The recent death of artist Jack Cunningham ended a long life that contributed to many British girls’ comics. Jack was one of IPC’s unsung heroes, and worked on a number of their women’s magazines and girls’ comics, including Mirabelle (1956-77), Valentine (1957-74), and Princess (1960-67, then becoming Princess Tina 1967-73). Most notably, he was art editor for IPC’s notorious girls’ mystery comic, Misty (1978-80).
Jack Cunningham was born on 17th December 1922 in Scotland. Having worked for an advertising agency in Glasgow, he moved to London in the mid-1950s seeking a publishing role. He held a number of design jobs in advertising and film titling until around 1960 he got an interview with Pat Halls of Newnes and Pearson (publishers of The Strand, Woman’s Weekly and Country Life). Jack had no experience but his art portfolio got him the job. At that time Newnes and Pearson was based in Tower House on Southampton Street, overlooking Covent Garden. Jack picked up the job as he went along, and some of his earliest work was on a title called True Stories (with features of the type “I fell in love with my husband’s brother!”) and various pop magazines.
In 1969, Newnes and Pearson merged with two other companies and became part of IPC magazines (which also incorporated Fleetway). So Jack became part of IPC’s women’s group, working on titles such as Mirabelle alongside editor Malcolm Shaw. He moved to Fleetway House and joined IPC’s Juveniles group when Mirabelle was transferred there just before it folded.
Jack and Malcolm then became half of the editorial team of IPC’s new mystery comic Misty (alongside sub-editor Bill Harrington and art assistant Ted Andrews). Misty grew out of writer Pat Mills’ initial idea for a girls’ horror comic full of psychological drama and dramatic visuals. It was developed by editor Wilf Prigmore into the mystery title it became: following DC Thomson’s Spellbound and offering supernatural stories with a heavy dose of drama and danger. It also followed Mills’ previous creation, 2000AD, in its use of bigger visuals and longer story instalments.
As Misty’s art editor, Jack had a pivotal role in creating the comic, and held this position throughout its entire run. He is described by Misty’s co-creator and first editor Wilf Prigmore as the comic’s “third co-creator”. Jack designed all of the story titles and logos that appeared in Misty, and devised the moon and bat cover logo. He also hand-lettered the weekly greeting from Misty herself that appeared on each inside cover – giving it a personal air and greater flexibility to fit the space available. Jack’s contributions helped develop Misty’s character by sparking elements such as her bat messengers and the Cavern of Dreams.
Much of the art in Misty (and the other girls’ comics) came from freelance Spanish artists provided by various agencies. While using European artists was nothing new, Wilf Prigmore and Jack Cunningham personally recruited lots of the Misty talent on a trip to Spain in 1977. They met with Blas Gallego who put them in touch with many new artists who would contribute artwork to Misty, and its pages contain work from many artists who did not often work on the girls’ titles.
While Misty’s dynamic page layouts owe much to 2000AD and the work of that title’s Art Editor Doug Church, its look also grew from Jack’s vision. As Misty’s art editor he gave direction on some scripts by annotating them before they were sent out. In an interview in 2017 he explained “I didn’t go through the whole script of course, but I designed what the opening page should look like and the end page should look like. And then here and there indicate where it would be better to leave a frame open perhaps. Because it’s very static, and very difficult to get any feeling of movement.”
Similarly, when the completed art was received Jack would resize it if needed, sometimes putting figures outside the frames or removing panel borders. Throughout Misty’s entire run Jack directed and developed the aesthetic of the comic.
Jack was also on the art team behind the 1980s version of Eagle, at least in the early issues, where he worked on layouts for photostrips (and, presumably, other elements of the comic’s look).
Jack died of a severe stroke on 5th August 2018. Like many British comics veterans his contributions to the comics we remember were largely uncredited, but as a senior figure at IPC he shaped many key girls’ titles and will be sadly missed.