Comic Creator Spotlight: “Skid Solo” artist John Vernon

As it’s a Formula 1 weekend, downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf is marking the event on his Boys Adventure Comics Blog with a look back at an earlier era of motor-racing with this oddity – “The Champions” – a tie-in comic with Matchbox toys sponsorship of motor racing legend, John Surtees and Team Surtees, in the early 1970s, featuring art by “Skid Solo” artist John Vernon.

The first part of Richard’s series on this promotional comic is here.

Matchbox Team Surtees comic, art by John Vernon

In 1972, Team Surtees ran Mike Hailwood and Tim Schenken in F1, and also put together a highly successful Formula 2 team, sponsored by Matchbox, which gave Hailwood the title of European champion. Their TS10 car saw service in the hands of Surtees, Hailwood, Andrea de Adamich and Carlos Ruesch.

Hailwood swept to his title success with wins at Mantorp and the Salzburgring, while Surtees won at Imola and in Fuji in Japan. The TS10 is still in its Matchbox livery to this day, part of an exhibition last year hosted by the Signature Store, which offers a range of John Surtees collectibles, including limited edition fine art prints.

Matchbox also sponsored the TS15 car in 1973 and the TS16 in 1974.

The Champions” being an advertising comic, John Vernon’s work is uncredited – but it is pretty distinctive – and someone forgot to white out his initials (JV) in the final frame of Episode One)!

1974 Surtees TS16 at Silverstone Classic in 2011

1974 Surtees TS16 at Silverstone Classic in 2011. Photo: David Hamster/ Creative Commons

An A4 sized, 14-page comic with art by John Vernon, it seems this The Champions comic might be a reprint of an entire comic strip advertising campaign from the pages of Tiger. That weekly British sports comic was home, of course, to motor racing champ Skid Solo, a strip that John drew, largely written by Fred Baker, for much of its 18-year run.

An unusual “Skid Solo” episode published in Tiger in 1965. Copyright Rebellion Publishing Ltd

An unusual “Skid Solo” episode published in Tiger in 1965. Copyright Rebellion Publishing Ltd

An unusual “Skid Solo” episode published in Tiger in 1965. Copyright Rebellion Publishing Ltd

An unusual “Skid Solo” episode published in Tiger in 1965. Copyright Rebellion Publishing Ltd

“Skid Solo” actually debuted in Hurricane, first appearing in February 1964, the strip ending in a Tiger in 1982 with a horrendous crash that put the star in a wheelchair – as Lew Stringer recounts here, to the dismay of his many fans, later informed by a suitably chastised editor, Paul Gettens, that his injuries were not permanent. (Although enough to end his motor racing career).

Tiger cover dated 20th December 1970

John Vernon (not to be confused with fine artist John Vernon Lord) was active in comics from the 1940s until the 1980s, beginning his career in advertising, working on theatre and, later, cinema advertising for Pearl & Dean. He illustrated book cover in the 1950s, for Panther Books, Hodder & Stoughton, and especially Harborough Publishing’s Ace Books line, moving into comics in the early 1960s, initially drawing strips featuring aviation hero Jeff Curtiss for Micron’s Combat Picture Library.

(Colin Noble has examples of the strip here on his Nothing But a Fan blog, but I’m not convinced they’re John’s work).

Early strips for Fleetway included “Casey the Champ” and “The Ragged Racer” for Tiger, and, of course “‘Skid Solo”, his long career drawing to a close with the no-war strips for Battle, “Truck Turpin” and “Jetblade“.

“John Vernon’s work on the long-running ‘Skid Solo’ strip was always of a high standard,” Barrie Tomlinson recallsBarrie Tomlinson recalls. “It was a terrible decision for me to eventually drop the Skid story when it went down on the readers’ ratings.”

WEB LINKS

Read Richard Sheaf’s “The Champions” feature here on his Boys Adventure Comics Blog

Lew Stringer’s posts on John Vernon on his Blimey! blog

Read Tiger editor Barrie Tomlinson’s tribute to “Skid Solo” writer Fred Baker

Champion Surtees DVD• John Surtees, the only person to win top-level Grand Prix titles on two and four wheels, is an icon of motorsport history, and his story is charted in a DVD, Champion Surtees. His unusual career is divided into two parts – the motorcycle years and the motorsport era

Photographer Mike Hayward has some of his 1970s Team Surtees pictures here

Grand Prix: Surtees Racing Organisation Profile

Grand Prix History: John Surtees Profile

Skid Solo, Tiger copyright Rebellion Publishing Limited

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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: Adventure Comics, British Comics, Charley's War, Comic Creator Spotlight, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News

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