Former Fleetway editor Barrie Tomlinson pays tribute to John Gillatt, the artist best known for his work on strips such as “Billy’s Boots”, “Black Archer” and “Jet-Ace Logan” (for Comet and Tiger), who we have just learned died in November…
I was devastated to hear that my old friend John Gillatt had passed away in November, at the age of 87. He had suffered a massive stroke in May, which left him paralysed down one side and unable to speak.
I have always considered John to be one of the very best artists who worked on the comics. His detailed artwork was always so very true to life. No matter what subject he tackled, the results were always first class.
I first met John when he came into the Tiger office at New Fleetway House in the 1960s, when John was working on the “Jet-Ace Logan” strip for Tiger. I was massively impressed with Johnʼs artwork on this story and his creation of many different creatures which threatened Earthʼs existence. It was comic artwork at its very best.
I can remember when John drew a story called “The Forest Rangers“. This was based on a Canadian television series, re-shown on ITV and I was amazed at the likenesses John achieved of the main characters. They were so good, they were like photographic images!
Another story illustrated by John was “Football Family Robinson“, a strip he took over from Joe Colquhoun. (Two really brilliant artists illustrating this story makes it one to remember!)
John had a very long run illustrating the “Johnny Cougar” wrestling story in Tiger. As always, his artwork ensured the story was extremely popular. I can remember, in 1992, John doing some cover illustrations for the Johnny Cougar Wrestling Monthly. Those covers in themselves are a true tribute to someone who was a master illustrator.
Many people will remember Johnʼs work on the “Billyʼs Boots” story in Tiger. His partnership with writer Fred Baker ensured the Billy story was always at the top of the Tiger charts. His characters were always characters you could believe in.
When I launched Speed comic, one of the stories I wrote was called “Quick on the Draw”. It was a Western. I asked John if he would illustrate the story and I was delighted when he said ʻYes!”. Once again, his artwork was superb and it was a joy to write the script, knowing it would be so well drawn.
John also had a stint drawing “Dan Dare” for the New Eagle, in 1988 when the comic merged with Battle. I thought his colour artwork was magnificent.
From 1989, I wrote the Scorer strip which appeared six days a week in the Daily Mirror for 22 years. The first artist was Barrie Mitchell but when he left the series quite early on, I knew exactly who I wanted to illustrate it. John Gillatt.
Johnʼs Scorer illustrations were, of course, brilliant. The story needed an artist who could illustrate football action and also be able to draw beautiful women. John could do both those things and I felt honoured that my scripts could be turned into such excellent works of art which made the story so popular that it steadily increased in size on the Mirror cartoon page. When we later added photographic and computer effects, John adapted with ease and worked in close association with David Pugh, who did all the computer work. They were a great team. Johnʼs work was always delivered on time and always to the same high standard.
John continued to illustrate the Scorer story until 2003, when he suffered his first stroke, which stopped him being able to work.
Itʼs not enough just to list the stories that John worked on. What must be mentioned is John as a man. Tall, bespectacled, articulate, softly-spoken and a man who could deal with any challenge, John was a pleasure to work with and to be with. He was a perfect gentleman. For many years John was represented by Temple Art Agency, first working with Dan Kelleher, then his son Pat. I can recall many happy lunches with John and Pat.
John always appreciated people getting in touch with him to talk about his work on the comics. He was intensely proud of what he had done and was always thrilled that people still remembered his work. People do still remember and as long as comics are remembered, the name John Gillatt will be at the top of the list of all-time greats.
The comics world has lost a legend.
• Read Lew Stringer’s tribute to John Gillatt here on Blimey! It’s Another Blog About Comics (our thanks to him for permission to include images from that item here on downthetubes)
• There’s an article on Jet-Ace Logan in the Eagle Flies Again SF Special, which you can read online here
• There’s a fan site dedicated to The Forest Rangers TV show, produced jointly by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/ ITC Entertainment, here
“Black Archer, “Jet-Ace Logan”, “Johnny Cougar”, “Football Family Robinson” JAG, Hurricane and Tiger © TimeUK
“Billy’s Boots”, Quick on the Draw” and SPEED © Rebellion Publishing Ltd
“Dan Dare” © Dan Dare Corporation
The Forest Rangers © Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/ ITC Entertainment