In Memoriam: Gordon Bell

We’re sorry to report the passing of another British comics great – comic artist Gordon Bell, whose work most recently appeared in DC Thomson’s Courier newspaper under the byline Fax, but who is fondly remembered by many for his work for The Beano (on strips such as “Pup Parade”) and Sparky (on “Spoofer McGraw”, one of my favourite humour strips).

Gordon, who had a 57-year career as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist with DC Thomson died suddenly at the age of 79.

Educated in Dundee, his career began at The Beano, in 1958, on a strip called “Pom-Pom”, but he also worked on The Dandy, Buzz, The Topper, The Beezer, Sparky and Nutty before he began work on the Courier, which notes in their obituary that he also worked outside the DC Thomson stable for several publishers including Autocar, feeding his long passion for motorsport.

A classic episode of "Spoofer McGraw" from a 1970 edition of Sparky, drawn by Gordon Bell. Art © DC Thomson

A classic episode of “Spoofer McGraw” from a 1970 edition of Sparky, drawn by Gordon Bell. Art © DC Thomson

 

“Gordon Bell’s distinctive style will be familiar to the millions of children who read his comic strips over the last few decades,” Lew Stringer notes in his tribute to the artist. “… Who can forget the excellent “Spoofer McGraw (He Tells Tall Tales)” in Sparky in the late 1960s to early 1970s? Or the pure fun of “Pup Parade” for The Beano during the same period?

“…Gordon Bell’s artwork had a very pleasant and amusing quality about it. As Peter Gray said over on his blog, Gordon was excellent at drawing funny facial expressions. His work was always joyful and solidly professional.”

“I had the privilege of writing “Pup Parade” for Gordon for 18 months in 1977-78 whilst sub-editor on The Beano,” says creator Steve Bright in a social media comment on Gordon’s passing. “He drew the first script I ever wrote. Lovely man, much underrated artist. Very sad news.”

“His drawings always had a sort of casual and effortless look to them,” says VIZ artist Davey Jones, pointing to this Battle of Trafalgar scene is from a “Spoofer” strip in the 1972 Sparky Book.

A panel from "Spoofer McGraw" for the Sparky Book, 1972, drawn by Gordon Bell.

A panel from “Spoofer McGraw” for the Sparky Book, 1972, drawn by Gordon Bell. Art © DC Thomson

 

“Gordon was one of the first artists I met when I started at DC Thomson,” says DC Thomson’s Iain McLaughlin, who now works on Commando. “Steve Bright was first, then Gordon. I’d seen Gordon’s work for years before but it’s only after I started working here that I started putting faces to the men behind the styles of artwork.

“Gordon was a regular fixture around the offices. He’d be in most days, dropping off pages to one paper and picking up a script from another, always exchanging a greeting or a quick joke before heading home to the drawing board. Gordon’s pages were charming and innocent. As a kid, “Jimmy Jinx” was one of my favourites. As I got older I came to appreciate his “Pup Parade” even more. When I started working on comics I also came to appreciate Gordon’s ability to turn a script around in quick time. Professional, quick and ready to try anything, when comic work became scarcer, Gordon turned his hand to a daily cartoon for newspapers.

“Through my whole career Gordon’s always been part of DC Thomson and we will miss him terribly.”

Of his own work, Gordon said in 2011 that the longest part of the process was thinking time. “I carry a wee notebook everywhere with me and when I have an idea I write it down straight away,” he revealed. “I’ll let it roll around in my head for a while and then sit down and draw it in a couple of hours.

“Then I’ll leave it for a while and come back for another look at it.”

One of Gordon Bell's cartons for The Courier, published under the byline "Fax". Art © DC Thomson

One of Gordon Bell’s cartons for The Courier, published under the byline “Fax”. Art © DC Thomson

Brevity was his biggest challenge, as he explained: “In a cartoon you only have a single frame to hold everything together and only one character can speak.”

Our condolences to Mr Bell’s family and friends at this time.

• Gordon Bell, born 1934, died February 2014. Survived by his wife Isabel, two sons, two stepsons and two grandchildren

Lew Stringer pays tribute to Gordon Bell here on Blimey! It’s Another Blog About Comics

The Courier: Gordon Bell Obituary by Andrew Argo, 17th February 2014

About John Freeman

Editor, writer, curmudgeon. Founder of downthetubes.