Mike Western: A Tribute

Cover for the 1979 Action! Holiday Special painted by Mike Western. Action! and Hookjaw © Rebellion Publishing

Cover for the 1979 Action! Holiday Special painted by Mike Western. Action! and Hookjaw © Rebellion Publishing

One of the giants of British comics, Mike Western, laid down his pen for the last time on Tuesday, 13 May 2008, at the age of 83.

His credits, spanning decades of British comics, included “The Wild Wonders” for Valiant; “The Leopard of Lime Street” for Buster; “Darkie’s Mob”, “HMS Nightshade” and “The Sarge” for Battle and many, many more fantastic strips.

Here are some of the many tributes to Mike from fellow creators

For a feature about the life and work of Mike Western, click here

“Although I never met Mike Western, I always thought I somehow knew him through his work. For me, he was a true master, superb at drawing figures and great at visual storytelling. He will be missed greatly by British comics…”

— Martin Baines, Artist

Darkei's Mob art by Mike Western

Darkei’s Mob art by Mike Western

“I never had the privilege of meeting Mike Western, and only got to know his work while preparing articles about the history of Battle Picture Weekly. I was knocked out by the stunning quality of his art and his storytelling.
“Mike’s contribution to strips like The Sarge’ and ‘HMS Nightshade’ was massive, but his Battle masterpiece has to be the sublime ‘Darkie’s Mob’, co-created with John Wagner. You can feel the sweltering heat in every panel, see the grim realities of war etched into the faces of Mike’s characters. He was a great comics artist, and it’s a regret I never got the chance to commission work from him.”

— David Bishop, Ex-editor 2000AD

Darkie's Mob art by Mike Western

Darkie’s Mob art by Mike Western

“My first introduction to Mike Western’s work was through the reprints of ‘Darkie’s Mob’ in the Judge Dredd Megazine a few years ago. I was instantly struck by his expressive drawing, masterly use of shadow and spot black, but most of all, by the sheer effortless density of his storytelling; this was a man who routinely fit twelve panels onto a page, yet his pages never looked cluttered or crowded. Irregular and open panels would be arranged in a kind of tessellation which looked incredibly dynamic, yet the sequence was always crystal clear, the storytelling foremost.

“I know no-one working in comics today who could match that combination of density and clarity.”

— Matt Brooker, comics artist, writer, colourist

“An artist who surely stands with the many giants of British comics, his artwork could be cartoony, or realistic, slick, or gritty, but always beautifully rendered and dynamic.”

— Paul Harrison Davies, artist

Mike Western's illustration of The Sarge which he gave to Rufus Dayglo

Mike Western’s illustration of The Sarge which he gave to Rufus Dayglo

“Mike Western was one of my earliest Artistic Heroes. I pored over his work in Battle every week, thrilled at his stark black and white depictions of ‘The Sarge’ and ‘Darkie’s Mob’.

“I worked with Mike’s son Pete Western at various animation companies, and he kindly put me in touch with this incredible man.

“Mike sent me a beautiful illustration of ‘The Sarge’, and thanked ME for remembering Him, and his work.

“Thank you Mike, for so much inspiration, generosity, and happy childhood hours, tracing your sublime drawings.”

— Rufus Dayglo, artist (2000AD, IDW’s Tank Girl)

“Mike is one of my all time fav British comic artists. He made a 10 year old boy cry when Darkie died in the jungle way back in the 1970’s [in Battle]. I loved his style and that he could draw anything from humour to action to drama. It’s very sad news — but he leaves us all wonderful memories and his fantastic art .”

— Jon Haward, artist


“I can’t remember ever meeting Mike Western, though I’m sure I spoke to him during the time he was one of the key British creators forming the membership of the Society of Strip Illustration in the late 1970’s.

“Garth Ennis gave me a chunk of Mike’s ‘HMS Nightshade’ work as part of the ref material for one of my War Story issues – ‘Nightingale’. It helped only partly, because Nightshade was a different vessel to Nightingale, but it was a real treat to have a doorstep of Mike’s fantastic art to look over, the most I’d ever seen of it at any one time. In the Sixties and early Seventies, his style set him apart from most of his British colleagues because it had a quality that was commonly found in American work but seldom in the UK at that time – muscularity. There were no weak lines on any part of it – and it had a vibrancy that was almost three-dimensional. Energy sprang from the panels he drew, and the panels themselves looked like they wanted to jump off the page.

“War stories were Mike Western’s forte, but not my preferred entertainment option when I was in my formative years. If they had been, there’s no doubting I’d have been as influenced by his work as I know many of my fellow artists were. He was a guiding light to them and a bright light in the overall dullness of the British comics industry.”

— David Lloyd, artist

“Mike Western was always a name with Phil Gascoine or Eric Bradbury, that seem to be there to fill any gap in any comic when called upon to do so, those professionals that could turn there hand to anything. When I first started in the business as I was struggling to define a believable tree.

