Alan Moore pays tribute to comic creator Jim Baikie, who died in December…
The first time I can across Jim Baikie’s art, without even knowing his name (a common condition with British comics of that period), would have been as a twelve-year-old Monkees-obsessive when Jim was handling the comic strip adventures of that transatlantic faux-Beatles ensemble in Lady Penelope. This would have been around 1966, and even to my untrained eye it was evident that here was an artist with all of the assuredness and energy of someone like Mad magazine’s Mort Drucker, but apparently homegrown and of a somewhat later vintage.
It would have been three or four years after that, while attending the second British Comics Convention as a fifteen-year-old in 1969, that I received a proper introduction to Jim’s art – he’d provided the cover for the convention booklet, a Tolkien-esque fantasy image that mid-period Wally Wood would have been proud of – and, thanks to the agency of his fellow young comics professional Steve Moore, a proper introduction to Jim himself: he was much younger than I’d expected from the accomplishment of his artwork, a good-looking and irrepressible man in his twenties who was bursting with good humour and who, at that age, was already cool enough to have played with the Savoy Brown Blues Band (ask your Dad), but was still happy to chat to an infatuated teenager with a bad pudding-basin haircut and an off-putting regional accent.
For the next couple of years, while I was involved with the increasingly psychedelic tail-end of first-wave British comics fandom I was aware of Jim somewhere in the distance, through his always-impeccable professional work or through his occasional contributions to fanzines (generally those of his old mate Steve Moore, as I remember). It wasn’t until the very late 1970s and early 1980s, however, when I myself was starting to make my living as a comics writer, that I would run into Jim in the flesh again – probably at the offices of Warrior magazine when Jim was collaborating with Steve Moore on their Jack Vance-like fantasy, Twilight World. To my surprise, he still remembered me from that brief conversation more than a decade before and we commenced a friendship that would blossom to a working partnership with our work on Skizz for 2000AD.
Developing that strip with Jim was an education into his meticulously thought-through processes: the work that went into the look – and to a great degree the basic conception of the character – was all Jim’s. It was him that decided to depict Earth’s first contacted extra-terrestrial species as a kind of highly-evolved marsupial, reasoning that this would make the entity look alien enough while still allowing it to appear biologically feasible. And then he placed that fantastical creature into a sharply-realised contemporary Birmingham, where even the background faces are full of human character, and somehow made it work.
When I began work for DC Comics, having Jim as the artist on my otherwise-unpromising Vigilante two-parter turned a job that I wasn’t enjoying very much into a pleasure. Several years later we found ourselves working together again, this time for Image Comics and its various splinter-companies, most memorably on Supreme, where I remember Jim contributing to a riotous comedic short piece that played with the most ludicrous and fondly-remembered tropes of early 1960s superhero comics, and gave Jim a chance to indulge his extreme fondness for Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s anarchic and demented Mad extravaganzas. Thinking about it, it seems very likely that the fun Jim and I had with that brief outing was what led, with the demise of Supreme‘s publisher and our subsequent involvement with the fledgling America’s Best Comics line, to Jim being the perfect choice for our Mad-inflected patriotic superhero parody in Tomorrow Stories, the to-my-mind underappreciated First American.
Jim told me that he’d always wanted the chance – possibly since his stint on The Monkees – to let loose with a full-on piece of Kurtzman/Elder derangement, this being why he’d thrown himself into the adventures of our hopelessly deluded and morally prolapsed main character and his equally unpleasant but slightly more intelligent female sidekick with such abandon. Maybe Jim said that to all the boys, but from the flood of manic invention that he unleashed on that strip I’m rather inclined to think he meant it. In episode after episode he’d turn some half-baked demi-idea of mine – often little more than a punning name, like nostalgia-focussed villain Dozier D. Daze – into a fully realised vision of insurmountable idiocy in 3D spectacles and a Davey Crockett hat, neither of which I’d thought of or asked for. And should a character or motif arise that took Jim’s fancy then it would become not so much a running gag as a gag marathon, to the point where in the later episodes of the strip the Village People had become accepted members of the cast. The backgrounds, slathered in Will Elder’s ‘chicken-fat’ of additional comic detail, began to fill up with marvellously lunatic iconography, so that in a comic anthology with some highly eccentric and beautifully-rendered competition it would always be the First American strip that hit me with that frenetic and giggling rush that’s on the edge of hysteria. That’s what Jim worked so tirelessly to put into the strip, and I hope that’s what everybody got out of it.
As well as being a consummate illustrator and cartoonist with an enviable range of styles, Jim Baikie was a lovely and generous man, as anyone who ever met him would surely attest. We met in the flesh on far too few occasions, but I will cherish the memory of our sometimes-unable-to-talk-for-laughing phone calls between my Northampton bunker and Jim’s remote and windswept fortress in the Orkneys. As I write this, feeling hugely upset that I’m never going to have the pleasure of talking to Jim again, I find myself sniggering at a remembered anecdote: talking about the horrendous winds that whip across the islands, so fierce that there are hardly any trees able to take root, Jim recounted being out for a walk, possibly with his friend, fellow artist and sometime neighbour Cam Kennedy, and witnessing some very distraught chickens being blown out to sea by the almost-daily gale. What made it funny was the almost wonderstruck tone in Jim’s voice when he added that the startled hens had been inside a chicken coop at the time.
Jim Baikie was a wonderful artist, his talents forged during a wonderful period, and throughout his long career his work sang with the zealous energy and unrestrained inventiveness of those times. He was a great talent, a great collaborator and a great friend. I’d like to send all my love to Wendy and to Jim’s family. He was a dear, astonishing man, and I’ll remember him always.
Our thanks to Alan for his tribute.