A Big Thank You: British Comics Archivist, Writer, Collector, and Friend Colin Noble, King of Picture Libraries

Since publishing this tribute this morning, 25th March 2021, we have been informed Colin has passed. Our thoughts are with his wife Karen and family at this time.

Colin Noble

Today, we hope you’ll forgive us turning our attention to writer and comics archivist Colin Noble, a much valued and much appreciated contributor and friend to downthetubes, whose credits also span titles such as Comic Scene, and his own blog, Nothing But a Fan.

Sadly, we’re very sorry to report Colin has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been informed that its level of aggression means that his wife and family are expecting the worst in a fairly short time.

But this post is not to mourn, but celebrate Colin’s contribution to our community, in the hope he will have opportunity to know how much he is appreciated – and, indeed, loved.

We’re reproducing here, some personal messages, and some left on the social media groups he contributed to, and indeed in some cases founded, particularly on Facebook, as a record of just how much both he and his work is valued, and as, in part, too, as a keepsake for his wife, Karen.

Speaking for myself, I haven’t known Colin as well as some, but I do know how much his dedication to documenting British comics is appreciated, particularly tittles such as Commando, in which he once made a cameo thanks to artist Carlos Pino; and other war picture library titles, and how much he enjoyed the output of, in particular, publisher DC Thomson, girls comics, and Rebellion-owned comics such as Battle Picture Weekly.

Colin Noble’s “guest appearance” as a doctor, in the Commando story, “House of Death” (Issue 5269). Art by Carlos Pino. His brother Pete featured too. Art © DC Thomson
Colin Noble’s “guest appearance” as a doctor, in the Commando story, “House of Death” (Issue 5269). Art by Carlos Pino. His brother Pete featured too. Art © DC Thomson

Here on downthetubes, he was instrumental in knocking our Comic Shop Map for the UK and Ireland into shape, among other things. I finally met him in person at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in 2019, and he proved as much of a live wire as I expected, generous with his time and thoughtful, too.

A valiant trooper in the cause of documenting British comics, thank you for all your writing, your support, your good humour. I will miss our chats about obscure British comics, your latest amazing find, and your genuine love of comics as a form. Thank you.

John Freeman

THANK YOU, COLIN!

Jeremy Briggs writes: “I first came across Colin on one of the comics forums many years ago when he was a Victor collector and I was a Warlord collector and we traded our doubles – I just wasn’t expecting to have to have to post them via BFPO to Cyprus as Colin was then still in the RAF.

“When he returned to Scotland I first met him at one of the many events run by Chris Murray and Phil Vaughan at the University of Dundee. There were so many of them that I don’t particularly remember which one, but Colin was so prevalent at them that, despite not living there, I always thought of him as one of “the Dundee crowd”. His knowledge of DC Thomson artists could run rings around mine, as did his conversation as I often struggled to get a word in edgeways through his enthusiasm!

“He organised the third Commando and British Comics Swap Meet in 2018 and convinced perhaps his greatest comics hero, artist Ian Kennedy, to attend. There were photos taken at the end of the day with Colin in his glasses, sitting beside Ian in the white shirt, amongst fellow comics enthusiasts, and that is the way I think of Colin, surrounded by friends, talking comics, and enjoying life.”

Colin Noble (centre) with artist Ian Kennedy and others at the third Commando and British Comics Swap Meet in 2018
Colin Noble (centre) with artist Ian Kennedy and others at the third Commando and British Comics Swap Meet in 2018

“I don’t think anyone who met Colin Noble for the first time was in any doubt that they were in the company of a one-off,” says comics writer and former Commando editor Calum Laird. “His enthusiasm for all things British Comics leaked from every pore. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. I doubt I ever will.

“When I first came across him, and he knows this, I was almost drowned by his tidal wave of exuberance for comics. To me it seemed to border on obsession. As our friendship developed, I realised that it didn’t just border on obsession, it was obsession! Of the best possible sort.

“Colin frequently asked about my time in the comics industry. Having first apologised for always posing questions, he’d launch into his list of things he wanted to know. Quite often, though, I had to point out that he knew more about the world (and even the particular titles) I worked in than I ever would.

“I hope he learned something, anything from me.”

