Comic artist Tony O’Donnell was lucky enough to explore The Life and Times of Orcadian Artist Jim Baikie exhibition hosted by the Kirkwall Museum on Orkney last month, and shares some of its delights and his own memories of the artist… let’s hope someone picks this up for a mainland outing!
Tony has also provided a checklist of Jim’s many comic works.
The Life and Times of Orcadian Artist Jim Baikie exhibition focussed on both the life and career of the late artist, perhaps best known in the world of comics for “Skizz” in 2000AD and for his art on The Last American for Tomorrow Stories, working with Alan Moore.
The text used throughout the exhibition utilised excerpts from a school project by Jim’s grandson, Sebastien Pesci. Titled Jim Baikie, Orcadian Comic Artist, this booklet won the 2019 Fereday Prize and was asked “How did a young man from the remote island of Hoy become a world famous comic artist?”
Aside from my personal memories, much of this article is sourced from Sebastien’s Fereday Project.
Hosted in the Gallery room of the Kirkwall Museum, six glass display tables and one central display were all filled with books, comics, sketch books, photographs, awards, Jim’s guitar and other memorabilia about Jim and his family.
The walls were covered with fine examples of Jim’s art from his long career, ranging from Romance Comics to Star Wars, Batman and Judge Dredd.
Jim Baikie was born on 28th February 1940 on Crockness, Hoy. He loved comics and drawing and never held back from submitting his early efforts to various contests – with some success! He won a whole selection of Fry’s Chocolate Bars to share with his friends, then later on, won 10/6 pence -which was a lot of money in 1954! – for work published in the Vargo Statten SF magazine.
Facing up to the reality of just how difficult it might be to become an artist while living in Orkney, Jim joined the RAF. He did however manage to attend Evening Classes at Duncan of Jordanstoun College of Art in Dundee, while based at RAF Leuchars. He married Wendy in Germany in 1961, and many relatives left Orkney for the first time in order to attend the wedding. He eventually bought his way out of the RAF and moved to London in 1964, where he found a job with Letraset. He would often take his portfolio to the offices of the comic publishers.
One day, luck was on his side as he realised that the publisher whose office he was in, had been let down by an artist so Jim showed the editor his portfolio and was hired on the spot, to work on the girl’s comic, Valentine. In 1968, Britain had its first Comic Convention – and Jim illustrated the cover.
The first display table showed Jim’s early work, alongside family photographs and some examples of his art on RAF publications. The highlight for me was the colourful comic drawn in a school jotter featuring an alien invasion – I had a great desire to read that story! There was also a great photograph of Jim playing guitar in an RAF rock and roll band.
The second display case featured examples from “The Monkees” comic that Jim drew for Lady Penelope comic, his sample art for “Charlie’s Angels” for Look-In and his cover art for Love Story Picture Library No, 629, titled “Both of Me”.
Music was always a big part of Jim’s life and he played bass guitar for many bands, from The Whirlwinds in Cyprus while still in the RAF to James Fenda and the Vulcans in London. This group got so far as to release a single in 1964 and played support to The Kinks.
Jim moved onto blues music and met a young Ritchie Blackmore. When Jim joined the CrossTies Blues Band, he and Wendy hosted parties which would often turn into jam sessions. His most famous jamming partners were Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, although not at the same party!
In 1968, Screaming Lord Sutch turned up at his flat, having heard about Jim from Ritchie Blackmore to invite him to join their European Tour. When Jim asked when they were leaving, Lord Sutch gestured towards the van to indicate that they were leaving right away! Jim had to decline the offer, as he had a young family and regular work in comics. This story later led to the local legend that Jim had once been invited to join Deep Purple.
