In Memoriam: Illustrator and Comic Artist Shirley Bellwood

Shirley Bellwood. Photo courtesy author Max Harris
Shirley Bellwood. Photo courtesy author Max Harris

The very welcome reveal of 2000AD‘s cover of their first Misty collection – featuring art from a 1980 Misty Special – came tinged with the sad news of the passing of the much-admired artist who painted it, Shirley Bellwood, who had been ill for some time. She was 84.

Rebellion’s Keith Richardson announced her passing on the Get Misty Back in Print Facebook group last week, revealing he  had been hoping to persuade Shirley to provide an introduction for the new collection and had been trying to make contact with her for the last two months, only to discover she had died in January, aged 84.

Misty - Cover dated 30th September 1978. Art by Shirley Bellwood
Misty – Cover dated 30th September 1978. Art by Shirley Bellwood

“I don’t know what eactly she thought about Misty, but I for one think that she was a massive talent who deserves a lot more recognition for her work in the industry,” he commented.

Many downthetubes readers of a certain age will certainly agree with Keith’s view and will, I’ve no doubt, vividly recall her striking work on girls comics, particularly her inspiring covers.

“Shirley’s covers for Misty were iconic and set the tone for the comic,” Pat Mills told downthetubes. “They conveyed an air of magic, mystery and femininity that was unique and compelling.”

Shirley grew up in Pool in Wharfedale in Yorkshire, later living in Malvern, and studied at Leeds College of Art and later lived in Malvern.

Early comic strip art by Shirley Bellwood from the C Arthur Pearson published in the romance digest, Glamour LIbrary.
Early comic strip art by Shirley Bellwood from the C Arthur Pearson published in the romance digest, Glamour LIbrary.

A highly-accomplished illustrator and painter, Shirley Bellwood’s work on girls’ comics began in the 1950s, initially, it is believed, on on C Arthur Pearson’s Glamour Library; going on to work on titles such as Valentine, Romeo, Mirabelle and Roxy.

A page from an episode of "The Ghost Hunters" from an issue of Sally, published in 1971, drawn by Shirley Bellwood. 
A page from an episode of “The Ghost Hunters” from an issue of Sally, published in 1971, drawn by Shirley Bellwood.

Later, she would work on Sally, Jinty and, of course, Misty, making the character’s fictional editor her own – indeed, the character was based on her own likeness – on both covers and in internal illustrations, some used as posters.

An illustration for a text story, "Masquerade", published in the 1979 Jinty Special
An illustration for a text story, “Masquerade”, published in the 1979 Jinty Special

Despite the quality of her work, particularly on Misty, very little has survived down the years, her art going the way of other greats such as Frank Hampson and lost in company clear outs, office moves – or to deliberate destruction.

2000AD/Rebellion's upcoming collection of two Misty stories utilises art by Shirley Bellwood originally used for the cover of the 1980 Misty Holiday Special
2000AD/Rebellion’s upcoming collection of two Misty stories utilises art by Shirley Bellwood originally used for the cover of the 1980 Misty Holiday Special

As well as her memorable comics work, she illustrated for many publishers, including the Folio Society, including He Knew He Was Right in 1989 and Ralph the Heir and La Vendee, all written by Anthony Trollope in the 1990s. She was also one of the illustrators who worked on a series of Dennis Wheatley story collections published by Heron Books between 1972 and 1977, providing art for Three Inquisitive People in 1973.

Her work also included illustrations for titles as varied as How to Sing by Graham Hewitt (1978); Twelve Little Girls (Purple Shooting Star) (1984); Petticoat Smuggler by Helen Cresswell (1985) Double Holiday by Michael Hardcastle (1985); Dan’s Secret Pony by Helen Muir (1985); Holidays With My Uncle by Joyce Weldon-Searle, published in 1992; and Trolley Trouble by Heidi Anne Whyle (1993), one of a series of readers for African students which aimed to help them to develop an awareness and a love of language, and consists of stories from all over Africa. The art in the latter reflects Shirley’s love of children as a subject, seen in so much of her work, who often featured in her commercial work and paintings.

Dan's Secret Pony, illustrated by Shirley Bellwood
Dan’s Secret Pony, illustrated by Shirley Bellwood

She also illustrated Jenny and Grandpa: What is it Like to be Old? by Carloyn Nystrom, published in 1994 and Towns and Cities (Step-By-Step Geography) by Patience Coster in 1998.

One of Shirley Bellwood's illustrations for a 2012 edition of The Mill on the Floss
One of Shirley Bellwood’s illustrations for a 2012 edition of The Mill on the Floss

In 2012, she provided a number of illustrations for a new edition of The Mill on the Floss, published in English and German by Hueber Verlag. In 2014, Oxford University Press re-published Oxford Reading Tree TreeTops Classics: Level 17: Stories Of Sherlock Holmes by Trevor Millum, first published in 2006, which includes illustrations by Shirley.

The Unremembered Inn by Max Harris.
The Unremembered Inn by Max Harris.

Despite illness, she continued to work. Her last commercial illustration work was for a book entitled The Unremembered Inn by Max Harris in 2015.