“Colin and I first came into contact when he gave my book about comics a smashing review for downthetubes,” comics editor and writer Steve MacManus recalls. “This was back in the autumn of 2016 and we established a firm friendship thereafter, fostered mainly via jovial chats on Messenger in which he would gleefully educate me on the more arcane aspects of the Scottish language. Later, we were able to meet in person at various comic events, which was always a delight, with Colin full of encouragement for my writing whilst bombarding me with questions about life at Fleetway and IPC. He is, and will remain, forever in my thoughts.”

Colin’s collection extended to commissioned art, too, such as this by Badia Romero
Colin’s collection extended to commissioned art, too, such as this by Badia Romero

“I’ve been lucky to know Colin for at least six or seven years, after bonding with him over our and our wives shared names and a mutual appreciation of a certain Ian Kennedy (who’s elbow you’d often find Colin at!)” says writer and publisher Colin Mathieson of Accent UK Comics. “He has been an enthusiastic ever present at almost every Scottish comics event I’ve attended in that time, either volunteering, chatting to indie creators and guests alike or seeking out some obscure treasure. His mop of hair and infectious smile became a welcome sight on my forays North as were our chats about his latest finds and comic artists of yesteryear.

“One memorable occasion after another Scottish show in Glenrothes, (which I think he missed due to work), he remembered a previous conversation we’d had about a strip that one of my comic heroes, Ted Rawlings had done and promptly located a spare copy of the Victor Summer Special it appeared in, (suitably, it has an Ian Kennedy cover) and drove to my hotel to meet and present me with a copy and spend an enjoyable evening together with Karen who’d accompanied him.

“I could say more as, like others, I have many memories I will treasure but my thoughts go out to Col and his family at this time.

“We often share an ‘in joke’ at events about the number of Scottish comic creators called Colin but I think we’d all agree that Colin Noble is the one and only ‘Comics Colin’.”

Victor Summer Special 1987. Cover art by Ian Kennedy
Victor Summer Special 1987. Cover art by Ian Kennedy

“Having known Colin for a few years, we’ve shared many a comic conversation and he even helped me out at my table at Glasgow Comic-Con a few years ago,” notes comics writer Colin Maxwell. “That was quite an experience, as Colin knows everyone , and I met a lot of lovely people that day. His encyclopaedic knowledge of Commando has been invaluable and I’ve called on him many times to ask advice when writing new Commando stories or pitches.”

“Colin was a regular at our comics events in Dundee, and he always brought joy and insight to the proceedings,” say comic artist and lecturer Philip Vaughan. “I particularly remember his depth of knowledge when it came to our Q&A sessions, particularly when we spoke about Commando! His encyclopaedic knowledge came in very useful, and he was even able to correct the creators (and us) on numerous occasions!

“He would always come armed with a batch of comics to be signed and would often donate spares to our comic space in Dundee. I don’t know how he managed to hunt down some of the comics in his collection! Last time we met was the Great War Dundee event at the V&A, when we had Pat Mills and Ian Kennedy as guests. We also had some original Commando art on display and a huge box of Commandos donated by DCT to give away, I literally saw Colin’s face light up! A good memory! My thoughts go out to his family and friends.”

“Colin Noble has been part of the Scottish comics scene for as long as I can remember,” notes Professor Chris Murray, Chair of Comics Studies and Associate Dean for Knowledge Exchange and Partnerships at the School of Humanities, University of Dundee. “Every time Phil Vaughan and I organised an event at the University of Dundee, Colin was there. And he was usually the first person there! And his enthusiasm lit up the room. He wanted to talk to everyone, ask questions, share stories, and pass on his knowledge. And he is so knowledgable! I will alway think of him clutching a huge pile of Commando comics and waiting patiently for the right moment to get them signed. And that wasn’t at one event.

“I think I met him in that pose at just about every event we attended together! One time Phil and I were at Glenrothes Comic Con and Ian Kennedy had the table next to us. Ian was chatting to fans and Colin showed me a pile of comics that we was going to ask Ian to sign. I made a comment that it was quite the pile. He instantly swung around his bag and opened it to reveal about a hundred more! He said it had been quite a task to whittle down the few he was going to ask Ian to sign. We had a good laugh. And that is Colin in a nutshell. He is a good laugh.

“But putting on my comics scholar hat for a minute, as well as being a mate, Colin has made an enormous contribution to our knowledge of British comics history. He is a comics historian as well as a fan and collector. In his efforts to identify artists, to share his passion for British comics, and through the events he organised, Colin made a huge difference. Jeremy Briggs has noted that he always thought of Colin as one of the ‘Dundee Crowd’, and that is absolutely correct. I have many happy memories of chats with Colin, and was so sad to hear this news. But there are many good times to remember. I hope you get to read this Colin, and know how much everyone appreciates you.”

