Comic Creator Spotlight: Beano and Dandy artist Ken H. Harrison

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.

The opening page of the first “Kings of the Castle” story from Sparky No. 230, cover dated 14th June 1969, "Kings of the Castle", drawn by Ken Harrison,  replaced "Wyatt Twerp" in the centre, full colour pages. This first series lasted 31 issues to No 260. It would return in 1970. With thanks to Alan Smith
The opening page of the first “Kings of the Castle” story from Sparky No. 230, cover dated 14th June 1969, “Kings of the Castle”, drawn by Ken Harrison, replaced “Wyatt Twerp” in the centre, full colour pages. This first series lasted 31 issues to No 260. It would return in 1970. With thanks to Alan Smith
“Skookum School” from the first issue of Buzz, cover dated 20th January 1973. With thanks to Lew Stringer
“Skookum School” from the first issue of Buzz, cover dated 20th January 1973. With thanks to Lew Stringer
“The Headhunters”, a continuation of “Skookum Skool” from the by then defunct Buzz, from Cracker No. 1, cover dated 18th January 1975. With thanks to Lew Stringer
“The Headhunters”, a continuation of “Skookum Skool” from the by then defunct Buzz, from Cracker No. 1, cover dated 18th January 1975. With thanks to Lew Stringer
“The Headhunters”, a continuation of “Skookum Skool” from the by then defunct Buzz, from Cracker No. 1, cover dated 18th January 1975. With thanks to Lew Stringer

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.

Classics from the Comics, March 2010. Cover by Ken Harrison
Classics from the Comics, March 2010. Cover by Ken Harrison
A panel from “The Broons” by Ken Harrison. With thanks to Peter Gray
A panel from “The Broons” by Ken Harrison. With thanks to Peter Gray
“Oor Willie” by Ken H. Harrison. With thanks to Peter Gray
“Oor Willie” by Ken H. Harrison. With thanks to Peter Gray

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.

“Desperate Dan” original art by Ken Harrison, from a 1990 issue of The Dandy. With thanks to Glenn Dundeeart
“Desperate Dan” original art by Ken Harrison, from a 1990 issue of The Dandy. With thanks to Glenn Dundeeart
Jaw versus Law - a bit of fun from Ken H. Harrison.With thanks to Danny Pearson. Judge Dredd copyright Rebellion
Jaw versus Law – a bit of fun from Ken H. Harrison.With thanks to Danny Pearson. Judge Dredd copyright Rebellion

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.

“Robbie Rebel” from the 2008 Beano annual
“Robbie Rebel” from the 2008 Beano annual

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.

Dandy Annuals, 2018 and 2019 - cover art by Ken H. Harrison
Ken Harrison’s covers for The Dandy 2018 Summer Special and 2019 Dandy annual

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.

Desperate Dan (and accoutrements) make an appearance at the 2017 Barton Carnival, an annual event in Ken’s home town. Image: Historic Barton upon Humber
Desperate Dan (and accoutrements) make an appearance at the 2017 Barton Carnival, an annual event in Ken’s home town. Image: Historic Barton upon Humber

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!

WEB LINKS

Lew Stringer featured the work of Ken H. Harrison many times on his Blimey! blog

Peter Gray’s Ken H.Harrison Comic Fan Site on Facebook

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.

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, Comic Creator Spotlight, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News

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