The very welcome reveal of 2000AD‘s cover of their first Misty collection – featuring art from a 1980 Misty Special – came tinged with the sad news of the passing of the much-admired artist who painted it, Shirley Bellwood, who had been ill for some time. She was 84.
Rebellion’s Keith Richardson announced her passing on the Get Misty Back in Print Facebook group last week, revealing he had been hoping to persuade Shirley to provide an introduction for the new collection and had been trying to make contact with her for the last two months, only to discover she had died in January, aged 84.
“I don’t know what eactly she thought about Misty, but I for one think that she was a massive talent who deserves a lot more recognition for her work in the industry,” he commented.
Many downthetubes readers of a certain age will certainly agree with Keith’s view and will, I’ve no doubt, vividly recall her striking work on girls comics, particularly her inspiring covers.
“Shirley’s covers for Misty were iconic and set the tone for the comic,” Pat Mills told downthetubes. “They conveyed an air of magic, mystery and femininity that was unique and compelling.”
Shirley grew up in Pool in Wharfedale in Yorkshire, later living in Malvern, and studied at Leeds College of Art and later lived in Malvern.
A highly-accomplished illustrator and painter, Shirley Bellwood’s work on girls’ comics began in the 1950s, initially, it is believed, on on C Arthur Pearson’s Glamour Library; going on to work on titles such as Valentine, Romeo, Mirabelle and Roxy.
Later, she would work on Sally, Jinty and, of course, Misty, making the character’s fictional editor her own – indeed, the character was based on her own likeness – on both covers and in internal illustrations, some used as posters.
Despite the quality of her work, particularly on Misty, very little has survived down the years, her art going the way of other greats such as Frank Hampson and lost in company clear outs, office moves – or to deliberate destruction.
As well as her memorable comics work, she illustrated for many publishers, including the Folio Society, including He Knew He Was Right in 1989 and Ralph the Heir and La Vendee, all written by Anthony Trollope in the 1990s. She was also one of the illustrators who worked on a series of Dennis Wheatley story collections published by Heron Books between 1972 and 1977, providing art for Three Inquisitive People in 1973.
Her work also included illustrations for titles as varied as How to Sing by Graham Hewitt (1978); Twelve Little Girls (Purple Shooting Star) (1984); Petticoat Smuggler by Helen Cresswell (1985) Double Holiday by Michael Hardcastle (1985); Dan’s Secret Pony by Helen Muir (1985); Holidays With My Uncle by Joyce Weldon-Searle, published in 1992; and Trolley Trouble by Heidi Anne Whyle (1993), one of a series of readers for African students which aimed to help them to develop an awareness and a love of language, and consists of stories from all over Africa. The art in the latter reflects Shirley’s love of children as a subject, seen in so much of her work, who often featured in her commercial work and paintings.
In 2012, she provided a number of illustrations for a new edition of The Mill on the Floss, published in English and German by Hueber Verlag. In 2014, Oxford University Press re-published Oxford Reading Tree TreeTops Classics: Level 17: Stories Of Sherlock Holmes by Trevor Millum, first published in 2006, which includes illustrations by Shirley.
Despite illness, she continued to work. Her last commercial illustration work was for a book entitled The Unremembered Inn by Max Harris in 2015.
In the wider art world, Shirley was highly regarded as a still life and portrait painter, the subject of major exhibitions at the Contemporary Portrait Society, which holds annual exhibitions at a variety of galleries, and Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Her portraits were commissioned by numerous people in many walks of life, including politics, the arts, journalism and show business.
It’s very sad that this much admired artist has passed unnoticed by the comics community, although it is not, perhaps surprising as she made no appearances relating to her work in the industry. Her first ever convention appearance, planned in 2014 and announced here on downthetubes, was cancelled due to ill health.
In 2014, she was invited to a ‘Draw Misty For Me’ panel with Patrick Mills as part of The British Library’s Comics Unmasked programme. Not well enough to attend, comics historian Paul Gravett notes Pat Mills talked with Julia Round about Misty – and the whole audience signed a Get Well card which she was very pleased to receive.
“Sadly, her health prevented us from recording an interview with her for the Comix Creatrix exhibition,” says Paul.
An unpublished Misty image is part of the Comix Creatrix until 15th May at House of Illustration, loaned by David Roach. It is, possibly, the only surviving piece of her Misty original artwork.
“Everything else was destroyed,” says Paul Gravett. “And such was the disrespect of the publishers for comics art, this piece was saved only because it was being used as a cutting board, with a two-line cross sliced through it.”
“There was a sizeable chunk cut out of the top left chunk of the page,” David Roach reveals, “just to the left of Misty’s face, so that whole area was drawn and inked by me, carrying on the building that Shirley had drawn and trying to guess what might have been thee orignally. So… it’s a bit of a collaboration.”
Shirley was an artist of considerable and distinct talent. It is a terrible shame that fans of her work were never able to have the opportunity to directly thank her incredible contributions to British comics. Perhaps, like the late Ken Barr, she preferred her privacy over much deserved public acclaim.
We extend our sympathies to her friends and family.
Shirley Bellwood, born 20th May 1931, died 1st February 2016
• A Resource on Jinty: Shirley Bellwood posts
• The Official Misty web site: www.mistycomic.co.uk
• The Bronze Age of Blogs looks back on Misty here
• UK Comics Wikia: Shirley Bellwood
• Mike Tomkies’ nature books on Amazon.co.uk (there is no indication of which of these Shirley may have illustrated)
Compiled with thanks to Jenni Scott, Paul Gravett, GreatNewsForAllReaders, Max Harris, Pat Mills, David Roach, Julia Round, Philip Rushton and Basil Sellwood