A British Comics Pioneer: “Korky the Cat” artist James Leuchars Crighton

Panels from the “Billy and Bunny” newspaper strip by James Leuchars Crighton, courtesy Peter Hansen

Panels from the “Billy and Bunny” newspaper strip by James Leuchars Crighton, courtesy Peter Hansen

Born in Dundee on 2nd February 1892, James Leuchars Crighton , perhaps best known as the original artist on “Korky the Cat” for The Dandy, was one of DC Thomson’s earliest comics talents, and his influence lives on today.

The oldest of seven children, his father was a publican, his mother a housewife. Like many of DC Thomson and John Leng & Co staff, including, later, artist Ian Kennedy, he attended Dundee’s Morgan Academy, often referred to by alumni as, simply, “The Morgan”.

Crighton left school to apprentice as a draughtsman, but quit to join Sir John Leng’s newspaper staff in 1913, just before the outbreak of World War One. During that vicious conflict, he fought with the Royal Engineers and the King’s Liverpool Regiment, in the Somme and Ypres.

(John Leng & Co Ltd was Dundee’s other major publisher until the DC Thomson and Leng firms merged in 1905 under the leadership of David Couper – DC – Thomson).

Returning to civilian life in 1919, he soon created his first comic characters, Billy and Bunny, for the Dundee Advertiser, the first daily paper in Britain to employ a staff artist, initially Martin Anderson aka “Cynicus”,  to produce regular illustrations back in 1880. The first “Billy and Bunny” strip is dated 4th July 1919.

During the 1920s, Crighton also contributed illustration to Leng annuals and several books, including the Billy and Bunny annuals, which were published between 1922 and 196=41, with three more published between 1948 and 1950.

The strip itself continued to both delight and, apparently, terrify readers of the Dundee Advertiser until a revamp of the paper on 30th March 1992.

“The comic strips were accompanied by rhyming text in a meter hinting at a whispered mystery,” recalled the Advertiser‘s Chris Ferguson back in 2013. “Even as a child, you knew something was not right. A bit like your first introduction to pantomime.

“But what kept you on the edge of your seat was the ever-present fear of the appearance of Puck, the villain. As boys went, he was a particularly bad one and dressed the part. A black suit and jester’s cap. His appearances were infrequent but the effects were long lasting…”

Billy and Bunny Book. Image courtesy Peter Hansen

Image courtesy Peter Hansen

Billy and Bunny Book. Image courtesy Peter Hansen

Image courtesy Peter Hansen

In 1925, Crighton began working for Leng’s Fairyland Tales (25th December 1925 – November 1939). Once Thomson gained a controlling interest in Lengs in 1927, he moved over to the comics to joining the first edition of The Dandy in 1937, drawing “Korky the Cat” for the next 25 years.

“Korky the Cat”, drawn by James Crighton, debuted in the first Issue of The Dandy

“Korky the Cat”, drawn by James Crighton, debuted in the first Issue of The Dandy

“Korky the Cat” on the cover of a The Dandy Issue 894, cover dated 30th January 1959

“Korky the Cat” on the cover of a The Dandy Issue 894, cover dated 30th January 1959

Originally a mute character, Korky started speaking in Issue 149, cover dated 5th October 1940, and Crighton also drew the strips that saw the introduction of his ‘Kits’ – Nip, Lip and Rip – in the 1950s. His last strip appeared in issue 1051 of the weekly comic cover dated 13th January 1962, just one month before his death, succeeded by Charles Grigg.

As well as his work appearing in The Wizard and Dundee’s Evening Telegraph, sister paper of The Courier, he also drew annual covers for The Beano, Topper and The Dandy published between 1943 and 1962.

Married with one son, James died in Dundee on 14th February 1962.

• “Comic Creators, the Famous and the Forgotten” – an exhibition at London’s Cartoon Museum – will feature some “Billy and Bunny” art. Curated by Steve Marchant the exhibition will run from Monday 1st July to Monday 30th September 2019 | The Cartoon Museum is online at www.cartoonmuseum.org

With thanks to Peter Hansen | The Dandy, Billy and Bunny © DC Thomson

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The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: British Comics, Creating Comics, DC Thomson, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Humour Comics

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