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Guest post: John Richardson

Comics UK Forum poster Goof has kindly contributed the following appreciation of artist John Richardson, along with a detailed comics bibliography. Many thanks indeed, Goof!

John Richardson, who died earlier this year, was not a Jinty artist. He drew no serial stories for Jinty – in fact, he did few full serials of any kind – and is represented only by a few reprints. Yet for other girls’ comics, especially Tammy and Misty, he produced a body of brilliant and original work across a wide range of stories from the darkest horror to the craziest knockabout comedy.

Like nearly all artists who worked for girls’ comics, he was largely anonymous to his many readers, and information about his life isn’t easy to find. Born in 1943 in the North Yorkshire mining town of Eston, he started working as a commercial artist after studying at Art College. Before this, he once assured an interviewer, he had tried his hand at farm work and professional wrestling.

His earliest work includes what seems to have been his first foray into girls’ comics, the 1964 Bunty serial “Phantom of the Fells”. During the 1970’s, he worked on several IPC girls’ comics such as June and Princess Tina, and did a serial and some smaller items for D C Thomson’s Mandy. He also did a couple of series for Cheeky Weekly comic, and the cartoon strip “Amanda” for the Sun newspaper.

Around this time he also began his long run of work for Tammy, which over the years made a significant contribution to the character of the comic, especially his series of “Cover Girl” covers which did so much to define to look of the comic between 1973 and 1980, and his period as the main artist for the “Wee Sue” series. He continued to produce stories and covers for Tammy until the end of 1983.

He contributed short complete stories to Misty throughout its two year run, as well as the serial “End of the Line“, and took full advantage of the extra space which Misty offered to artists to create some of his most spectacular work.

During the 1980’s, he drew for 2000AD, especially “The Mean Arena”, a science fiction serial that he also wrote, and contributed to the serials “Ro-Jaws’ Robo Tales” and “The V.C.s”. He also drew two serials and a short story for Scream! He drew and wrote the cartoon strip “Flatmates” for the Sunday People newspaper, and strips for specialist car and bike magazines. Most memorably perhaps out of his cartoon work, he created the Goonish comedy science fiction strip “Jetman” for a computer magazine called Crash.

Unlike a number of artists who worked on IPC’s girls’ comics, it seems that he didn’t move over to D C Thomson after the last IPC picture story girls’ comics ceased publication in the mid-1980s, although he did produce two Judy Picture Story Libraries in 1983 and 1984. I have not been able to find any further girls’ comic work after the demise of Tammy, and it looks as if he may have stopped working for comics altogether around this time. The latest comics work that I have been able to trace was in two issues of the Enid Blyton’s Adventure Magazine, published in July and December 1986.

It’s not clear why he did comparatively few full serials during his 20 years drawing for comics. I have seen it suggested that he had no great liking for drawing stories written by other people, and this may have discouraged him from working on long serials, where the artist would normally work more or less under instructions from the writer. It may be no accident that some of his best and most inventive comedy is in the Tammy series of Cover Girl covers, where he was free to interpret the joke in his own way because the jokes were purely visual. Many brilliant examples of this series are illustrated in Mistyfan’s History of Tammy Covers on this website.

He had the kind of style which once seen, was instantly recognisable, and yet this didn’t seem to limit his ability to adapt to almost any kind of story. He once said in interview that his work as a last-minute substitute for other artists had helped him to “learn from other people and gradually evolve something unique”. It’s an interesting thought that imitating the styles of other people can help you develop an original style of your own, but certainly his frequent work as a filler artist didn’t stop him developing a highly individual and spontaneous style, with a good feel for human anatomy and convincingly realistic facial expression.

Although he could turn his hand to almost any type of story, his best work in girls’ comic stories was in horror and farcical comedy. He had a tremendous flair for the grotesque, and he was able to turn this to account equally in horror and comedy. There’s nothing unusual about extravagantly hideous creatures in horror tales, but John Richardson’s had an exuberance which was all his own, like this example from “The Uglies” (Misty 14 April 1978):

John Richardson artwork from Misty

He could handle bizarre comedy with the same panache, even when the subject was something as humdrum as a parking meter (“Stella Starr – Policewoman from Outer Space” from Mandy Annual 1975):
John Richardson artwork from Mandy

But the impact of his work didn’t depend solely on his command of the grotesque and fantastic. He could convey the same chill in a horror story by the power of suggestion, through his flair for facial expression, and ability to compose a powerful page layout. From “Black Sunday” (Misty Summer Special 1978) and “Old Ethna’s House” (Misty Holiday Special 1979):

John Richardson artwork from MistyBlack Sunday

John Richardson artwork from MistyOld Ethna

He was also able to draw on his cartooning experience to enliven slapstick comedy stories, as in the Judy Picture Story Library “Dora’s Dragon”, where a dragon costume brought to life by a witch becomes a boisterous mini-Godzilla enthusiastically devouring anything that moves:

John Richardson artwork from Judy PSLDora’s Dragon

Although his style was so distinctive, he was well able to adapt it when taking over an established series from another artist. The Tammy series “Wee Sue” is an interesting example of this. He succeeded to the original Tammy series artist Mario Capaldi in the issue of 14 September 1974, but unusually, he did so in mid-episode. Here are the first two pages of the episode:

Mario Capaldi/John Richardson artwork from Tammy

John Richardson artwork from Tammy
Page one is clearly in Capaldi’s style, and I would say that the end of page two is clearly by
Richardson, although he has toned down the normal character of his work to harmonise with Capaldi’s. But at what point did he take over? I personally think that Capaldi drew the first three panels of the second page, and Richardson did the rest. The point is debatable, but it certainly shows how well Richardson was able to adapt his style to conform to the very different style of another artist. By way of contrast, here’s a later episode where he has remodelled Sue’s enemy Miss Bigger from the severe and tight-lipped martinet created by Capaldi into a crazed hobgoblin in his own distinctive style (issue of 26 February 1977):

John Richardson artwork from Tammy

I strongly feel that this art should be known and celebrated far more than it is, but as so often with girls’ comics, the first stumbling-block to recognition is simply a lack of reliable information about what work the artist did. Contributors to the Comics UK Forum have compiled a list of the work he is known to have done for girls’ comics, and this will be posted next. Inevitably, it’s not complete, and we would be grateful to hear from anybody who can offer further additions, or spot any mistakes. If you can give us any help with this, please let us know.