Can you help in a hunt for original artwork by John M. Burns?

Colin Brown and Paul Duncan are on the hunt for original artwork by 2000AD, Countdown, Eagle, Look-in artist John M. Burns… can you help? Read on!

John M. Burns is one of the grandmasters of British comics, revered by creators and fans alike for his dynamic action sequences, fluid storytelling, and realistic characterisations. He has been plying his trade in every major UK comic and newspaper since the 1950s, and is still going strong, working into his 80s with “The Order” for 2000AD.

Now, for the first time, there will be a giant full-colour book all about John M. Burns, including his best pages, rare strips, and previously unpublished work, edited by Colin Brown (who runs the official John M. Burns Art page on Facebook) and myself, made with the full cooperation of the artist himself.

However, we still have missing strips and pages we would like to feature. Do you own an amazing page of original JMB artwork that you’d like to see included in the book? Or do you know somebody who has JMB artwork that should be in the book? If so, please get in touch with us asap at ArtOfJMB@gmail.com so we can make this happen.

I’ll post further news on the book as it nears publication.

Paul Duncan

• If you can help with art, please contact Paul Duncan at ArtOfJMB@gmail.com

Check out the John M Burns Art Facebook Page

A Little about John M. Burns

John M. Burns - Self Portrait
John M. Burns, a self portrait

John M. Burns had no formal art training and started as an apprentice at the age of 16 at Link Studio, under Doris White. He worked diligently, and after four years, got his first major job illustrating the 1958 Champion the Wonder Horse Annual. 

Champion the Wonder Horse Annual 1958 End Papers - art by John M. Burns
Champion the Wonder Horse Annual 1958 End Papers – art by John M. Burns

After returning from National Service in the RAF in 1961, John established himself as a reliable, and then much sought-after professional artist on “Wulf the Briton” and “Kelpie the Boy Wizard” in black and white, and “Wrath of the Gods” and “Great Expectations” in colour, appearing in boy, girl and children’s comics like Express WeeklyBoy’s WorldEagleDianaWhamTV Century 21, and Robin

Wrath of the Gods (1963) - art by John M. Burns © Rebellion Publishing Ltd
Wrath of the Gods (1963) © Rebellion Publishing Ltd

In the 1970s, John reached some sort of high point with the full-colour SF masterwork “Countdown” in the comic of the same name. He filled shadows with colours instead of black, which became a trademark of sorts.

"Countdown", from the comic of the same name - art by John M. Burns
“Countdown”, from the comic of the same name © REACH

“In 1970 we had just got our first colour television,” he told me. “If you look at it, it doesn’t have black shadows. They are usually colour, so it seemed like a good idea to use that. I sometimes reversed it by painting half a face and leaving the shadow white. It makes the job more interesting, otherwise it gets boring banging the same stuff out every week.”

John continued experimenting throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s on TV-related strips like “UFO” and “Mission: Impossible” in TV Action, “The Tomorrow People”, “Space: 1999”, “The Bionic Woman”, “How the West was Won”, “Smuggler”, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, and “Magnum P.I.”, in Look-In, and then “The Tripods” in BEEB. “That was where the money was,” he notes. “You adapt and do it. It was also a chance to do some colour. There were no other comics in Britain with good quality colour printing, and the whole comics industry in Britain has been declining since the early seventies, so you grab what you can.”

"UFO" for TV Action - art by John M. Burns
“UFO” for TV Action © ITV Studios
"Buck Rogers in the 25th Century", for Look-In (1981) - art by John M. Burns
“Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, for Look-In (1981) © Universal

As well as some advertising and spot illustration work. John carved out a parallel career drawing newspaper strips. John is a superb figure artist, and in many of his strips there are pictures of partially disrobed and sometimes naked women. For John, this started back in 1973 with the publication of the “Danielle” strip in the Evening News, and continued with “George & Lynne”, “Eartha”, “Jane”, “Lilly” and “Girl Chat”. “This is something that I got lumbered with,” he notes. “It is not of my own choosing. I’d much prefer to draw trees than naked women, mainly because I know more about them than women.”

John has drawn his fair share of strong female characters. In “The Seekers”, a newspaper strip that ran for six years, from 1966-1972, Susanne was every bit a part of the action as her partner.

“[Author] Les Lilley and I originally tried to get a strip off the ground called ‘Miss Cheng’, but the editor said that it was too much like ‘Modesty Blaise’. We didn’t realise at that time that Modesty had an oriental background. So Les and I were on the Tottenham Court Road, trying to think of a way of changing it, and we came up with the idea of this outfit that searched for missing persons. It was sort of based on Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe character – he never moved out of he house and had an operative moving around for him. The main character, Una Frost, did the controlling, and Jacob and Susanne did all the running about.” Eventually, John got to work on “Modesty Blaise” for almost a year.

“The Seekers” was syndicated around the world and John gained an international reputation, leading to work on Zetari. “I was approached in 1983 by the Yugoslavian agent, Ervin Rustemagic, and I agreed to do Zetari. She’s a female mercenary who plies her trade on no particular world, set in no particular time. I can use whatever monsters I want but technically nothing goes beyond the steam engine.”

Zetari (1984) - art by John M. Burns
Zetari (1984)

Two albums were published in Europe, written by Dutch creator Martin Lodewijk, writer of the Don Lawrence-painted Storm series. Likewise, John painted two albums of El Capitán Trueno, Spain’s most popular comic character, who was inspired by Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, in 1991 and 1993 for a Spanish publisher. Zetari and El Capitán Trueno have yet to be published in English.

Collections of Trueno (1991) - art by John M. Burns
Collections of Trueno (1991)

In parallel and in contrast, John also executed over 300 black and white pages of boxing strip “The Fists of Danny Pyke” and teenage comedy “Dolebusters” for Eagle comic, followed by a 24-page full-colour “Dan Dare” SF adventure strip. Other iconic characters followed with Doctor Who and James Bond comics work.

Dan Dare art by John M. Burns
Dan Dare art by John M. Burns. Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation

Since 1991, John has worked increasingly for 2000AD, bringing his unique vision to “Judge Dredd”, “Nikolai Dante”, “The Bendatti Vendetta”, “Sinister Dexter” and, most recently, “The Order”.

He also completed two magnificent graphic novels of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – the latter he originally adapted in 1963 for the weekly girls comic, Diana.

The covers of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre - art by John M. Burns
The covers of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre

For each project, John varies and develops his technique, constantly discovering new ways of telling stories and captivating the reader. In recent years he has relied less on the swooping inked black lines that defined his style, so that story, movement and emotion are conveyed purely by continuous colour, like the illustrators he discovered in his teenage years. Generally, though, John doesn’t plan ahead. He takes each page, each panel of the script and does what he feels like at the time. “It’s very instinctive.”

If you ask John about his work, he’ll say, rather self-depreciatingly, “It’s just a job,” but the blood, sweat and tears he puts into his pages belie that simple statement. It’s there for everybody to see that he lives and breathes his art.

• If you can help with art, please contact Paul Duncan at ArtOfJMB@gmail.com

Check out the John M Burns Art Facebook Page

One of many guest posts for downthetubes.



Categories: 2000AD, British Comics, British Comics - Books, British Comics - Newspaper Strips, Comic Art, Comic Creator Spotlight, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News

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