There are many comic artists that I have still to identify whose work I’ve enjoyed down the years. Others that I have identified and see that others also share my enjoyment of their work. But there are many more who are unsung heroes and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to identify some of their work, but one that I identified early on was the man with such a distinctive style that his washes could never be identified for anyone else. And that man is Jim Watson.
Jim Watson has been on my radar since 1975 when I first saw his art in Commando Issue 912 – “Private Apache“ (most recently reprinted as a fan favourite in Issue 4773). I was amazed by the way he filled in backgrounds with the lightest of hatching that always told you, the reader, that this was his work. His use of inks to produce shade and solidity was also a dead giveaway.
Another ‘tell’ for me is that the way that Jim would draw faces. They always had such character. Since publishing this article in July 2015, I have been searching out confirmation of Jim’s other work in Commando and it has taken me until September 2015 to confirm that Jim’s other Commando issues were 930 – “Cave Of Secrets”, 945 – “Secret of The Sands”, 957 – “Atlantic Veteran”, 976 – “Crazy Guy” and 1006 – “Schoolboys At War” which was published in February 1976.
Even now, 40 years on, I still marvel at his work. And this article has taken far longer to produce than it should have as I have constantly been distracted by examining Jim’s work in greater detail than I have for many a year. And when you see his work, you will understand that the constant distraction of great art means that it is a small miracle to produce any article!
Jim Watson was born in 1933, so I am sure that he must have done plenty work prior to my discovery of him in DC Thomson’s publications. So I have had a look around the internet and I find that he is also credited with working for TV Century 21 in 1968 on Gerry Anderson’s “Zero X”, taking over over the art duties from Mike Noble and drawing the strip for most of the year.
This is a serial that I had never seen before and perhaps this could have become another TV series for Gerry Anderson to produce, as it details the rocket ship that was to go on a mission to Mars. Interestingly, it is also the only vehicle to feature in both Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.
After this, Jim moved on to the “Captain Scarlet” stories for the rest of 1968 and most of the 1969 run, with the occasional episode given to another artist. This seems to be where Jim began his work for DC Thomson, but as my collection of early 1970s comic is sketchy, I cannot confirm when Jim’s first work appeared for DC Thomson.
He also drew “Colony Earth” for 2000AD. This is one of my favourites as this was the comic that allowed me to begin my life long quest to identify artists and attribute artists to styles. Before I had read 2000AD, I did not have any idea of who any comic artist was apart from styles, who I liked and who I preferred to be drawing a specific story.
Jim drew the “Legends of War” series and “Mark of A Traitor”, amongst others, for Victor, “The Heavy Mob” for Warlord, and several strips for Battle, including “The Red Baron” the first representation of Baron Ironblood for “Action Force” when the comic was Battle Action Force and almost the entire run of “Tales From the Grave” for Scream!
Two pages of True War Issue One
He also drew for the very short lived magazine True War. This only managed three issues and was a cross between the Victor true stories and the part work anthologies that were popular during the 1970s. Some of his early work for DC Thomson include “Bishop’s Boffins” (written by Chris Fitzsimons) for the Hotspur in 1972. The surprise for me is that he only drew six Commandos for DC Thomson.
I want to take some extra time to review this image from “Bishop’s Boffins”, the kind of story that I felt that DC Thomson excelled in creating. It centred on a specific set of characters and how they would solve the problem that was the narrative hook for that week’s episode. In this case, it was a group of scientists who had to create war-winning ideas to counter specific enemy threats.
For my money, these two panels from issue 672 of the Hotspur (cover dated 19th August 1972, if you want to track it down) are a masterclass in how an artist can use the simplest medium to convey so much information in such a small space. When this was printed, it was only about 4″ x 2″ and yet you can easily see that it is in a cold part of the world, the story is set during a war and if you know your aircraft, you would know that it is a Heinkel He 111 bomber, which makes it a World War Two story – and that the heroes are under attack whilst at sea.
The panels are so detailed you can almost feel the cold pouring off the page. You can also see all three of the ‘tells’ as well – the light hatching to indicate background, the use of inks to denote shadow and solidity and the character in the face. There is no way you can mistake this work as being from the hand of anyone other than Jim Watson.
There is a certain amount of confusion as there was also a writer called Jim Watson who worked in the humour comics at the time and I have a feeling that any writing credits have been mistakenly attributed to Jim Watson the artist.
Unfortunately, it looks likely that Jim was one of those who left the comics industry as the mainstream comics could not continue to offer him enough work. But that is pure speculation. The last comic artwork of his that I can track down any mention of is “The Scary Cat Challenge” from the short-lived Super Naturals comic in 1988.
There must be other examples of Jim’s work out there, but I have just not discovered them yet. But no matter what the reason, I ask you all to remember this unsung hero of the comics world and wish him well.
• There are more details of Jim Watson’s work on Comic Vine
• There are more details of Jim Watson’s work on TV21’s “Zero X” strip on The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History site (link via WayBack)
• There are more details of Jim Watson’s work on TV21’s “Captain Scarlet” strip on the Spectrum Headquarters site
• There’s an interview with Chris Fitzsimons, who wrote some of the “Bishop’s Boffins” strips, here on the Victor and Hornet fan site
Image research by Jeremy Briggs and Phil Rushton