Gordon Livingstone in his garden, with the art that featured in Commando Issue 2786 "Protect or Die", published in August 1994.

Comic Creator Spotlight: The Art of Gordon Livingstone

Gordon Livingstone
Artist Gordon Livingstone – a self portrait, drawn in 2004

Artist Gordon Livingstone is another unsung hero of British comics. Born on 17th August 1934, he grew up in the tenements of Lochee, Dundee. As a school leaver, Gordon ended up working as an office boy for a local law firm and would end up drawing rather than doing his job. Fortunately for us, the lawyer who caught Gordon drawing when he should have been working was also a good friend of Norman Lee, the head artist at newspaper publishers John Leng & Co. Recognising young Gordon’s talent, the lawyer passed Gordon’s art to Norman, who soon told the lawyer to bring Gordon to the John Leng offices five weeks later, when Gordon turned 16.

So thanks to the keen eye of one member of the Scottish legal profession, Gordon worked at John Leng’s and DC Thomson from 1950 as a fresh faced youth from Lochee until he retired in 1999. I’ll let Gordon’s cover the start of his career in his own words, which are being reproduced with the kind permission of Peter Richardson.

“Anyway, that was the very early days and I did my two years drawing and I was gently weaned into the little children’s stuff and the lady’s magazines like Secrets, My Weekly, The People’s Friend. The People’s Friend! My goodness me — a bastion of DC Thomson if ever there was. And they allowed me to do these little drawings with which they seemed to be well content…”

To give you an idea of how well content, they were, we have some samples from Gordon’s own sketch book of the time.

Lady of Dundee by Gordon Livingstone
Lady of Dundee by Gordon Livingstone
Study in Jacket by Gordon Livingstone
Sketch study – jackets

 

 

Tay Bridge by Gordon Livingstone
Tay Bridge

Gordon’s career as an artist was interrupted in 1952, when he was called up to do his two years National Service, which he completed in the Royal Army Service Corps, spending the majority of his time stationed in Germany. During this time, Gordon proved himself to be a keen sportsman, playing a significant amount of hockey and rising to the rank of Acting Sergeant as the Transport Sergeant for his Unit before completing his time and returning to civilian life.

Gordon continued to work on the ladies papers and teen romance such as Golden Heart Love Stories, Love and Life Library, Silver Moon, Secrets and many others which we have yet to track down. Finding copies of these teen romances is exceptionally hard especially when you think that we are trying to find them almost 60 years after they were published.

However, thanks to Gordon’s daughter, Gill, we do have some examples of his work on Secrets from the 1980s and it is my pleasure to bring them into the light once more.

(My thanks here also to David Roach, who is not only a very talented artist, but is also one of Britain’s experts on the artists for magazine and comics aimed at female readers).

Secrets 2267 Cover 1987

It’s interesting to see that Secrets was created using the same printing process that had produced the boys and girls’ weeklies since the 1950s and continued to be printed in that format until at least 1991 when the boys and girls’ weeklies had been converted to the glossier and slightly better enduring paper.

Secrets 2624

My main experience of Gordon’s work is his prolific output in Commando, where he created the internal art for 369 issues over a 38-year period. If we include the 230 issues where the stories Gordon illustrated have been reprinted, then we have almost 600 issues where he has an internal art credits. And that’s not to mention his 63 original Commando covers and other work, all of it dutifully catalogued by Vic Whittle, who has done fans of Gordon’s work proud in cataloguing each and every one of these on his Gordon Livingstone page.

Six of The Best Commando comics by Gordon Livingstone
Six of The Best Commando comics by Gordon Livingstone

Above are five of the first Commandos that Gordon produced. For some reason, a random issue by Rafael Aura Leon (Issue 8, “Red Runs The River”) was also in the box, but it is in such illustrious company, we can forgive it for sneaking into Gordon’s file copies box.

To give you an idea of how amazing that is, Jim Watson produced six over the space of 12 months and never worked on Commando again and Cam Kennedy drew 25 over a five-year period – so for anyone to average almost one a month every month for 38 years is pretty hardcore.

Gordon Livingstone in his garden, with the art that featured in Commando Issue 2786 "Protect or Die", published in August 1994.
Gordon Livingstone in his garden, with the art that featured in Commando Issue 2786 “Protect or Die”, published in August 1994.

My only regret is that I cannot find anything of his earlier published work for the reader to enjoy. However, thanks to the kindness of his family, I am able to show some of his published art that has not been seen for a few years… So I hope you can suffer the issue of seeing pictures of the original work rather than the published versions.

House of Fear for Secrets magazine by Gordon Livingstone
“House of Fear” for Secrets magazine

 

Lady of Mystery by Gordon Livingstone
“Lady of Mystery”
Potential Picture Library Cover
A potential Picture Library cover

The colour piece above is wonderful and I wonder if it is actually the cover from one of the People Friend‘s Picture Libraries.

Gordon also enjoyed the rather unique position of being one of the first “home” artists, one who would work from home and drop off his work on a weekly basis at the DC Thomson offices. At the time, Gordon became a home artist, there were only two others that he was aware of: Dudley D Watkins and James “Peem” Walker. Gordon was put on working from home on a probationary basis in 1957 at the tender age of 23. This probationary period was never confirmed so when Gordon retired in 1999, he asked the company chairman Brian Thomson, who presented him with his retirement gift, if he could consider his probationary period as being up by then!

One little diamond of a fact has come from his family in that Gordon was asked if he would like to sign his work and have his signature published. For those of you that have studied DC Thomson comics in any depth, you will know that there was a time when getting a printed credit was a singular honour, offered to very few artists. However, Gordon’s modesty prevented him from accepting such an ego boost.

(It is of course a bit of a shame as far as his fans are concerned, as it would have allowed us to have identified his work even earlier – and we could have ensured that Gordon would have known how much his work is loved by British comic fans. But it was great to learn of DC Thomson’s offer).

Learning of the publisher’s proposal, when I found this lovely picture of a Jeep by Gordon, I had to include it in this article as it gives us an idea of what we could have seen in the internal cover pages of Commando if Gordon had taken it up.

Jeep in colour, 2002, by Gordon Livingstone

Or possibly it could have been like this…

Gordon Livingstone - Signature

Gordon also found time to draw features for Warlord – “The Falklands File”, a project Jeremy Briggs has previously covered for downthetubes. This was based on the format that had been used in the Rover and Wizard text papers where the centre pages would be given over to an article which would be a two page splash drawn by an artist with accompanying text to put the picture into context.

 

Gordon also found time, when he wasn’t either on the golf course or cycling, to do art for friends and family and it is with the kind permission of Gordon’s daughter that I am able to reproduce some of it here.

Couple in Grey by Gordon Livingstone

The lady in the next one gives us an idea of how accomplished an artist was as Gordon produced this colour piece at the tender age of 19.

Lady In Thought - Gordon Livingstone

This next piece makes me think of Ian Kennedy and as Gordon and Ian were friends, it would not surprise me if this was a bit of subconscious influence.

Looking Right

But one of my favourite pieces that I was shown has to be this wonderful couple.

Accidental Encounter by Gordon Livingstone
“Accidental Encounter”

I just want to finish the article off by thanking Gordon’s family for being so generous with their time and their access to the body of Gordon’s work.

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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