Britain’s new towns, built after the end of World War Two are not exactly considered bastions of great art or even great architecture. But in at least one instance, Glenrothes, Fife, is inextricably linked to British comics.
Now, some readers might snigger at this and ask exactly what could Glenrothes have offered to British comics. Read on, and you’ll find that for the last 50 plus years, it has been helping to influence the art that has shaped a generation or two.
I’m going to work backwards in time, as the first comic artist with a link to Glenrothes is a rather self-effacing gentleman called Janek Matysiak.
Born and bred in Glenrothes, educated at Auchmuchty High and working for Fife Libraries, Janek displays an amazing eye for detail with his work for DC Thomson, and other commissions for over 20 years.
I must admit that I find Janek’s digital work visually stunning and well worth looking out for.
Part of the reason that Janek is so closely associated with Glenrothes is that his father, David Cuzik Matysiak, chose to live there, during Janek’s formative years.
Janek and David are, I should point out, well established artists in their own right, who have both worked in comics. Neither’s work can be compared to the other, both having distinctive styles. To compare them to each other would be like comparing Reg Parlett with Ted Kearon.
David’s style is one that I became aware of in the 1970s, as I would anything and everything comic related. When visiting a cousin, I would think nothing of sitting there and reading a Bunty, Mandy or Judy annual. And when I recognised one of the artists, I would stop and pore over the story to learn the tells of that artist over and over again.
For David’s work, the ‘tell’ was always the hair and faces. There was always an angular dimension to them that no artist copied. This then allowed me to ‘get’ the rest of his style.
The final artist representing Glenrothes best known comics talent I want to feature here is Bud Neill, who moved to the town in the mid 1960s , whose work influenced many artists, including David Harding, who was the town’s official artist for a decade, between 1968 and 1978.
Bud’s work was so distinctive it encapsulated the city of his birth, affording a brevity and deftness of style that would go on to see him becoming so popular his creations would become part of the social fabric of the city.
I got to know about Bud while listening to fellow comic fans talking about newspaper comic strips. When they mentioned Lobey Dosser, my ears perked up.
For those that don’t know, Lobey Dosser is a nickname for a tramp. in Glenrothes, many would have no place to spend the night, so they’d sleep or doss down in the halls, or, if you prefer, the lobbies of one of the many tenements that made up the city’s housing estates. A “lobby dosser” literally meant someone who slept in the lobbies of the tenements.
I could not understand why my fellow comic enthusiasts were using this term so I had to ask – and was introduced to the works of Bud Neill.
Bud came to regional fame as he began to submit single frame jokes to the local Glasgow papers in the 1940s. However, Bud’s talent was soon to find national recognition as he created the Keelie cowboy, Lobey Dosser.
Desperate Dan came to fame for his strength and his cowpies. Lobey Dosser came to fame as the bringer of law to Calton Creek and the owner of a faithful two legged horse. (Yes, you read correctly, two legs) “El Fideldo” or “Elfie” for short.
Bud’s most famous creation was a broth of Cowboy and Indian movie imagery, mixed with Scots patter and the occasional nod to the geography of Glasgow.
Running from 1949 to 1959, Lobey Dosser became a national institution. But for Bud, enough was enough and he moved to the Black Hills o’ Fife with a move to Dunfermline before settling in Glenrothes.
However, he spent his last years in relative obscurity – after all, the new towns are the last place you would look for a comics legend, aren’t they? He passed away on the 28th August 1970 in Glenrothes, but is still as fondly remembered today as he ever was at the height of his fame.
Since 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of his passing, it might be nice if we can mark the life and work of one of Scotland’s greatest illustrators with a bunch of flowers, leaving them at one of the two statues of his characters, in Glasgow, perhaps – or even to raising a glass to one so fine that we still remember how amazing he was 50 years on.