Comics writer and editor Kelvin Gosnell, who was involved in the founding of 2000AD in 1977, its second editor, and also edited Starlord, pays tribute to his artist and friend, Ian Kennedy, who died earlier this month…
I am very sad to hear of Ian’s death. His career and work will, I’m sure, be thoroughly covered here by others. I would simply like to tell you about some of the personal aspects of my work, and friendship, with the man.
Ian and I worked together on many things, from stories in Valiant and 2000AD, to one-off projects for independent publishers. My first contact with him, however, was way before that. I discovered his artwork when reading the Air Ace Picture Libraries as a simple Mk. 1 comic-reading schoolboy, way back in the early 1960s.
As a kid deeply interested in all-things aviation and aircraft, my feelings on seeing his work was “Oh. I want to draw aeroplanes like that!” So I started copying his work to teach myself the basics. My school art master banned me from doing this. Idiot! Ian himself told me that copying is a basic part of learning how to draw something. When he was commissioned by Battle Picture Weekly to illustrate a series about Winston Churchill, he said he sat and copied loads of photos of the man until he was confident that he could draw the war leader in any pose or situation. Moreover, I can still draw a Spitfire, Lanc’ or Sunderland (and a few more) from memory.
When I started on Valiant, I was delighted to find out that the illustrator I idolised as a kid was one of the contributors. I loved working with his art. When we finally met, the aviation connection clicked in and we talked endlessly about flying. Like me, he wanted to be an RAF pilot. He was not able to do this because of medical reasons. I was put off by the whole uniform and ridiculous public-school discipline thing.
However, a career in writing and/or illustration has one special advantage: you can use it to get close to stuff you like. For Ian and me, this was anything to do with aviation. When asked to do a piece about air-sea-rescue helicopters, RAF Support Command invited me to spend a day with a 202 sqn Sea King search-and-rescue crew. I asked Ian to come along because I knew he’d enjoy it. What they hadn’t told us was that we were to be “targets-for-the-day” on a training mission. So we were kitted out in full total-immersion kit, and lifted off to Winterton Beach in Norfolk where we were winched up into this big, noisy yellow thing about half a dozen times. Bloody marvellous.
Another aviation excursion he and I did was when the Red Arrows re-equipped with Hawks after retiring their Gnats. Ian and I went to the press gig at a big RAF engineering base. It was tipping down; no flying. So the pilot we were with took us over to a hangar where the Battle of Britain Flight’s Lancaster was getting its annual service, and we spent an hour climbing/crawling all over this great lump of history. A once-in-a-lifetime chance for a couple of air enthusiasts. Neither of us could get over the almost steampunk feel of the beast, all brass dials and levers. And, tucked away in a corner, four brand-new, unused Merlin engines!
It was shortly after the Red Arrows gig that Ian had his terrible, near-fatal car accident. Snow and black ice caught him out and his big Peugeot left the road, performed a full barrel roll before landing in a field. He was really badly injured, legs not working so had to pull himself hand-over-hand back to the road for help. While the hospital was putting him back together, I thought it would be a good idea to send a special get-well-card. I asked Dave Gibbons to do it for us: Kennedy’s inverted Peugeot at the top of the roll; Red Arrows at bottom of loop above him. Red One saying, “It’s that Kennedy bloke. Some people will do anything to get a flight with us!” All of the Reds pilots signed it, as well. I hope it cheered him up a bit.
One thing I’d always marvelled at in Ian’s art was the way he made stuff, normally aircraft, actually seem to be moving in the picture. The trick, he told me, was to decide what were the bits you wanted to convey the movement – front of wings, tailplane, whatever – and then draw a barely discernable double pen line on that surface. Great trick, I tried it myself and it really works. However, it wasn’t just me intrigued by this.
I remember, when Ian came along with the 2000AD crew to the press showing of the first Star Wars film, we met artist Brian Lewis outside and he asked the very same question. We were joined by Python Terry Gilliam – a mate of Brian’s – and the three artists got into a big, energetic discussion about drawing/animation techniques, which blocked the Charing Cross Road pavement for some time.
There are many more tales: both of us laughing like drains at my attempts to make my ancient Austin A35 go in a straight line when driving back to my house; the famous “M.A.C.H. 1” shot with a Vulcan flying past an office window – I’d scripted a Boeing B-52 to do the flyby, but Ian changed it to the V-bomber because “it was a more dramatic shape”. He was damn right. His change made it an absolute classic.
However, I have to stop – and this feels about the right place. Ian Kennedy was a force in British comic strip. He was also a very good friend. I am so sad he is gone. However, his artwork will live on and, if it can make a few more youngsters think, “Wish I could draw like that…”, then that’s a marvellous legacy.
Ian Kennedy, 22nd September 1932 – 5th February 2022
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