copy of the book “Happy Days-One Hundred Years Of Comics” by the late comics artist and collector, Denis Gifford .This was in 1975 ,when books about comics were ,indeed rare publications; few had been published before this time and usually concentrated on Amercian comics. Denis’s book was a large colourful hardback which concentrated almost entirely on UK comics from the past century and earlier. In fact , its starting point was an edition of the Victorian era’s “Funny Folks” from July 1875 and  from this point proceeded to display a full-page reprint of comics from every succeeding decade until the  then present -day of the 197os. It ended with the cover of the more recently published underground comic, ” The Trials of Nasty Tales”, which told its own tale of the failed comics’obscenity trial of  a year or so before.
The book was dedicated to Roy Wilson and the cover sported , possibly one of his greatest triumphs in an astounding rendition of a comic Christmas from the comic which from the book had taken its name, the aforementioned “Happy Days”.

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This was before the television series “Happy Days” of “the Fonz” fame and actually featured mostly comic animals at play.That cover was such a stand-out of artistic skill and movement  that I became intrigued by the artist who had rendered such a feast of action and fun. Although the book was reasonably art-sized for the time, it really should have been made tabloid-sized had that been a financial possibility ,because such was the detail and intricacy of the drawing that much of the wonder would always be lost in a much -reduced format. Even so, there was enough on display to intrigue even the casual comics fan.Roy Wilson ‘s revival was underway.

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Some eight years later , Alan Clark and David Ashford brought out the definitive “The Comic Art Of Roy Wilson” in 1983. Alan Clarke was already the  creator and producer of the increasingly professional “Golden Fun” fanzine which unusually for comics fanzines then and now, concentrated on the great UK humour comics and comics creators of the past instead of the usual superhero or action -comics fare. With this new colourful hardback book , the compilers did not dissappoint.This newer book contained page after page of some of the very best comic artwork of the 20th century.Because the aimed- for audience had been  ostensibly children , the artistry had been largely taken- for -granted and usually dismissed as throwaway commercial art. The fact is that few could draw and paint comics with the lightness of touch, the easy comedy and the sheer joie de vivre that Roy Wilson imparted into his creations.Nobody laughed as heartily or failed so foolishly as one of Roy Wilson’s creations. No one ‘s else’ s use of the sable paintbrush could match the lively ,springing ink-line that he used seemingly with abandon and without any conscious thought. That was a probably an actual  misreading of his skills, because like much of this kind of “spontaneity” the artwork was actually deftly planned for ultimate effect and dismissed and redrawn if found wanting in some way.

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Last year I was pleased to acquire ,in auction ,some original drawings by Roy Wilson and at some reasonable prices, given that original comic artwork can be extremely expensive to buy ,these days.This was not just any kind of original artwork ,either . Usually the artwork for sale will be at the final stage for production purposes.In other words, it will have been pencilled either roughly or completely and then over-inked with Indian ink to complete the outlines and “spot-ins” for  the black and shaded areas .

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It is usually then cleaned -up in readiness for scanning or photographing for printing.These original drawings ,containing some of the artist’s commonplace figures appear to be dated from the 1940s or thereabouts.One of the characters appears to be a hapless soldier or a “Dad’s Army” type of home-guard ,which might be from his “Private Muggins” strip which he drew for “The Wonder” comic, while other drawings look much like an episode of the Wilson strip “Marmaduke and His Ma” going by the characters and the content.In some cases the artwork is crucially unfinished allowing the viewer to see inside the process as the artist worked. Both the pencils and unfinished inks are there together. They may have been preliminaries or possibly discarded for whatever reason but they are more fascinating for all of that.

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Royston Warner Wilson was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, on 9 July 1900,.He was the son of Alfred Amos Wilson, a draper, and his wife Jessie Eveline, née Cooper. The family later moved to Norwich. At the age of  12 he showed promise by winning  a painting competition and later went on to study art  at the Norwich School of Art.He later became   apprenticed to a furniture designer.

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During the First World War,he worked as a junior draughtsman on the Air Board Staff until 1918, just  a day before the armistice, when, although the war was ended , he was called up to serve. He served in the military for two years  until 1920. That  same year he met comic artist Don Newhouse and became his assistant. They worked on comic strips together  which included “Chips Comic Cinema”in  Illustrated Chips, 1921, “Funny Films” in Jolly Jester Comic , 1922 , “Reel Comedies”  in Funny Wonder Comic, 1922, “Basil and Bert”  in Jester, 1923-40, “Three Jolly Sailor Boys” in Comic Cuts, 1926, “The Happy Family” in Larks Comic , 1927, and “Lizzie and her Comical Courtiers” in Jester Comic, 1931.

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In 1924 Roy married Gertude Wilson in 1924. In the late 1920s  the aforementioned Newhouse introduced him to Amalgamated Press editor Leonard Stroud, when  he started getting work for himself alone , beginning with “Steve and Stumpy” (1930-32) and “Molly and Mick” (1931-34) for Butterfly comic . Gertrude   also gained employment  from Stroud as a writer.

