In Memoriam: “Master of Cheekery”, comic artist Frank McDiarmid

Frank McDiarmid at his exhibition at The Pavilion @ Stracathro café in 2019. Photo: NHS Tayside
Frank McDiarmid at his exhibition at The Pavilion @ Stracathro café in 2019. Photo: NHS Tayside

We’re sorry to report the passing of comic artist Frank McDiarmid, described as the “master of cheekery”, perhaps best known for his work on characters such as Roger the Dodger for BEANO and work on IPC’s weekly humour comics Cheeky. He was 85.

Based in Arbroath, Frank trained as a cartoonist and illustrator with DC Thomson in Dundee, where he worked from 1955 to 1966, but is best remembered for his work on Fleetway’s Cheeky comic (now owned by Rebellion) from the 1970s to the 1990s and he told The Courier was still receiving fan mail, in a report about an unfortunate mix up over exhibition dates that was, thankfully, resolved.

A Cheeky caricature drawn for fan, film maker and broadcaster Simon Sheridan by Frank McDiarmid. Cheeky © Rebellion Publishing Ltd
A Cheeky caricature drawn for fan, film maker and broadcaster Simon Sheridan by Frank McDiarmid. Cheeky © Rebellion Publishing Ltd

“He was so anarchic and I was really given a free hand with Cheeky,” he told the paper. “Gordon Cook, from Friockheim, put together the script and I was allowed to be creative.

“I was able to have a lot of fun with the character and I think that was my happiest period in the comic scene. It was a real pleasure to draw it because of the freedom I was given.”

Originally from Glasgow, in addition to drawing Roger the Dodger in the BEANO and his work on Cheeky, his credits also span IPC humour titles such as Whizzer and Chips, Krazy Comic, Whoopee!, Wow! and Monster Fun. Strips he drew include “Cheeky” (for which he created an extensive supporting cast including Lily Pop, Yikky Boo!, Baker’s Boy and Constable Chuckle), “The Gasworks Gang” (for Cor!!) “Kid Kong”, “Boy Boss”, “Frankie Stein” and “Willie Bunk”.

“I worked first of DC Thomsons, who were responsible for the Beano and Dandy, they were massive,” Frank himself told Paul Squires in an interview for Crikey! magazine back in 2009. He initially worked inhouse for the Dundee-based company. “They had some great talent working there. The first strip of any consequence I worked on was following on from Ken Reid at The Dandy, a story called ‘Big Head and Thick Head’, from 1964 – 1966.”

"Big Head and Thick Head" drawn by Frank McDiarmid, from the New Year issue of The Dandy, 1965. Via Lew Stringer © DC Thomson Media
“Big Head and Thick Head” drawn by Frank McDiarmid, from the New Year issue of The Dandy, 1965. With thanks to Lew Stringer © DC Thomson Media

Frank also worked on a number of DC Thomson adventure titles such as Rover, Hotspur, Wizard and Adventure, illustrating text stories and drawing covers, work that would stand him in good stead in his separate career as a fine artist, which he would develop after his career in comics drew to a close.

While he enjoyed working at DC Thomson, where “the mentality was that it a job for life, and if you stayed with them you’d never need to work for anyone else”, Frank got itchy feet and took samples of his work with him on holiday to London to pitch his services to Fleetway, just to see what the response was.

“In those days, Fleetway were just taking off with a whole stable of comics, and they loved what they saw. They gave me every encouragement and they had a lots of work for me.”

Suitably impressed, Frank took the plunge and went freelance in 1973, continuing to work for DC Thomson on “Roger the Dodger”, but also working for Polystyle, drawing “Texas Kid” for four years, on Eagle for a year and a half [drawing “Mickey Merlin”], and drawing strips that included “Mustapha Million”, “The Gasworks Gang”, “Frankie Stein”, and work on war comics such as Battle and many others.

An episode of "Texas Ted for TV Comic, cover dated 26th December 1970, art by Frank McDiarmid. With thanks to Lew Stringer © REACH
An episode of “Texas Ted for TV Comic, cover dated 26th December 1970, art by Frank McDiarmid. With thanks to Lew Stringer © REACH

“But I am best remembered for Cheeky,” he acknowledged. “I came on the scene when Cheeky was singled out for stardom. Bob Paynter, Fleetway’s Group Editor asked me to do it. Bob’s idea when Cheeky emerged was that they’d use as much as my stuff as they could, seven pages a week.