More art commissioned by Colin

“When I started reading Commando again, seven or eight years ago, I’d notice Colin’s name cropping up again and again in the Facebook groups and we became friends,” convention organiser Paul Trimble notes. “His knowledge was extraordinary and I quickly learnt that his knowledge extended to most British comics-and that he would share it freely. We exchanged messages regularly and I enjoyed many a fun chat with him on the phone, talking about comics and the creators behind them.

“While his main focus was the DC Thomson line of comics mine was the Fleetway/IPC range and manys a gentle barb went back and forth about which comics were better. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet him – he hoped to get over for the Enniskillen ComicFest last year, but then all was cancelled due to Covid, while I hoped to visit one of the Swapmeets he helped organise. Now unfortunately I won’t have the privilege of raising a glass with him to those old comics we love so much.

“Colin is a giant in British comics fandom and I for one will miss him terribly. Salute.”

“Like most I’ve never met him in person,” notes collector Jason Jay Lowe. “He purchased a sculpture from me one time and I enjoyed conversation with him in various groups. His posts/comments were always informative, enjoyable and prolific which kinda makes you feel like they’re more than just a digital associate. Especially as in some instances we talk with certain folks online more than our own families without ever have seeing each other face to face.

“I guess if I wanted to express anything it would be that his knowledge and sense of humour will be greatly missed in many UK comic groups. His absence is missed.”

Colin Noble, photographed in 2018 by Alvin Buchanan at Kirkcaldy ComicCon, with a newly-purchased Durham Red drawing by Janine Van Moosel

“This photo of Colin has great personal significance to me,” says Richard Cambridge. “It was taken by my long term friend Alvin Buchanan, who has also sadly passed.

“I met Colin at the Kirkcaldy ComicCon 2018. He was proudly showing his newly purchased Janine Van Moosel Durham Red drawing photographed here by Alvin.

“I never take to people straight away but with Colin I was talking to him for over a hour that day like we were old friends. This was the last day I saw Alvin and the first day I met Colin. Both gentlemen are legends. I will miss both so much – especially going to any future Cons. They will be sorely missed.”

“One of the good guys,” notes Comic Scene publisher Tony Foster. “He is extremely friendly, helpful, funny, knowledgable and I love his passion for comics. He was very kind to me and with his time. We were recently in touch by text about doing more writing alongside articles I already have. His love of comics just makes me want to read them.”

“I was lucky enough to hang out with Colin at a few comics events over the last few years,” says Awesome Comics Podcast co-host and comics writer Tony Esmond.” He constantly raised a smile and always impressed me with his passion for comics. What more can you say other than I’m proud to know him.”

“Although I can not claim to know Colin well, I am well aware of the huge contribution he has made to British comics fandom and the high esteem in which he is held by so many,” notes fellow downthetubes contributor Ian Wheeler. “I have yet to hear a bad word spoken about him. His knowledge and enthusiasm for comics is legendary and he is a respected and admired figure within our little community. One of the good guys.”

“I was so sad to hear the news about Colin; I’m hoping that he realises just how well respected and liked he is,” says Fanscene editor and publisher David Hathaway-Price.” He was one of the first people to come on board and produce a contribution for my zine, and was hugely supportive of the project. Part way through the process he mentioned that he was a little worried about how large the piece was going to be, and wondered if I would have room to print it? In truth, the article was so well written and informative that I would have gladly given him as much space as he needed.

“His Commando article is still one of the favourite things I’ve ever been privileged to publish. I think he enjoyed seeing it in print as well.

“Thanks for everything, Colin. Wishing you and your family all the strength you need.”

Colin sent downthetubes this snap of just part of his collection recently, innocently asking if he had put David Roach’s Masters of British Comic Art in the right place…

“I’m a comic collector and, like many of us, have given up some of the space in my house for my comics collection,” comics archivist and writer Richard Sheaf muses, asked for his thoughts. “Not that much space. Just a single (small) room. I know my limits (and those of my family!) when it comes to my collection. That’s fine by me, it’s not a problem. As a ‘completionist’ I sometime shy away from collecting titles because I know I just don’t have the room to collect a whole set of something. Like Commando for instance, no room at the inn for 5,500 issues of that and so, despite my 35+ years worth of interest in British comics I always avoided Commando.