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Wilson left Newhouse’s employ in 1933 and  in the 1930s he became one of the Amalgamated Press’ leading humour artists, drawing for Jester comic (“Pop and Mick”, 1931-32), Merry and Bright comic (“Toppy”, 1932-35; “Nelson Twigg”, 1933-35), Crackers  Comic(“Happy Harry and Sister Sue”, 1933-41), Jingles Comic (1934), Sparkler Comic (“Good Knight Gilbert, 1935; “Lieutenant Daring and Jolly Roger”, 1935-37); “Buster, Linda and Pip”, 1937-39), Jolly Comic (“Jack Sprat and Tubby Tadpole”, 1935-37; “Twiddle and Knob”, 1935; “The Captain, the Kid and the Cook”, 1936-37), Golden  Comic (1937), Happy Days  Comic (cover feature “Chimpo’s Circus”, which he was allowed to sign, 1938-39) and Radio Fun  Comic (“George the Jolly Gee-Gee”, 1938-39).

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Roy  served in the Home Guard (colloquially known as “Dad’s Army”) during World War Two and from  the 1940s  he worked for The Wonder comic (“Private Muggins”, based on his Home Guard experience, 1944-46; “Dodger and Diddle”, 1949-53)), Radio Fun  comic (“Stymie and his Magic Wishbone”), Tip Top (“Happy Andy”, 1939-54; “Sunnyside School”, 1949-54)), The Wonder  comic(“Hook, Line and Sinker”, 1949-53), TV Fun comic(“Hoofer the Tee-Vee Gee-Gee”, 1953), Film Fun comic, June (“Cloris and Claire”, 1961-64), Buster comic (“All at Sea”, 1961-64) and Valiant comic (“Percy the Problem Child”, 1962-64). He also drew a children’s feature for Woman’s Own 1947 to 1965. 
Roy Wilson was one of the finest artists ever to work for British comics. He contributed to Amalgamated Press/Fleetway/IPC weeklies for 45 years (1920-1965) and died leaving his wife and two daughters..

UPDATE JAN 2017

Many childrens’ books ,or “juvenilia” as they are sometimes known ,  are  often  difficult to find, given that  in a past- life  they have possibly been treated as no more than ephemeral “toys” or playthings.To find really good pristine copies  is hard.There is usually some damage or heavy wear involved. It is only card and paper , after all and generally the paperstock is quite pulpy and acid -rich.I have many comic annuals from the 1950s through to the 1980s in reasonably good condition.. I would have most of the 1950s and 1960s  “Beano ” annuals, for example and the majority  of these I have tracked down in excellent condition ,after years of searching. They tend to reach some high prices in near -perfect condition so a collector should be prepared to spend in the region of £100 sterling and more, for copies of this vintage. Anything pre-World War 2 is more difficult to discover, if it exists at all.World Wars tend to destroy much.For this reason I was pleased to recently find a reasonable example of the quite rare “Funny Wonder Annual”  from 1938.This would have been on sale for  some lucky child’s Christmas stocking for that magical Christmas  morning in 1937, two years before war broke out.The copy I found is by no means perfect but it appears to be complete, if a little careworn. The paper stock is  of a thick ,pulpy sort .Each page is almost like heavy board or more accurately  like a type of heavyweight watercolour paper and of similar consistancy.There are only  around 120 pages but the book is quite thick and substantial because of the weight of the paper.The covers are of substantially heavier board  with front and back full-page illustrations glued on. The spine is of a blue cloth. There may have been additional wraparound covers originally but I have no real knowledge if that was the case.The really charming thing is the Roy Wilson cover artwork , which is what really makes such annuals collectible for me .Inside there is a frontpiece full-colour illustration featuring Charlie Chaplin and there   are  full- page comic pages , sometimes in double spreads or over three consecutive pages ,intermingled with text stories with a single illustration.There are further examples of Wilson’s artwork here too as in his “Pitch and Toss “strip ,featuring the two comic sailors of those names who also appear on the cover, alongside others. Above there is  already an excellent reproduction of the front of this annual , but I am now adding and  including  my own personal copy and  some pages to give a flavour of the entire book

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UPDATE MARCH 2017

I’ve   added  another copy of the “FUNNY WONDER”  series of annuals  to my  collection, just today .This time it is a good, well-preserved  copy of  “FUNNY WONDER ANNUAL ” dated 1940. This now- rare collectible  would have been on sale  in time for  some lucky  child’s Christmas of 1939 , by which time World War 2 had already  broken out . Luckily it survived  the  onslaught  to eventually pop through my letterbox this morning, some seventy eight years later .My copy was finally sourced in  South Africa. It features a stunning cover by Roy Wilson, of course and also some more of his wonderful comic artwork amongst other treasures.

UPDATE APRIL 2017

A new addition to my comics collection in the shape of a very good copy of FUNNY WONDER ANNUAL 1935. This would have been on sale for Christmas 1934.

For more information and illustrations here are a few handy links :

http://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/cloris-and-clare-by-roy-wilson.html?showComment=1427475062937#c5220288523102140397

http://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Roy+Wilson

http://petergraycartoonsandcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/roy-wilson-he-created-british-comic-art.html