Ken Houghton may a name unfamiliar to many British comic fans, but after chatting with artist Alan Langford this morning, I discovered his influence extends well beyond his comics work for titles ranging from Battle, Look and Learn to Sally, Jinty and Tammy.
Ken, who died in the 1980s, represented by agent Mike Fowler, worked on a range of titles from the 1960s onwards, for various publishers, including DC Thomson and Fleetway.
Much of his comics work seems to have been for girls comics, both ongoing strips such as “Castaways of Voodoo Island” for Tammy and Sally (1971) and complete stories for titles both Jinty and Tammy. These included contributions to the “Monster Tales” segment of Tammy and Jinty, published in early 1982, alongside strips from Mario Capaldi and others. He also contributed to DC Thomson’s long-running girls title, Bunty.
The Jinty Resource site notes Ken Houghton was a sporadic artist in Jinty until “Tansy of Jubilee Street” arrived from Penny in the early 1980s. Afterwards, Houghton was a regular artist until Peter Wilkes replaced him on the strip.
All three of Houghton’s Jinty serials addressed historical periods: “Bridey Below the Breadline” (Stuart period), “Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud” (Victorian period, a strip,that also replaced “Bridey”), and “House of the Past” (time travel to the 1930s).
Ken he also drew an episode of “Rat Pack” for Battle Picture Weekly, so it may be that some of his work features, uncredited, in other boys’ titles, too.
Also among his known credits is an adaptation of “Lorna Doone”, the last comic strip serial to appear in Look and Learn magazine back in 1981, debuting in issue 1003 (cover dated 30th May 1981). Steve Holland notes, in his brief tribute to Ken on Bear Alley, that Look and Learn continued to appear for almost another year, coming to an end with issue 1049 (cover dated 17th April 1982).
“I recall getting a call from Ken’s business partner, Mike Fowler explaining that Ken had died of cancer,” Alan Langford tells downthetubes. “Together they had formed the Artright Artists Agency, who found me regular work for a number of years, occasionally for IPC Magazines, but mainly for DC Thomson.
“I distinctly recall making regular trips to the London Golf Club, in St. Brides Lane, which was nowhere near a golf course. Ken would sit amidst his young prodigies, which included myself, and with deft strokes of his pencil explain how certain effects could be produced. He loved drawing the portraits of beautiful women.
“Ken was a vocal admirer of the Marvel artist John Buscema, who illustrated the Conan comic for a good many years,” Alan also recalls. “During the occasions when I met him, he was working on the ‘Lorna Doone’ artwork for Look and Learn. He was also a skilled lettering artist and calligrapher – the title artwork for ‘Lorna Doone’ was depicted by Ken.
“After Ken died, Mike Fowler continued running the agency, and introduced me to Puffin Books Fighting Fantasy series, which helped to support us following the decline of the comic industry. Sadly, he too is no longer with us.”
As a mentor to numerous comic creators, teaching evening art classes, one of Ken’s students was artist Sean Phillips, who went on to work for him as his assistant, and was ghost pencilling for him on stories for DC Thomson from age 15.
“He taught me there was more to comics than superheroes and barbarians, and really helped me a lot,” Sean said back in 2008. “I remember him drawing that ‘Lorna Doone’ strip at the time.”
Ken drew the first episode of a story called “The Secret of Penny Farthing” for Bunty in 1982, but subsequent episodes pencilled by Sean – his first published comics work – which Ken inked.
“[Ken] inked and saved my pencils on the subsequent episodes,” Sean feels. “I drew this while still at school, managing to pencil three pages each weekend. Ken taught me a lot and I ghosted pencils for him for a few years until I was 18, when I started doing pages all on my own.”
Sadly, Ken died in the late 1980s, “far too young”, Sean notes, and like many other well-established creators of the period, particularly on British girls comic, it doesn’t appear he was ever interviewed. But if there’s a comic archivist who can contradict that supposition, please by all means let us know, thank you.
With thanks to Alan Langford for prompting this feature