Commando Issue 943 - Mosquito Ace

Secrets Revealed: How artist Gordon Livingstone started on Commando

An example of DC Thomson's Secrets magazine. Photo courtesy Andrea’s Vintage Antiques
An example of DC Thomson’s Secrets magazine. Photo courtesy Andrea’s Vintage Antiques

Some days, it’s just so hard to get going when it comes to comic research, but there are others when good things just fall into your lap. Today was one of those days when good things just kept falling.

My next Comic Creator Spotlight article on downthetubes will be about artist Gordon Livingstone, who is now retired, and I’m looking at his body of work for Commando. Suddenly, out of the blue, artist Ian Kennedy calls me and was kind enough to put me in touch with Gordon’s daughter, Gillian.

So my lunch break at work on Monday 2nd May 2016 was pleasantly spent chatting with the daughter of the man who subconsciously had influenced me so much. Gillian confirmed that her father had indeed ended his career working on Commando – and told me how Gordon ended up working on Commando in the first place, which is a great story by itself.

In the run up to Commando‘s initial release back in 1963, Gordon was working on the DC Thomson magazine, Secrets. This was a big seller in its day, launched in 1932 and published for a very respectable 58 years, finally ceasing publication in 1990. When Gordon was working for it, the title’s format was remarkably similar to the weekly comics of the day, apparently aimed at a young female adult demographic.

It took me a significant amount of searching on the internet just to find the example above (thanks to Ebay seller Andrea’s Vintage Antiques) and Gillian has told me that I can look at the copies that her father was given with the examples of his work! So you can imagine how excited I am to look at those.

Sadly, this magazine seems all but forgotten – so hopefully this article will spark a few memories for some people. But I’m digressing from that “origin” story…

Gordon was working on this magazine when Commando was being prepared when Chick Checkley, Commando‘s editor decided to use Gordon on his new venture. It was quite a daring move as I believe there were strong boundaries between the womens magazines and the boys comics departments at DC Thomson at the time – so for an artist to be moved was quite a departure from the norm. However, when we look a wee bit deeper, it all makes sense.

Gordon’s godmother was one Margaret Checkley and Chick was her son, so it is fairly safe to assume that Chick more than likely grew up with the older Gordon, almost as an additional big brother. So when Chick was given the job of launching a brand new comic, he would have wanted as good an artist as he could get and one that could hit deadlines or else his life as an editor would have been a nightmare! And stealing Gordon from the womens magazines department was probably a lot easier than trying to persuade senior management to pay for another artist to be employed by the company.

Update 5th May 2016

I have found that I have misread the article regarding the passing of Chick Checkley and he passed away at the age of 63 in 1971 rather than 2001. This would have meant that Chick had known Gordon all his life and grown up with Gordon as an additional little brother rather than an additional big brother! So it looks like it was a bit of mentoring that made Chick use Gordon for Commando.

Also Commando and Secrets were both produced by “The Third Floor” so they were produced by the same team so my original thought that Gordon had been poached by Chick seems to be quite wide of the mark.

I have also had feedback from David Roach, whose art is sublime and if you don’t know how good it is, then you are missing out and Calum Laird who had done sterling work as the fourth editor of Commando in keeping Commando alive in an era when social media is king and printed work seems to be a very poor second cousin. Both pieces of feedback are going to be used in my Comic Creator Spotlight article on Down The Tubes, but I will leave you with one tantalising piece of information in that Commando is not actually a D C Thomson creation! More on that anon.

Commando Issue 943 - Mosquito Ace
Commando Issue 943 – Mosquito Ace

For comic fans this has paid off handsomely, as Gordon drew 372 Commandos between 1961 and 1999. To date there have been over 200 reprints of his work – and, in fact, over 35 issues featuring Gordon’s work have been accorded, to me, the ultimate accolade of being reprinted twice.

This goes to show that Gordon’s work has not only appealed to Chick Checkley, but it has also appealed to Ian Forbes, George Low, Calum Laird and our intrepid interim editor Scott Montgomery as I am sure that the five people who have been at the helm of Commando have not just selected the reprints for not only their ability to withstand the test of time, but if it has retained that everyman quality that Commando does so well.

Such continued appeal and allows the war comic to continue to sell while many of its competitors ceased publication and are all but forgotten, with we dedicated few fans of the Picture Library genre doing our best to keep the flame alive.

Art from Commando 2110 - Master Mechanic
Art from Commando 2110 – Master Mechanic

Published by

Colin Noble

Colin Noble

A life-long comic fan specialising mainly in UK adventure comics. I do my best to support my passion for the comics of my youth, Commandos (still going!) and any small press that interest me.

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