Paying tribute to the late Ian Kennedy, who passed last weekend, comic creator David Roberson recalls meeting his childhood hero, and the story behind a painting he commissioned from the veteran artist, which featured in Spaceship Away Issue 23, published in 2011…
I’m not sure when I first became aware of Ian Kennedy’s artwork. Certainly, his “Dan Dare” stories for Eagle comic in the 1980s made a huge impact on me. Before that, I remember “M.A.C.H. 1” in 2000AD, and his many Starblazer covers. I was, however, unaware of his other work for DC Thomson, as war comics such as Commando had always been a blind spot for me.
I do remember when I first stood up to be counted as a Kennedy fan, though. It was in conversation with my first high school art teacher Mr. Smith, who had enquired about what art I liked. On mentioning Kennedy’s name, he said quite casually, “Oh, I know him. I used to work with him.” He may as well have told me that he knew Elvis. I was seriously impressed.
This planted the seed that perhaps Kennedy had a connection to my hometown of Dundee. I pondered on this absent-mindedly from time to time, until one day twenty-four years later I decided to waltz into DC Thomson’s reception and ask if Ian Kennedy was in the building. By then, I had done a bit of research and spotted some Commando covers that were unmistakably Kennedy’s handiwork.
Of course, the teenage receptionist had no idea what I was talking about, but she very helpfully put me through to the Commando editor’s phone. I asked him to pass a request for an interview along to Kennedy. He agreed to take my name and number and said he would pass them on. Well, I gave it my best shot, I thought to myself. It was in the lap of the gods now.
What a nice surprise to receive a call from Kennedy a few weeks later. He was interested in doing an interview. The conversation went well, although funnily enough, he did not remember someone called Smith that he had worked with sometime over 24 years previously.
When Ian showed me his “Dan Dare” original artwork, I began to toy with the idea of asking him to do a commission for me.
Over the next few weeks, as Ian and his wife, Gladys, invited me to their home for interview follow-ups, I gave Ian scans of his own artwork to use as the basis for a new painting. These were iconic images I remember from “New” Eagle, including Dare firing a laser pistol at the Mekon, itself a cover image; Sugar Joe using his bionic hand to punch his way out of a Treen cell, knocking out a guard for good measure, headshots of JJ the robot, Valdon and Zeta; and, lastly, a dogfight scene of Dan’s ship, Firefly, firing on a Treen ship, also from a cover.
I was aware that putting all of this onto an A3 picture would mean fitting together a lot of disparate elements that were never designed to go together in the first place.
A while later, I visited Ian to look at his pencilled sketch for the design. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat when I saw it.
There was one thing though – I had changed the reference for the Firefly and Zeta and in the middle of working these elements out, another character from the strip, the Treen, Valdon, wasn’t included in the preliminary layout. I somewhat sheepishly mentioned this to Ian, who said it was no problem.
I expected that he would insert another floating head at the bottom left of the picture, but no – he created a very commanding half body shot of Valdon, and moved JJ and Zeta around.
The finished painting is tremendous. It was a thrill for me to have an Ian Kennedy “Dan Dare” one off original, designed using my favourite elements from his tenure on the strip.
I was bowled over when I first saw the picture, loved the increased detail of the painting and the reworked light sources and colours.
What didn’t strike me immediately was that Ian had completely redrawn all the original elements from new angles. It was almost as if he had 3D models and had shifted them slightly.
Ian was absolutely professional throughout the commissioning process and, furthermore, I am pleased to say that I stayed in touch and we became friends. A great artist and a nice guy, who will be very much missed.
Ian Kennedy, 22nd September 1932 – 5th February 2022
This article first featured on Fred Egg Comics and is republished here with David’s full permission
David Robertson makes comics, reads comics, and writes about comics, his strip work appearing in a huge range of independent British comics, including many he’s self published, including the anthology, Booze Ha Ha, released last year, available here. He’s written features for a huge range of digital and physical publications, including Comics Scene UK, The Comics Grid, The Comics Journal, downthetubes, Graphixia and many more
IAN KENNEDY LINKS
• Wildcat 1 – Turbo Jones here on amazon.co.uk (Affiliate Link)