“That was until I met Colin Noble. He was a man who seemed to decide one day that picture libraries were the last great unknown of British comics and he was determined to do two things about this:

“Firstly, collect all published picture libraries. That’s definitely the best way to collect comics and to get know stuff, just collect it.

“Secondly, having found ‘stuff’ out about said picture libraries he was determined to spread the news of what he’d found out.

“Task one is tricky unless you have a large house and a large bank balance,” Richard continues. “Colin might have had a big enough house for his comics but he didn’t want to spend all his money collecting comics. Instead he attempted to swap comics wherever possible. A swap was always preferable to Colin. He ended up with a full set of Commando comics through the power of swapping. Many was the photo he would post on Facebook group of a load of picture libraries that he’d acquired from Gumtree, a local Facebook group or an auction house. Knowing I was based ‘down South’ he’d message me to see how near I lived to Kent (or wherever) because he was just seeing if I could help procure a bargain for him.

“The thrill of the comics collecting chase, the thrill of knowing what you’ve got and then getting out there and building a comics collection without spending too much cash. That would be enough for most people – it would certainly occupy most people.

“Not Colin though. He was determined to identify artists who’d contributed to all the picture libraries he’d collected. Having a great eye for the artists who worked for the comics and the picture libraries of DC Thomson he methodically recorded what he found, so that if anyone had a question about a particular comic or picture library he had the answer at his fingertips. With 5500+ issues of Commando alone that was a lot of questions for people to ask and a lot of answers from Colin, always freely given.

“And a two-day swapmeet. And volunteering at comic events. Plus the comics Facebook groups he set up to help share the appreciation for the artists that he loved. My word, there’s a lot to cover and we haven’t even mentioned his friendship with Ian Kennedy.

“But back to the beginning… All this love, this enthusiasm from Colin for Commando forced me to look again at it and, shock horror, even start to pick up issues now and again for my collection. I’ll never have a full set of Commando and that’s OK but I do know that whenever I look at my Commando comics, I’ll always be reminded of Colin and I’ll think of him and I’ll miss him and, like most of us, I’ll want to talk comics with him.

“Colin Noble – the king of the picture libraries. Thanks for all the help you provided so many people with over the years and thanks for working so hard to spread the gospel of comics. The world is going to be a quieter place without you my friend. Enjoy the great swapmeet in the sky.”

“Personally, I’m losing a good mate who has not only shared my passion for my comics and the growth of both of our collections over the last six years or so,” notes fellow collector Doug Brain. “but has allowed me to learn a phenomenal amount of information about our shared passion from his wealth of knowledge on virtually all areas of British Comics. I will sorely miss our almost daily conversations of all things comics and the banter which we both partook in with great enthusiasm.

“Top bloke.”

“There is, and ever will be, only one Colin Noble,” says Commando artist Ian Kennedy, whose words we choose to wrap this heartfelt tribute. “The World of Comics will be unimaginably poorer without him. To Colin, Karen and their family, may I express my heartfelt sympathy at this unbearably sad time.”

So say all of us, Colin! Thank you. downthetubes owes you much. I owe you much. You will be remembered.

Colin Noble, writer, British comics archivist, comics catalyst, friend, born 4th December 1968, died 25th March 2021

If you’d like to mark Colin’s passing, donations should be made the homeless charity, CRISIS – crisis.org.uk

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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, Obituaries, Site Announcements

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2 replies

  1. Colin was my best man at my first marriage, I first met him in 1996 while we were both serving at Brize Norton through wargaming. We met up at RAFWA events and those ‘small’ weekend games hosted by our close friend Pete Gill, plus bumping into him when I was posted out to Cyprus. Up until a couple of years ago we remained in contact.
    Ever a bubbly, helpful personality with a passion for reading, and of course, his collection of comics, he is a devoted family man and my thoughts go out to him, his wife Karen and the children at this time.
    This post is a just and fair representation of Colin and the legend plus he legacy he has built in the comic world.
    Per Ardua Ad Astra my old friend.

  2. I only met Colin a few times at conventions, but the main thing that sticks is he always had a big smile on his face! He would have endless suggestions of comics to read or artists to have a look at, based on the conversation of the minute. I loved his enthusiasm. Great guy and a happy soul.

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