The largest picture on display was “The Dome” which was commissioned by The Pier Arts Centre. Also on the wall was the biggest gag cartoon art I have ever seen, roughly A2 in size, a nuclear war-inspired cartoon showing a herd of cows and a Farmer entering a field which has lots of tables. The farmer is saying “So if thou hears a bang and sees a mushroom cloud, get under wan o’ them tables…”
On one display table, there was a selection of Orcadian books that Jim had illustrated, including Around the Peat Fires by W.R. Mackintosh and Willick o Pirliebraes by David Sinclair.
After so many years of drawing for girls comics, including “Charlie’s Angels” for Look-In, Jim nurtured an ambition to both write and draw science fiction comics. It was around this time in the summer of 1979 when I first met him, as he paid a visit to the Science Fiction Bookshop in Edinburgh as he was interested in contributing to the magazine, Near Myths, a project fellow artist Graham Manley pitched to Rob King.
Sadly, our magazine foundered before that came to pass, but a few years later, Jim created “Twilight World” for Dez Skinn’s highly acclaimed Warrior magazine. Then came “Skizz” for 2000AD, which he co-created with Alan Moore. Jim later got to write Skizz when he returned for a sequel.
I met up with Jim again at Comicon 79 in Birmingham. I was there to help promote and sell Near Myths 4 alongside the publisher Rob King and staff, along with Graham Manley, Grant Morrison and Bryan Talbot. I spent some time with him looking at the SSI Exhibition, and he was pleased to tell me that comedian and collector Bob Monkhouse had bought his SF page included, a lovely full colour double page spread which Jim had created just for this Exhibition. I also learned that he had submitted samples for the Daily Mirror strip “Garth”, and that although he had met and admired Frank Bellamy, he was more of a Steve Dowling fan.
Jim was later commissioned by Bob Monkhouse to do a picture of himself and his wife Jackie as super heroes – the letter on display goes into enthusiastic detail about who and what he wanted in the painting with how much it would cost being of little concern – “just bill me and I’ll pay it”. Sadly, the only evidence of this potentially immense artwork is a polaroid of a painting by Jim, showing Bob and Jackie as super heroes with the TARDIS from Doctor Who in the background.
In 1983, Jim was awarded the “Best British Adventure Artist” by the Society of Strip Illustration.
In 2000, Jim won an Eisner Award for “Best Humor Publication” for his work on Tomorrow Stories by Alan Moore. Although one of the most successful writers in comics, Alan was only 15 when he first met Jim Baikie at a Comics Convention. Jim recalled was happy to chat to an infatuated teenager with a bad pudding haircut and an off-putting regional accent… They became good friends and enjoyed working together.
“If there was a person in the industry who didn’t like Jim Baikie,” said Alan, “then I certainly never met them. He was a credit to his profession and an immensely loveable human being.”
Jim died on the 29th December 2017, after suffering since 1991 from Parkinson’s Disease. When Sebastian Pesci asked Alan Moore if he thought Jim had made a lasting contribution to comics, he replied, “Jim Baikie was amongst the very best old school professionals working in the medium. He had a knowledge of his craft that was unsurpassable and knew how to achieve effects with a brush or a pen that many of today’s stylists could not duplicate even with the assistance of software. When people look back on the comic book medium at its best, then Jim Baikie’s contribution to the field will be seen as indispensable. He was a giant in a landscape of giants.”
Jim was above all a husband and father to five daughters and a very busy comic strip artist, but he still found the time to revive his love of music back in Orkney, and played for many local bands.
One of these was the Stuart Sim band. “A young band needed an amp for their first gig so they remembered that local legend that there was a guy who was in Deep Purple, living in Stenness! Jim not only leant them the amps but volunteered to jam with them. He later did the art for Stuart Sim’s album, Fugitive.”
I heard some of this story from Stuart Sim himself when we both worked at Orkney College. Jim also did album cover art for Ruby Rendall – In Portrait and also for the blues band, Savoy Brown –Looking In.
Jim Baikie was not only a great artist but also one of the nicest men I ever knew.
