My appreciation of comic artist Ron Smith, who died earlier this week, is lifelong. His passing is a great loss to the British comics industry, and our community…
On the afternoon of Wednesday 2nd October 1974, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I had been off school for six weeks and I was bored stupid. I had been hit in the left eye on the second day of Primary 2, by a spinner free gift, and as a result, I ended up off-school for most of that term and had a patch over my eye, even though it hurt like a basket.
I heard my two brothers who were at school arrive home and I perked up immediately. I wasn’t going to play with them, as they were seven and eight years older than their wee brother. More importantly, it was what their arrival signified. In our house, Wednesday was double comic day.
One brother got Hotspur and the pair of them had teamed up to buy a copy of an exciting new war comic, called Warlord. As they’d both read the Hotspur, either at school or on the way home, I got to snaffle it before Dad came in and said it was a stupid comic – before settling in to read it from cover to cover himself.
I was particularly taken with the Hotspur’s current lead story, which featured a highwayman that had been transported in time from the 18th century to modern day Britain and his horse had been transformed into a robotic horse that could fly. (As you might be able to tell, I am not the most critical of people).
I really enjoyed the art and always looked forward to seeing the style featured in any of the comics we had in the house. I made the issue of the Hotspur last as long as it took for my brothers to let me get my hands on their precious issue of Warlord, only to discover the artist who had drawn “Nick Jolly” in Hotspur was the same artist for that issue’s “Code Name Warlord” story.
That was it! I was hooked. Any time from then on, if I saw his work in a comic, I would go straight to it. This continued with “Drake of E-Boat Alley” in Warlord, and “King Cobra” and “Flying Fury” in Hotspur.
But after a few years of glorying in the work of this unknown artist, he all but disappeared from my comic reading. I rediscovered his work when my brother began to buy the Daily Star – and I discovered that the artist I enjoyed was a gentleman named Ron Smith, and he had gone on to work on “Judge Dredd” and 2000AD.
Once I began gainful employment, I helped to make the Black Hole in Dundee a viable comic shop as I would happily drop £20 to £50 on comics on a weekly basis, as I had rediscovered 2000AD. I built up a solid collection in the 1980s. Owner George Codeiro knew I was an easy touch for anything 2000AD and he would regularly point out comics that featured the comic’s artists or writers, but one thing he sold to me in 1988 was a proper shut up and take my money moment.
In 1982, then Tharg Steve MacManus had a glut of unsold annuals from the previous Christmas and he needed a way to shift the lot of them, and organised a 2000AD signing at the Forbidden Planet in London. Steve was able to persuade his big hitters to pop into London for the day – and Ron was one of them. Sold on the day for £5, fans decimated the backlog of annuals in order to get them signed.
Somehow, George ended up with one and when I saw Ron’s scribble in there, and I knew I had to have it. It was one of the best £10 I have ever spent. (In case anyone is saying “that’s cheap”, back then £10 was how much I paid to fill up my car at the time!)
As the 1980s progressed into the 1990s, Ron’s output began to slowly peter out and no longer did I get the thrill of seeing his new work every week in 2000AD. Once Ron no longer produced work for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, I struggled to find his work anywhere else. As this was pre-internet days, I never realised that this was due to his semi-retirement from comics. However, I would trawl many secondhand shops and if I ever found an annual and it had Ron’s distinctive work, it was a no-brainer for me to pick it up.
Then along came this thing called the internet and while it was kind of useful, it was not until I discovered Ebay had comics I could buy that I suddenly became very interested in it.
I slowly purchased the comics I had wanted as a kid – and then those that I had read back then, and re-discovered lost gems which sparked so many memories which are due to my skewed perspective of Ron’s work. I always wondered what made this ex-pilot draw in such a fashion, until I saw an exhibition in a local gallery where another pilot also had an unusual take on perspective.
However, three years ago, two things happened to fan the flames of my appreciation of this great artist into doing something constructive about getting Ron Smith a bit more recognition. The first thing was going to a comic mart and flicking through back issues of 2000AD and enjoying Ron’s contributions to the lawman of the future. I was soon waxing lyrical about the body of work that Ron had done before he began to contribute to 2000AD, and was shocked when the vendors admitted complete ignorance of that part of his work.
Then a young lady joined the 2000AD group to advise us that her grandfather had worked in comics – and would we be able to help her in valuing some of his work? I think a few of us dropped in stunned surprise when she explained her grandfather was Ron Smith!
So off I went on an exploration of his work while at DC Thomson – and it was a glorious diversion. As a result, I wrote three articles for downthetubes- and I still have room for a lot more, as I never touched on Ron’s work for Warlord, Rover, Beezer or Adventure – let alone his work for girls’ comics!
Ron’s grand daughter Amanda was good enough to read the articles to Ron and explained that her grandfather was more than happy with them. (Part of the reason for his retirement from drawing was his failing eyesight making it almost impossible for him to draw).
Even now, I can’t believe he’s gone. A piece of me wants him to still be drawing comics. But now, sadly, that is not going to happen.
Instead then, I’ll wind up this tribute – and I think finishing it with my favourite all-time piece of Ron’s might be a fitting salute to this fellow veteran of the Royal Air Force.
Read Colin Noble’s three-part gesture on Ron’s comics career
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All art © respective publishers and creators including DC Thomson and Rebellion