One of Shirley's drawings for "The Unremembered Inn". Author Max Harris tells me this depicts an actual event from real life – in the prison in Gloucester Castle on 16th June 1677. Mary Ellery is pleading to save the life of her husband William, imprisoned for debt. "I gave Shirley just a brief description of the events which took place in the prison cell on that day," says Max, "and was absolutely astounded at how accurately she interpreted the scene in William Ellery’s cell (including the rat!). "She was a most remarkable and gifted artist and it was a great privilege to have met her."
One of Shirley’s drawings for The Unremembered Inn. Author Max Harris tells me this depicts an actual event from real life – in the prison in Gloucester Castle on 16th June 1677. Mary Ellery is pleading to save the life of her husband William, imprisoned for debt. “I gave Shirley just a brief description of the events which took place in the prison cell on that day,” says Max, “and was absolutely astounded at how accurately she interpreted the scene in William Ellery’s cell (including the rat!).
“She was a most remarkable and gifted artist and it was a great privilege to have met her.”
Another image from The Unrembered Inn, portraying an event that took place in the lodging  house of John Fennymore in Suffolk Street in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields in November 1771.  "This was not quite as I suggested to Shirley but I think the end result was much better than my ideas," notes Max. "Even  a little ‘comic book’ humour seems to have crept in"
Another image from The Unrembered Inn, portraying an event that took place in the lodging house of John Fennymore in Suffolk Street in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields in November 1771.
“This was not quite as I suggested to Shirley but I think the end result was much better than my ideas,” notes Max. “Even a little ‘comic book’ humour seems to have crept in”

In the wider art world, Shirley was highly regarded as a still life and portrait painter, the subject of major exhibitions at the Contemporary Portrait Society, which holds annual exhibitions at a variety of galleries, and Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Her portraits were commissioned by numerous people in many walks of life, including politics, the arts, journalism and show business.

An illustration of author Mike Tomkies, "The Wilderness Man", and his wild cat Kitten, painted by Shirley in 1981. As well as being a writer Mike, who lived on Loch Shiel and he and Shirley were great friends. She illustrated some, if not all, of his books describing his life in the wilds of Scotland. He died in October 2016.
An illustration of author Mike Tomkies, “The Wilderness Man”, and his wild cat Kitten, painted by Shirley in 1981, courtesy of Basil Sellwood, a friend of Shirley’s. As well as being a writer Mike was an accomplished and much-respected naturalist who lived on Loch Shiel for many years. Basil tells us he and Shirley were great friends. “She illustrated some, if not all, of his books describing his life in the wilds of Scotland,” he informs us.  Mike  continued writing into his 80s, but died in October 2016.

It’s very sad that this much admired artist has passed unnoticed by the comics community, although it is not, perhaps surprising as she made no appearances relating to her work in the industry. Her first ever convention appearance, planned in 2014 and announced here on downthetubes, was cancelled due to ill health.

In 2014, she was invited to a ‘Draw Misty For Me’ panel with Patrick Mills as part of The British Library’s Comics Unmasked programme. Not well enough to attend, comics historian Paul Gravett notes Pat Mills talked with Julia Round about Misty – and the whole audience signed a Get Well card which she was very pleased to receive.

“Sadly, her health prevented us from recording an interview with her for the Comix Creatrix exhibition,” says Paul.

An unpublished Misty image is part of the Comix Creatrix until 15th May at House of Illustration, loaned by David Roach. It is, possibly, the only surviving piece of her Misty original artwork.

“Everything else was destroyed,” says Paul Gravett. “And such was the disrespect of the publishers for comics art, this piece was saved only because it was being used as a cutting board, with a two-line cross sliced through it.”

The only known surviving 'Misty' art by Shirley Bellwood, restored by artist David Roach. It was discovered being used as a cutting board.
The only known surviving ‘Misty’ art by Shirley Bellwood, restored by artist David Roach. It was discovered being used as a cutting board.

“There was a sizeable chunk cut out of the top left chunk of the page,” David Roach reveals, “just to the left of Misty’s face, so that whole area was drawn and inked by me, carrying on the building that Shirley had drawn and trying to guess what might have been thee orignally. So… it’s a bit of a collaboration.”

Shirley was an artist of considerable and distinct talent. It is a terrible shame that fans of her work were never able to have the opportunity to directly thank her incredible contributions to British comics. Perhaps, like the late Ken Barr, she preferred her privacy over much deserved public acclaim.

We extend our sympathies to her friends and family.

Shirley Bellwood, born 20th May 1931, died 1st February 2016

Web Links

Children and Spaniel by Shirley Bellwood
Children and Spaniel by Shirley Bellwood

• GreatNewsForAllReaders: Misty covers by Shirley Bellwood – A Gallery (and a look back at Misty with a free downloadable story index here)

• A Resource on Jinty: Shirley Bellwood posts

• The Official Misty web site: www.mistycomic.co.uk

• The Bronze Age of Blogs looks back on Misty here

• UK Comics Wikia: Shirley Bellwood

Books illustrated by Shirley Bellwood on amazon.co.uk

Mike Tomkies’ nature books on Amazon.co.uk (there is no indication of which of these Shirley may have illustrated)

Compiled with thanks to Jenni Scott, Paul Gravett, GreatNewsForAllReaders, Max Harris, Pat Mills, David Roach, Julia Round, Philip Rushton and Basil Sellwood

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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