We’re sorry to report the passing of veteran comic artist Mike White, probably best known to readers of downthetubes for his art on Roy of the Rovers, Commando, 2000 AD and strips such as “Hell’s Highway” and “Kids Rule OK” for the controversial 1970s comic, Action.
Mike passed this weekend after a long illness.
“We used to meet up for some interesting chats once or twice a year in the Lord Salisbury pub in Saint Martins Lane, London,” recalls artist and friend Keith Page. “he’d been ill for quite a wile but was still drawing for Commando until very recently.”
“His passing will leave a hole in the Commando team,” editor Calum Laird told downthetubes, “but, more importantly, a gap in their lives that his family and friends will not be able to fill. My sympathies go to them.”
In a tribute on his blog, artist Mike Perkins, who also often met Mike for a drink in the same pub, describes him as a “a lovely bloke – with a curmudgeonly streak – accompanied by a plethora of tales.”.
“He arrived in London during ‘The Swinging Sixties’,” Mike recalls, “and, by his accounts, he made the most of it – regaling me with tales of drinking Oliver Reed under the table and another, unmentionable tale, involving Felicity Kendal!”
Writing on The Illustration Art Gallery, Steve Holland notes Yorkshireman Mike was first published by Micron in around 1963/64 in their schoolgirls’ libraries.
White recalled the company would accept artwork from artists who were still learning their craft, but he was not especially proud of these early efforts.
His first major strip was ‘Jackaroo Joe’ for Valiant in 1965-66 – about a swagman from the Australian outback brought to the UK – followed by strips for Fleetway such as ‘School for Spacemen’ for Champion, while also working for DC Thomson, usually working on one-off strips rather than series.
Mike gained regular work on Action in 1976, filling in on episodes of ‘The Running Man’ before taking on the series ‘Hell’s Highway’.
In the revised Action – which was removed from the shelves for some months for retooling – he drew ‘Hellman of Hammer Force’.
He then found regular work in 2000AD, drawing many episodes of ‘Tharg’s Future Shocks’, ‘Ro-Jaws Robo Tales’ and ‘Tharg’s Time Twisters’. Of note for the SF weekly is his art for the Abelard Snazz strories, plus a run on ‘The Mean Arena’ in 1981-82.
White racked up a considerable number of football strips for both Fleetway and DC Thomson, for titles such as Champ and DC Thomson’s Football Library title, despite knowing little of the game, drawing ‘Roy of the Rovers’ for six year, from August 1986 to October 1992. The official Roy of the Rovers web site notes Mike gave Roy a more powerful, muscular look.
One of Mike’s most popular covers was for the book Roy of the Rovers – The Playing Years.
“I worked with Mike when he was doing stuff for the Football Libraries,” recalls editor DC Thomson Bill McLoughlin. “He was a good artist and a good draughtsman, never any problem with his layouts. He was in great demand, so I phoned him on a regular basis to badger him into to taking on a story.
“We moaned about life and things in general, but always with his sharp sense of humour shining through. He would take a story and we would put no deadline on it. When he was ready, he did it. A great artist and a great guy.”
His last comics work was, of course, for Commando, his most recently published cover appearing last year (Commando 4436).
“When I took over Commando Mike had retired from work due to really bad arthritis that would no longer respond to treatment so I didn’t think I’d be using him at all,” recalls Calum Laird. “However he did manage to get further treatment and that allowed him back to the drawing board, initially on covers and later on full books. We were delighted to get him back on the team.
“He was working through Pat Kelleher’s Temple Rogers Agency at the time and he’d told Pat that he was worried that his quality might have dropped off due to the arthritis. This was simply not the case – his line was as crisp and accurate as ever. In fact, because we didn’t put a deadline on a script for him, he could take as much time as he wanted and the result was a really polished job. Great for Commando!
“His last work for us came in just before Christmas and was as fine as ever. He himself was never anything less that a total professional.
“My dealings with him were by phone. Despite his years in London he never lost his original accent. He’d a dry sense of humour and never trusted the Post Office. He was always re-assured when I called to let him know a cover or a batch of artwork had arrived. The curse of the freelance I suppose.”
Comics archivist Steve Holland notes White was convinced that comics were not going to last and began requesting that his agent find him illustration work, mainly for for historical educational books published by various firms.
One commission was one of four new Royal Mail Millennium stamps, issued in June 1999 entitled “World Cup” which celebrates England’s win in 1966. The stamp shows former England and West Ham United captain, the late great Bobby Moore, holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy, with the famous twin towers of Wembley in the background.
“It’s my belief that Mike was in love with the theatre and felt compelled to pursue this as a career,” notes Mike Perkins. “I have no idea why he didn’t but am glad that he chose the path he did – enriching so many lives with his artwork even if he himself believed he left no lasting impression unlike those talented ‘kids’ Bolland and Gibbons.
“I like to think that, in our times drinking in the Lord Salisbury pub, I had persuaded him, just a tiny bit, that his work was, indeed, influential on, at least, my life.”
Online Credit Notes
Compiled with thanks to Keith Page, Jeremy Briggs, Calum Laird and Bill McLoughlin.