I recently did some brief research on the work of British newspaper strip artist Harry Bishop, perhaps best known for drawing Gun Law, based on the TV series Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon, for the Daily Express.
While influenced by Tony Weare, Norman Rockwell and more, my trawl of the web turned into one of those “downthetubes goes down rabbit hole” mornings, as I discovered more and more to confirm what I long knew – that Harry was an incredible artist was in his own right.
Gun Law – still offered for syndication today by Knight Features – became a daily strip in the Daily Express in 1957, which Bishop wrote and drew until it finished in 1978.
Bishop was awarded the British Cartoonists Award in 1965 and received the Best Dramatic Strip Cartoonist award from the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain in 1975 for his work on the strip.
He took over the Wes Slade strip in the Sunday Express in 1980 after the death of its originator, George Stokes (the brother of artist John Stokes), and this also earned him an award, from the Strip Illustrators Society, in 1981.
Born in 1920, he was educated at Hatherley School and the Gloucester School of Art, leaving the latter in 1937 to travel abroad. After serving in the Royal Air Force during World War Two, he resumed his art education in 1947, graduated in 1952 and took up a position as a teacher.
“He was happy teaching and he loved all the children,” says his daughter Janet Bishop in a post to a page about the Garth Secondary Technical School, in London. “After a couple of years, he was offered commercial art work which he decided to do. This led him to draw Gun Law … and he also illustrated books, but he never forgot his teaching days.
“… I think he felt that children’s lives could be hard enough and liked them to learn in a happy and fun atmosphere. That said, he probably let them get away with more than they should…”
“A tremendous artist with a sense of humour,” recalls former pupil Len Coppin. “Not the greatest disciplinarian, just went with the flow to get through the day. “The other thing I remember… was the murals he did for Harvest Festival, Christmas pageants and school plays. If you were talented enough he would allow you to ‘fill in’ a corner of the artwork. Not only did he teach us the 3Rs he taught us about life.”
Steve Holland notes, in his Illustration Art Gallery profile of Bishop, that his earliest known work for Amalgamated Press appeared in Comic Cuts, where he took over the artistic chores for the adventures of “Cal McCord“, the real-life cowboy and actor, in May 1953. Comic Cuts came to a close soon after, but Bishop was to find a regular home for his work in Swift. His first strip, “Tom Tex and Pinto” ran for 18 months, during which time he also took over the colour cover of Swift, drawing “Tarna Jungle Boy” from June 1954.
He also drew numerous western strip for Junior Express including “Wyatt Earp” and “Rex Keene”, and other titles, rapidly establishing himself as one of the leading western artists in the UK.
His work was republished in Europe and elsewhere, including in Norway and Spain, and the French magazine l’Intrépide, which re-published “Gun Law” (Issues 562-594 and 609-613). He also appeared in the Dutch magazine Eppo, drawing the historical drama “Laben Tall”
Along with a successful career in comics he was also a prolific illustrator for Deans between 1970 and 1985, returning to painting later in life, his landscape work often sold at auction.
Sadly, an eye infection caused him to give up painting completely. He died in 2015, aged 95.
Harry Bishop, artist, born in Painswick, Gloucestershire, on 3 May 1920, died 2015
• There’s a biography of Harry here on the Illustration Art Gallery web site, written by Steve Holland, and artwork by Harry Bishop can be found for sale at the Illustration Art Gallery
• Tebeosfera has some of Harry Bishop’s work in translation (Spanish language site)
• Comic Cuts – “Cal McCord”
Cal McCord (1904-1983) wasn’t an American cowboy at all; he was born Hertzel Spenadl in London’s Whitechapel in July 1904 and became popular in Britain during the 1940s – 1960s as a Canadian cowboy, rope-spinner, juggler, singer, actor and comedian.
Travelling to Canada aged 16 or 17, he joined the army and learned rope-spinning and became a performer with ‘the Macordialities’, spending six years entertaining Canadian troops across Europe during World War Two.
He appeared in a variety of TV programmes in the UK after the war, including the BBC television documentary How to be a Cowboy (1953), and the BBC radio series, Riders of the Range (1949). His notable film credentials include Carry on Cowboy (1966) and Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960).
McCord continued to perform in variety shows and appeared at many music halls, competitions, fetes and fairs across Britain throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. (There’s a picture of him here at a fete in Dunstable in the 1950s and there’s a guide to a “Cal McCord Collection” here)
• Swift – Covers (1954 onwards)
1954 – 1955
• Swift – “Tom Tex and Pinto” (ran for eighteen months) – Steve Holland has some examples of this strip on Bear Alley here
1954 – 1963
• Swift – “Tarna Jungle Boy”
• Junior Express – “Wyatt Earp”, “Red Cloud” and “Rex Keene”
Lew Stringer has a feature on Express and its 1956 revamp here
• Thriller Comics – “Jesse James”
• Sun – “Billy the Kid”
• Daily Express – “Gun Law” (ended in 1978)
This strip was widely republished in Europe, including France. The strip features
Reprinting this strip today would require both licensing Gunsmoke from CBS/Paramount and negotiating a deal with the Daily Express.
• Express Weekly – “Gun Law”
• Swift – “Smiley!” (Swift, 1958-59)
• Lion – “Billy the Kid”
1963 – 64
• Lion – “Morg of the Mammoths”
• Lion – “Journey to the Edge of the World”
Bishop also drew a number of one-off features for TV Express, Boys’ World, Eagle and Princess.
• Evening Standard – “Judy and the Colonel”
• TV Tornado – “Tarzan”
• TV Tornado – “The Saint”
• Eagle – “Blackbow the Cheyenne”
• Illustrations for Famous and Fabulous Horses by Lucy Berman – copies available on AmazonUK
• Ally Sloper Issue 2 – “The Wrangler” (five page strip)
1976 – 77
• London Evening News – “Matt Marriott”
Created by writer Jim Edgar and artist Tony Weare in 1955, “Matt Marriott” is considered to be one of the finest western adventure strips ever produced. Both Harry Bishop and John M. Burns are credited as working on the last episodes of ‘Matt Marriott’ for the Evening News.
(Steve Holland, who has published a list of stories, some based on the strip’s reprints in Portugal, notes Burns worked on the strip before reviving “Danielle” for the same paper, briefly, in 1978).
The All Devon Comic Collectors Club published collections of “Matt Marriott” as well as other newspaper strips such as “Garth” – full list here on downthetubes. The strip has been widely republished in Europe, where Western comics continue to hold a wider appeal.
• Tony Weare died in 1994. His obituary by David Ashford for The Independent is here
1976 – 1977
• Eppo – “Laben Tall”
The Eppo Index site notes the Dutch magazine ran two strips, a historical drama – “Vergelding” from Issue 46 (1976) to Issue 14 (1977) and “De kleine getuige” from Issue 37 – Issue 47 in 1977)
1980 – 81
• Sunday Express – “Wes Slade”
Wes Slade was the creation of artist George Stokes, which he drew for the Sunday Express from 1961 to 1980. Later instalments were written by Jim Edgar from 1979 onwards, with Harry Bishop taking over as artist after Stokes died, aged just 47.
“Wes Slade” was translated and reprinted in comic books throughout Europe, particularly Italy.
Information for this feature via Bear Alley, the Illustration Art Gallery and Lew Stringer and others. Additional information very welcome