“Mike Western would be drawing anything from cute kids to hard ware science fiction, his versatility was wide and his illustrative understanding was deep, he was an inspiration from his character depiction to his
professionalism in filling any page with a depth and believability in a very unforgiving medium, his black line had a gritty reality that I aspired too, Mike Western a classic artist in the best tradition of British comics which is the less for his passing.”

— John Higgins, artist

One of Mike's stunning spreads for The Sarge, which featured in Battle. © Rebellion Publishing

One of Mike’s stunning spreads for The Sarge, which featured in Battle. © Rebellion Publishing

“Mike Western was truly one of the great British comic artists. I hope one day he gets the recognition and accolades he deserves and that perhaps he was denied in life. The sketch of Joe Darkie he did for me is one of my most treasured possessions.”

— Colonel Marbles, Webmaster, Battle fan site

“For me, it wasn’t until i was doing Albion that I really came to appreciate and see the standout talent [Mike Western] had. For part of my research i spent zillions of hours reading/re-reading old English comic and annuals, and was bowled over by the versatility and style of Mike’s art. He could do playful, funny stuff, in a lovely fluid, exaggerated style, then you’d have the dark and realistic mood and rendering of his war stories. Whatever he was doing, it was strong and confidant, full of expression and energy, and I learnt a lot from his art, and it partly helped convince me that an artist does not have to put his style in stasis; instead, you just draw to suit the subject.”

— Shane Oakley, artist (Read his full tribute here)

“I was every sad to hear of Mike’s passing. He was a giant comic artist that brought a lot of happiness to this Artist.
“As a young boy Mike Western’s ‘Darkie’s Mob’ brought so much joy every week as the comic came into the shop. I had Darkie drawings over my school books as well as a sketch book.

“I came across it not long ago and there was the sketches still there — the comics long gone but the excitement still there. Even looking at them with my drawing skills today at 43, there is still some of Mike’s influence in them.”

— Brendan Rowland Artist – Illustrator

Battle - "Wardog" by Mike Western

Battle – “Wardog” by Mike Western

“I fear that during his most prolific period, like so many other UK comics creators, Mike Western’s superb draughtsmanship and amazing output was taken for granted by us all. Sadly, we were overawed by the more dynamic four-colour fare the US beguiled us with.

“It is only in hindsight that we realise how good such mainstays of the UK industry truly were.

“British comics would have been much less without Mike, as are we by his passing.

— Dez Skinn, author, script writer, former editor at IPC, of Warrior and Comics International

“I loved the clarity of his artwork and his bright distinctive style. Those many Valiant covers he did had excellent composition. A true giant of British comics.”

— Lew Stringer, writer, artist

A Christmas card by Mike Western, sent out in 2005 to his friends.

A Christmas card by Mike Western, sent out in 2005 to his friends.

“Mike Western was not only one of the great comics artists of all time, he was also a Gentleman, with a capital ‘G’. When I look back at my time as an Editor, I can remember with enormous pleasure, the time we spent working together. No matter what the subject, Mike would always produce artwork to the very highest standard.

“He’s famous for such strips as ‘The Sarge’, but I can remember how well he took over drawing ‘Roy of the Rovers’ for the Daily Star, following the sudden, tragic death of Yvonne Hutton. I always looked forward to his Christmas cards which, until very recently, were hand-drawn and unique examples of his artistic genius.

“Mike Western will be missed by all those people who knew him. Mike’s tribute will be the millions of children (and their dads!) who were entertained by his brilliant artwork.”

— Barrie Tomlinson, editor, writer

“I only met Mike once or twice. I knew him more from his beautiful rendering of my stories. He was one of a dwindling band of true comic heroes, old school in the very best sense of the words. The complete professional – gifted, totally reliable, a terrific artist and a genuinely decent man. He will be missed.”

— John Wagner, writer, “Darkie’s Mob”

“I was a huge fan of Mike Western’s art, so it is with great regret and sorrow that I hear about his passing. If there was one word I would use to describe his comic strip art, it would be ‘intense’. No matter what the genre he worked in, be it comedy, war or adventure, there was an “intensity” to his work that made him stand out from his peers. His compositions were dynamic, and his storytelling kinetic. His illustration style was realistic, but it was realism on the maximum setting. Inks flew across his pages, giving his characters and settings a startling vitality. Rendered in broad, confident lines and deep shadows, he really had the knack of making his characters expressive and life-like.

“I always wanted to see how Mike would have handled modern or mainstream comic strip stories… it would have been nice to see him draw an episode of Bad Company or Rogue Trooper. Imagine him working on Batman or Superman! Alas, all these un-drawn strips are now dispatched to the “What If” drawers. But I tell you something, they would have been great. Really, really great!”

— Chris Weston, artist

See also: Mike Western Remembered