Ken H. Harrison is a British comic artist, now retired, best known for his work on numerous strips for The Beano, “Desperate Dan” for The Dandy, and “The Broons” and “Oor Wullie” for The Sunday Post.
Initially working on strips such as “Kings of the Castle” for Sparky, over a 40-year career, Ken drew strips such as “Robbie Rebel“, “Big Brad Wolf” and “Lord Snooty” and “Minnie the Minx“, in a style reminiscent of original artist Leo Baxendale, for The Beano.
He also drew “The Hoot Squad” for Hoot (later reprinted as “The Riot Squad” in The Beano), and “Skookum Skool“, “Spookum Skool” and “The Snookums” for Buzz and Cracker comics; and many front covers for DC Thomson’s long-running Classics from the Comics reprint title.
Other credits include “Oor Wullie” and “The Broons” for The Sunday Post for many years, and “Korky the Cat“, “Harry and His Hippo” and, most notably, “Desperate Dan” for The Dandy, for some 25 years between 1983 and 2007, until the comic was revamped.
“Robbie Rebel” who debuted in the Beano No. 3104, cover dated 12th January 2002, was based on the singer, Robbie Williams, who’s an honorary member of the Beano Club. His popularity inspired then Beano editor Euan Kerr to seek make him a “loveable rogue” and a Dennis the Menace for the 21st Century. “Harrison’s clean drawing style immediately cemented the strips’ popularity,” notes an entry for the strip on the Hey Kids Comics Wiki.
Initially, Ken’s continuing work on “Desperate Dan” for The Dandy meant “Robbie Rebel” did not appear as regularly as other characters. However, when “Desperate Dan” was revamped when The Dandy got a facelift in September 2004, both strips were drawn in a similar, simpler style, enabling Ken to draw both on a more regular basis.
When “Desperate Dan” went reprint in mid-2007, Ken was then able to concentrate entirely on “Robbie”, who began to appears on a weekly basis, until the strip’s run ended in February 2008 after a six-year run, so Harrison could take over “Minnie the Minx”, a strip he would draw until 2012.
Ken also continues to provide “Desperate Dan” art for various DC Thomson Dandy specials and annuals, although some health issues prevent more regular work. Plus, as mentioned, he’s retired!
In 2014, he would draw “Wor Nicky” for The Sunday Post, the strip billed by the paper as their first all-new cartoon since 1936. “Wor Nicky” is a community nurse and described as a “feisty lass from Geordieland”, a strip clearly designed to appeal to the paper’s many readers in the North of England.
Writer and editor John Anderson tells us that, although also credited as writer on the strip by some sources, they were mostly written by Morris Heggie. John says the extent of his role was to provide the artist with the occasional bit of north-eastern vernacular(“and explanations of what pease pudding is and looks like,” he tells us.
Despite his numerous comic achievements, mostly for DC Thomson, he tends to avoid the limelight, but despite this reticence is considered such a celebrity in his home town of Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire that a restaurant was established, at least partly, in his name!
Back in 2014, chef Pete Storey opened Harrisons Restaurant in Barton upon Humber, a business now ensconced at the George Inn, chosing the name in reference to the town’s two famous residents: John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronological clock, and Ken Harrison. A 2015 review for Lincolnshire Life noted it offered a menu that included included a selection of steaks such as Harrisons Chicken Time, and Desperate Dan’s beef short rib!
“I must have written for Ken off and on for… maybe 25 years,” says Iain McLaughlin.”When I was writing ‘Desperate Dan’ for him, I knew I could ask him to draw anything – even the most ridiculous of things – and he would deliver a perfect, beautiful job every time, no matter the scale or the lunacy involved.
“He also brought Minnie the Minx back to life when she’d been struggling for popularity,” Iain adds.”Great artist, really nice bloke. And at risk of being dubbed a heretic, I prefer his Dan to Dudley Watkins.”
“I was a reader of the 1980s, so loved his work on ‘The Wild Rovers’ in Nutty and The Dandy’s “Harry and his Hippo,” enthuses artist Peter Gray, who runs a Facebook group dedicated to Ken.
“Ken handles a big group of characters very well,” he muses, “every panel is different. When I discovered ‘King of the Castle’, in Sparky, it was mind blowing. His work certainly deserved the centre pages in colour. So it was great he got a big character in Desperate Dan, and has drawn some great covers for the Dandy summer special and annuals.
“He’s also brilliant at drawing the female form, which was wonderful for ‘The Broons’,” Peter feels. “‘The Hoot Squad’ is another gem … Ken’s art is really worth rediscovering and studying each panel in detail.”
Ken’s art is always worth looking out for and even though he may not be keen on the attention, we here at downthetubes would like to thank him for all his amazing work!
All strip images (unless otherwise stated) © 2021 DC Thomson Media | Beano Studios
With thanks to John Anderson, Peter Gray, Iain McLaughlin, Nigel Parkinson and Lew Stringer
• An earlier version of this story wrongly credited Ken H. Harrison as the artist who drew former Beatle Paul McCartney’s meeting with Desperate Dan in the last Dandy ever to be printed in 2012, a strip that saw the musclebound cowboy nearly breaking the legendary singer and guitarist’s strumming hand during an overeager handshake. This was entirely the work of Nigel Parkinson.
“It was my idea to have Paul McCartney in the final print Dandy,” Nigel said back in 2012. “I’d intended to have him in it a long time ago as I always remembered he once half-jokingly said his ambition was to be in The Dandy (see here), and thanks to my pal the Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, he was persuaded that if he wanted to be in The Dandy, it was now or never! Paul immediately wrote me a nice note that I was able to pass on…”
We apologise to both creators for the error.