Peter Hansen’s Comic Curiosities: A Winker Watson Mystery – and a profile of creator Eric Roberts

British comics archivist Peter Hansen’s massive collection of comic-related items comprises an amazing range of comics related material, including girl’s and boy’s comics, teenage titles, and juvenile comics, annuals, flyers, original free gifts, advertising, toys and games related to the comics, original artwork, fanzines, memorabilia, artist’s archives, publishers archives as well as almost 900 bound volumes of British comics of which the majority belonged to the original publishers.

We’re delighted he has kindly given downthetubes permission to post some of his short items about just a few some of the smashing comic collectibles he owns…

Winker Watson and the Mystery of the Printer’s Proofs

I love a good mystery. I recently bought a bound volume from Dundee that has two years of The Dandy’s “Winker Watson” strips in it.

I can obviously understand why someone was a big fan of Winker, as I was when I was a kid, a schoolboy character created by Eric Roberts who debuted in The Dandy back in 1961, his version so popular it continued as reprints for a time after his death in 1982, later drawn by artists that include Paul White, Terry Bave, Stevie White (Stref) and Wilbur Dawbarn, and Tom Williams, who drew strips for The Dandy annuals and summer specials.

The mysterious part is that the bound pages are not from the comics. They appear to be a bound volume of DC Thomson’s own printer’s actual proof with comments, which you can clearly see from the rear of the printed page.

Winker Watson Printer’s Proof - art by Eric Roberts
Detail of a critiqued proof of an actual printed page of The Dandy’s “Winker Watson”, as well where the errors in the proof are highlighted

I couldn’t believe that every proof for every strip ever printed was put into a bound volume for posterity, or the comic market would be awash with them. There would have been thousands and thousands. The binding is definitely cheap, so, I initially thought, surely this had to be the work of some enterprising printer who liked Winker Watson?

Luckily, downthetubes contributor Colin Noble was quick to solve the conundrum, after seeing some of my photographs of the mystery volume.

“I have seen books bound like that before, on the shelves of the company Archive offices up in East Kingsway” he says. “It is possible that this was a book made up by DC Thomson’s Chief Printer so that he could compare what the prints would look like so that he had a before and after print to refer to.

“It would also give him something to use to train the new apprentices so that they could see what would happen if they did not position the plates correctly.

“I think the apprentices theory is most likely as it is the simplest reason I can think for creating such a book.”

An interesting comics curiosity featuring “The Chief Wangler of Greytowers School”. I have many more!

Peter Hansen

Read (and watch) our interview with Peter Hansen and his hopes for a permanent national British comic collection here

The opening page to the Winker Watson strip in The Dandy Book published in 1963 - image with thanks to Lew Stringer. Copyright DC Thomson
The opening page to the Winker Watson strip in The Dandy Book published in 1963 – image with thanks to Lew Stringer. Copyright DC Thomson

WINKER WATSON CREATOR ERIC ROBERTS: A PROFILE

Profile by John Freeman, compiled from acknowledged sources

Eric Roberts (7th January 1910 – 1982), who most called “Robbie”, was born into a circus family in South London in 1910. He studied at St. Martin’s School of Art in London and drew his first jokes and cartoons in the 1930s for weeklies like Tit-Bits and Answers. Talking to comics archivist Peter Gray in 2010 his daughter, Erica Farmer, notes he had a studio in London’s Strand, in a circular tower and the shape made it very difficult to fit furniture in. The building is still there today.

His first comics work was “Podge” for The Dandy in 1937, followed in 1938 by three strips in the Beano – “Helpful Henry”, “Good King Coke” and “Rip Van Winkle”.

During World War Two, Roberts joined the RAF, his talent employed to provide technical drawings for posters and cartoons. He also met partner Barbie, who was in the WRAF, marrying in a Registry Office with two passers-by as witnesses in about 1947 and moving into my her family house in Purley, Surrey, where he lived for the rest of his life.

The very first “Dirty Dick” story, running as a centre-spread in The Dandy No. 986, cover dated October 15th 1960. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer.
The very first “Dirty Dick” story, running as a centre-spread in The Dandy No. 986, cover dated October 15th 1960. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer © DC Thomson
“Dirty Dick” celebrates the New Year in this strip for The Dandy No. 1206, cover dated 2nd January 1965. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer
“Dirty Dick” celebrates the New Year in this strip for The Dandy No. 1206, cover dated 2nd January 1965. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer © DC Thomson
Eric Roberts provided the art for this game featured in The Dandy Summer Special 1969. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer © DC Thomson
Eric Roberts provided the art for this game featured in The Dandy Summer Special 1969. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer © DC Thomson

Eric returned to The Dandy to draw “Smudge” between 1947 and 1949, reprinted as “Hy Jinks” between 1955-1957. He continued to work on The Dandy, the first of his many strips for the paper in the comic adventure strip format being “Willie the Wicked” (1953), followed by “The Wee Black Scallywag” (1954), “Willie’s Whizzer Broom” (1956) Rip Snorter (1956-1957) and “Ginger’s Super Jeep” (1958-1959) and “Dirty Dick” (1960-1967).