“Bob said I should drop ‘Roger’ and concentrate on working for them. I said no. I had worked hard and I didn’t have to put all my eggs in one basket. This overlapped the Cheeky period, and occasionally artists would stand in for me. At least two thirds of Cheeky was drawn by me.”

The cover of a Cheeky pullout included in Whoopee, art by Frank McDiarmid. Via Kazoop
The cover of a Cheeky pullout included in Whoopee, art by Frank McDiarmid. Via Kazoop

Despite his long career, Frank was loathe to identify a favourite character, but the Cheeky strip was his favourite “by a mile.

“We were encouraged to be anarchic and wild. I still can draw most of the characters from memory … and there was a lot of them!

“I felt gloriously happy at the time seeing my work on display in newsagents up and down the country,” he added.

After a successful career as a cartoonist / illustrator with all the top children’s comics, Frank foresaw the demise of the market, and moved into fine art. He was also a picture framer for a time and drew pet portraits. and drew caricatures at events and for special birthdays – including a large animal-packed caricature of Steve Irwin, the late crocodile hunter.

One of Frank McDiarmid's many caricatures
One of Frank McDiarmid’s many caricatures – a 25 character artwork for an officers mess

He had his own art gallery in Arbroath when he started to work from home until 2000, and his fine art was exhibited widely, with a last major exhibition at The Pavilion @ Stracathro café in 2019  in the grounds of Stracathro Hospital, with 20% of sales being used to enhance the environment for patients and visitors. He also ran art classes in Montrose, and for the Carnoustie Art Society.

One of Frank's many drawings of "Cheeky", created for fan Paul Squires
One of Frank’s many drawings of “Cheeky”, created for fan Paul Squires

Tributes to Frank McDiarmid

Pet caricature by Frank McDiarmid
Pet caricature by Frank McDiarmid

“This is very sad news,” notes fellow comic artist Lew Stringer after film maker Simon Sheridan reported Frank’s passing on Twitter. “Such a talented cartoonist and truly one of the best.”

“I vividly remember dragging my friends all over town, desperate to find a shop that had a copy of Cheeky #1,” recalls cartoonist Pete Doree. “Frank was great, with so much crammed into every panel like Will Elder’s ‘chicken fat’ style.”

“The amount of work he put into each issue of Cheeky was inspiring,” Notes writer Sean Baldwin. “His energy, enthusiasm and talent jumped from the page.”

“He left us Krazy Town,” enthuses fan Nuromanca. “Long may it stand and give joy!”

Our sympathies to family and friends at this time.

ALSO ON DOWNTHETUBES

Cheeky comic “Dummy” unearthed on eBay: but what changed in the planning before print?

Frank McDiarmid at his exhibition at Whitehills Health & Community Care Centre in Forfar in 2017. Photo: NHS Tayside
Frank McDiarmid at his exhibition at Whitehills Health & Community Care Centre in Forfar in 2017. Photo: NHS Tayside

WEB LINKS

Paul Squires interview with Frank McDiarmid features in Crikey! Collected Volume 3, available from GetMyComics

Cheeky Weekly Blogspot – Frank McDiarmid credits in Cheeky – and example strips

• Kazoop! Posts about Frank McDiarmid and his work

Peter Gray’s Comic and Art: Posts about Frank and his work

The Courier – 26th June 2019 – Cartoon strip legend Frank is real-life Roger the Dodger after Angus art exhibition dates mix-up

With thanks to Simon Sheridan, Irmantas Povliaka at Kazoop!, Lew Stringer and many other Cheeky and Frank McDiarmid fans

Cheeky © Rebellion Publishing Ltd

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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, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Humour Comics, Obituaries

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4 replies

  1. Frank was my uncle and a great man. I have a picture of my dog done by Frank and it was Beris to a T. He will be much missed by so many people. He was a veteran of the RAF, national service, and as a fellow veteran I want to say fly high Frank .

  2. As a kid I drew my own comics, and was hugely inspired by Frank’s work on Cheeky. Loved the jokes, the fluidity of each strip and the many recurring characters Cheeky would meet on his journey.

  3. What a wonderful tribute. Thank you so much. The family are very touched by this. Amazed by the response by the many people who appreciated his work. Kind regards. His wife, Helen.

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