We’re sorry to report the passing of veteran artist Mike Noble, perhaps best known for his work on the British weekly comics TV Century 21 – drawing strips such as “Fireball XL5“, “Captain Scarlet” and “Star Trek” and Look-In – working on strips such as “The Famous Five“, “Follyfoot“, “Robin of Sherwood“, “Timeslip” and many more.
Growing up, Mike’s work was amongst the comics art I most admired, and along with Ron Embleton and Frank Bellamy he did much to cement my love of comics from an early age. He will be very much missed and fondly remembered by many British comics fans for his distinctive work that captured the imagination of so many.
Born in Woodford in 1930, Mike grew up in London, and although initially evacuated had many memories of his experiences as a youngster during after World War Two. (He related in one interview in 2011 how he thought he avoided becoming the victim of a V1 bomb).
“As a boy, I used to enjoy drawing,” he explained. “My brother and I used to spend happy hours on a wet afternoon filling up the the drawing books that our parents bought for us.”
After the war he studied commercial, rather than fine art at South West Essex Technical College and School of Art, then St. Martins in London, joining an advertising studio aged 17. In 1949, aged 18, he was called up for National Service and was in the 8th Royal Tank Regiment in North Yorkshire for 18 months, after which he spent three years in the Territorial Army, where his artistic talent came into good use producing graphics of military hardware.
In 1950 he got a job at Cooper’s Studio, London and began working in comics field in 1953, starting with “Simon and Sally“, a strip for Eagle’s younger sibling comic, Robin. He also worked on illustrations for a wide variety of magazines including Titbits, Woman’s Own and John Bull, and the regional newspaper the Birmingham Weekly Post. He often noted how much he owed Leslie Caswell, who he worked with at the time.
In 1958 he started a long run of regular work in comics, with the strips such as “Lone Ranger and Tonto” for Express Weekly and “Range Rider” for TV Comic. But it was his work on TV Century 21, starting with “Fireball XL5” in colour in 1965 that would confirm him as one of the British comic greats, followed by his work on “Zero-X” and “Captain Scarlet“. He eschewed the look of Gerry Anderson’s puppet creations for a realistic more approach that energised the comic – and set his style for decades to come.
Working on “Timeslip” for Look-In and many other strips that revealed his tremendous ability to bring any TV show to the printed page with considerable skill. His work on “Follyfoot” and “The Adventures of Black Beauty” showed off his talent for dynamic figure work as well as his ability to draw realistic animals.
But he was more than happy to turn his talents toward “Worzel Gummidge“, too, capturing lead actor Jon Pertwee’s likeness (as he did many others), perfectly.
Although he retired from drawing comic strips in the 1980s, due to family health problems, he still worked on magazine covers and illustrations, returning to the world of Gerry Anderson in the 1990s, drawing covers and colour pin ups for Fleetway’s Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray comics.
Earlier this year, Network released a special edition Captain Scarlet Blu-Ray collection that included cover art (and a poster) by Mike and Lee Sullivan, and Lee also worked with Mike on the Big Chief Captain Scarlet 12″ figure, due for release soon.
“I’m extremely sad to hear of Mike’s passing,” says Lee. “In my view, he was one of the greatest comic strip artists this country has produced, and a lovely gentleman. It was a privilege to get to know him and collaborate with him in the last few years.”
In retirement, his talents were employed more locally in his home village of Balcombe, Sussex, where he designed a lychgate and stained glass windows for St Mary’s Church.
“I’m very grateful to have had the chance to meet Mike Noble,” noted writer Helen McCarthy in a tribute for downthetubes on his 84th birthday in 2014. “And I’m very glad that there are some excellent blogs and websites where you can find out more about him and his work.
“He didn’t just draw Supermarionation – he drew everything from American TV to British pop star biographies to Japanese puppet fantasies.”
Writing on Facebook earlier today, she revealed she and partner, artist Steve Kyte, had visited him recently and had a wonderful afternoon with him.
“He was in great form, a very good host and still working on a board on his knees. He showed us some astonishing character illustrations he’d done for Under Milk Wood, just for fun – someone ought to send them to the Folio Society, they deserve their own new edition!
“I wrote to him at the end of last week to suggest a date for a pre-Christmas visit, but too late, alas”.
“To me, he was the ultimate illustrator of the TV21 and Gerry Anderson universe within the comic strip medium,” feels artist Graham Bleathman, well known himself for his work inspired by the Supermarionation shows of the 1960s. “He captured the spirit of Century 21 perfectly whilst adding so much to it; many of his panels in TV21 had ‘over the shoulder’ shots which, even if it wasn’t deliberate, gave the impression of events unfolding before a camera lens, perfect for the ‘newspaper of the future’.
“I also loved more subtle approaches used in his non-SF work for Look-In; particularly the use of colour in strips like ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Follyfoot’ – which I gather were favourites of his – and also the graininess of his black and white ‘Wurzel Gummidge’ strips.
However, it’s his TV21 work that he is always going to be remembered for, and in that, he was the definitive comic strip illustrator of the worlds of Gerry Anderson.”
“So very sad to hear this morning that one of the greatest artists to ever grace the pages of TV Century 21 and so many other publications has passed away,” noted Fanderson’s Stephen Brown on the club’s official Facebook page. “Mike Noble was one of the nicest people that you would ever want to meet and Lynn, myself and so many others have been privileged to have known such a lovely chap.
“Over the years he had been a great friend to the club and was one of the most popular regular guests at conventions. He had a great bubbly nature and would find time for anyone whenever they wanted to chat to him about his work.
“If there is such a place as heaven, then Mike deserves to be up there amongst the best.”
“From TV21 to Look-In, he made such an impression on me as a kid” notes comic artist, writer and publisher Dave Elliott.”I think without him, Frank Bellamy, and Ron Embleton, I might not have enjoyed comics long enough to discover Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.”
“Mike drew many wonderful pages for comics from the 1950s until recent years,” notes artist Nigel Parkinson. “… Meticulous draughtsmanship, line weight, colour work. The best of the best.”
For many, many, British comic fans, Mike Noble was, simply, the best. He leaves a legacy in terns of influence and his many fans that would be hard to equal. My sympathies to his family and friends.
• Mike Noble, born 17th September 1930, died 15th November 2018
• Mike Noble interview on The Complete Gerry Anderson Complete History (Cached via Archive Today)
• Mike Noble shared his memories of working on the “Worzel Gummidge” strip for Look-In with Stuart Manning for The Worzel Book, published by MIWK
ARTIST and FANDOM TRIBUTES TO MIKE NOBLE
• Barnaby Eaton-Jones, organiser of Robin of Sherwood events and more, offers a poignant tribute to Mike here on Facebook