Between 1961 and 1979 Roberts provided some 775 episodes of the “Winker Watson” saga, spread over twelve series with his only other comic adventure strip work in that time being “Moe, Joe and Daddy-O” (1965).

Eric Roberts provided “Mike” for Knockout for over 10 years. Here’s the strip on the cover of Issue No. 690, which went on sale on Wednesday 14th May 1952, cover dated 17th May, the “off sale” date. Image courtesy Lew Stringer. © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
Eric Roberts provided “Mike” for Knockout for over 10 years. Here’s the strip on the cover of Issue No. 690, which went on sale on Wednesday 14th May 1952, cover dated 17th May, the “off sale” date. Image courtesy Lew Stringer. © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.

While Roberts mainly worked for DC Thomson, and exclusively under contract for them after The Dandy expanded in 1960, he did work for other companies during his long career, drawing “Mike” for the Amalgamated Press title Knockout (1945 – 1957, published as “Mike and Dimps” in 1954); “Sinbad Simms” (1957-1958), also for Knockout; and “Billy Bunter” (1958 – 1959) following the death of Frank Minnitt.

Original artwork for an episode of “Billy Bunter” for Knockout, originally published in the issue cover dated 6th June 1959. In total, he drew the Bunter strip for 63 consecutive issues of Knockout, from No. 1013 (cover dated 26th July 1958) to No. 1082 (cover dated 21st November 1959), succeeded on the strip by Albert Pease, although continuing to provide art for an associated joke feature. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer, information on the strip via Ray Moore. © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
Original artwork for an episode of “Billy Bunter” for Knockout, originally published in the issue cover dated 6th June 1959. In total, he drew the Bunter strip for 63 consecutive issues of Knockout, from No. 1013 (cover dated 26th July 1958) to No. 1082 (cover dated 21st November 1959), succeeded on the strip by Albert Pease, although continuing to provide art for an associated joke feature. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer, information on the strip via Ray Moore. © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.

He also drew “Niblo Nibbs” for Film Fun in 1960. Many of his strips were reprinted, sometimes with different titles, in comics including The Big One, Buster, Giggle and Cor!!

His work also appeared in several short-lived titles in the late 1940s, including The Challenger Comic (drawing “Mr. Mutt”), Mirth (“Helpful Harry”) and Full-o-Fun (“Willie Watch”), published by Philmar Publications.

“Niblo Nibbs”, first published in Film Fun, was reprinted in Giggle, published by Fleetway Publications Ltd. Here’s the strip drawn by Eric Roberts from  first issue, cover dated 29th April 1967. The strip later featured in Cor!!, re-titled “Nippy Nibs”. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer - read his feature on Giggle here. © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
“Niblo Nibbs”, first published in Film Fun, was reprinted in Giggle, published by Fleetway Publications Ltd. Here’s the strip drawn by Eric Roberts from first issue, cover dated 29th April 1967. The strip later featured in Cor!!, re-titled “Nippy Nibs”. Image with thanks to Lew Stringer – read his feature on Giggle here. © Rebellion Publishing Ltd.

Before his retirement in 1980, Roberts last original “Winker Watson” series was “The Hooded Terrors”, which ended in The Dandy No. 1975, cover dated 29th September 1979. His last published work featured in the 1981 Dandy Book – “Batty Books from Winker Watson’s Library” and “All the Nutty Neighbours who live up Korky’s Street”.

“He usually slept during the day and worked through the night,” Erica Roberts told Peter Gray in 2010, revealing his contract with DC Thomson included clauses that he was not allowed to work for anyone else or sign his work.

“His work routine was he either received scripts from DC Thomson, or he came up with some of his own scripts, which would be sent to DC Thomson for alteration/approval. When they were approved he would map out a rough pencil draft of the strip and again post it to DC Thomson’s for alteration/approval before producing the final strip on special thicker white paper in Indian inks. He worked about eight weeks ahead of publication.

“He would send his work to DC Thomson by rolling it into a spool, then wrapping it in thick brown paper, tied up with string and then sealing wax was applied to the knots and it was posted by the due deadlines.

“He was extremely professional and he would never even let the family post his work to DC Thomson for him. If there were postal problems he would deliver and collect his work to Fetter Lane or Fleet Street.

Recalling how Eric rarely took a holiday or time off for illness, because that would mean he didn’t get paid, Erica recalled “He always worked from home and his lifestyle was quite reclusive, although he had a very good sense of humour and could be extremely sociable.

“He always said that being an artist did not come easily to him,” she noted, “and I think his work shows how regimented he was and his attention to research and detail. He was his biggest critic and worked extremely hard.”

After Eric’s death, much of his surviving work was purchased by a single celebrity collector, who never contacted the family again.

FURTHER READING…

ComicsUK – 2010 Discussion of Eric Roberts long career

Peter Gray’s Comics and Art: Erica Farmer’s memories of her father

Blimey! By Lew Stringer – Eric Roberts tagged articles

Lambiek: Eric Roberts

Did you know there’s a horse called “Winker Watson? Details here

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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.



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