With full credit to Sebastien Pesci for his Fereday Project booklet
• Comics and Graphic Novels with art by Jim Baikie available on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
Jim Baikie – Comics Checklist
Valentine – Various (1966 – 69)
Lady Penelope – The Monkees (1968)
Go Girl (1968)
TV Tornado (1969 – 70)
Star Love Stories (1969 – 70)
Look & Learn (1969 – 70)
June & Schoolfriend (1969 – 72)
TV 21 – Various (1970 – 73)
Tarzan (1970 – 71)
Countdown – Various (1971 – 71)
Tammy – Various (1972)
Sandie – Various (1972)
Eagle Annual 1974 – Dan Dare
TV Action – Doctor Who (1973 – 74)
Jinty – Various (1974 – 81)
Judy – Various (1974 – 81)
Look-In – Charlie’s Angels (1980 – 81)
Look-In – Chips, Fall Guy, Terrahawks (1980 – 84)
Warrior – Twilight World (1982 – 84)
2000AD – Skizz, Judge Dredd (1984 – 2004)
Alien Encounters (1985)
Laser Eraser & Pressbutton (1985)
Electric Warrior (1986 – 87)
The New Teen Titans (1986)
Detective Comics (1987)
Catwoman II to Goldstar (1987)
Crisis – The New Statesmen (1988 – 90)
The Spectre (1988)
Clive Barker’s Night Breed (1990)
Comic Relief Comic (1991)
Star Wars (1995)
Tomorrow Stories (1999 – 2006)
The Worm – “The Longest Comic in the World (1999)
Supreme (1999 – 2003)
The Victorian (2001)
Tony O’ Donnell, the writer of this article, was born in Grangemouth in 1957, a comics artist and illustrator who grew up with a keen interest in comics, science fiction and drawing. He studied Graphic Design and Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art, gaining a Post Graduate Diploma in 1980. While working as an Illustrator between 1978 – 1979 via a Job Creation Scheme he also contributed to Near Myths 4 and 5.
In 1980, his cover art for Near Myths 4 was exhibited in the Mall Gallery as it had been accepted for the Association of Illustrators Annual. A few years later, the painting – titled “Thiirania” – was used as the cover for Imagine magazine.
In late 1980 Tony joined the Temple Art Agency and started working full-time as a comic strip artist. His credits include Scoop, Buddy, Spike, Starblazer, Star Romance, Sunrise, Redfox, The Real Ghostbusters and “Combat Wombat” for Marvel UK’s Strip, Issue 13.
In the 1990s, he moved onto Illustration work, part-time lecturing and also painting murals and running Comic Art Workshops. He also found the time to become a husband to Dorothy and a father to Laura and Garen.
Tony was also a regular artist on DC Thomson’s Football Picture Story Monthly between 1992 and 2003, when he illustrated the final issue. At this time he was also busy drawing for The Beano, The Beano Library, Summer Specials and Annuals. This schedule lasted four years and came to an end in 2007. In 2006 he completed work on Socorro, for Platinum Comics, a crime fiction graphic novel, written by Steven Grant. This book remains unpublished to date.
Tony moved to Orkney in 2005, after his work on “Ivy the Terrible” ended for The Beano, and found what work he could, ranging from a Night Porter to Youth Worker, while also working as an illustrator and caricaturist.
In 2015, Tony who is a First Dan Black Belt and a Grade II Coach, started the Orkney Judo Club with the help of his wife, Dorothy. In 2017, they created a new business venture – The Orkney Experience. Tony painted a number of murals depicting Orkney legends and stories for the business. Sadly, despite a promising start, a Business Start up Award and brilliant reviews on Trip Advisor, the projected number of visitors did not materialise and the business came to an end in 2019.
Tony is now concentrating on building up his freelance work, drawing caricatures and working as an illustrator for the Graham-Cameron Illustration Agency. His art has been exhibited in recent years alongside the work of Jim Baikie, Cam Kennedy and Alex Leonard.