We were very saddened to hear the news recently that British comic artist James (Jimmy) Hansen, perhaps best known for his work on the Beano’s “Dennis the Menace” strip, passed away last month, on Tuesday 19th June.
(News broke of his passing while I was on a short break, followed by a very busy catch up period, work wise, which I’ve only now begun to close off, unfortunately meaning some items for downthetubes requiring greater time, including this tribute, had to be put on hold).
James features in the recently-released Beano – 80 Years of Fun Bookazine available in WHSmith stores, alongside profiles of several other key artists who have helped shape the weekly humour comic down the decades.
Paying tribute when news of James passing first broke, the Beano team noted: “A brilliant artist and member of the Beano family, he will be sorely missed.”
A native of Zambia, born in 1948, he was a veteran of the British comics industry whose career began on Whizzer and Chips in the 1970s , his first work drawing “Hot Rod the Dragon” for a Summer Special, he once told artist Peter Gray.
I’m sure some downthetubes readers will recall his brilliant work on “Bumpkin Billionaires” (initially drawn by Mike Lacey, characters first published in Whoopee), which he drew in the 1980s for Whizzer and Chips. He also drew episodes of “Shiner”, about the leader of the Chip-ites.
James many credits included strips for weekly humour titles such as Beano, Beezer, Buster, Cheeky, The Dandy, Jackpot, Topper and Whizzer and Chips – and he also drew the Titan Magazines-produced “Wallace and Gromit” strip, published in The Sun newspaper.
He was a regular contributor to Buster where he drew “S.O.S. Squad”, “The Winners”, and “Ricky Rainbow”.
“He was the cover artist on Buster for the last several years of the comic, bringing a great sense of energy and fun to the strip, as he did with all his pages,” notes fellow comic creator Lew Stringer. “I regret not writing to him more. We’d exchanged a few comments and ‘likes’ on Facebook but I expected him to be around a lot longer and had intended to ask him about the early days of his career.
“He was a very versatile artist, able to draw licensed characters as well as traditional humour ones. He was definitely one of the best humour artists to have worked in UK comics.”
As well as working on numerous books such as Creating Superheroes and Comic Book Characters, published in 2005, he also drew a number of adventure strips, displaying the same talent and flair on strips such as “Island of Terror” for The Dandy, Biker Mice From Mars, a 16-page comic for DC promoting the direct-to-video movie Batman and Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, in 1998 – and a special one-off “Supercar” strip for a revival of TV21, working with Bambos Georgiou.
Despite being diagnosed with and treated long term for cancer, he continued working, drawing in recent years standing up because of a tumour on his spine. His most recent comics-related project was “Slash Moron“, a short strip published in the digital anthology Aces Weekly, working with long time collaborator John Michael Burns.
“He had wonderful drawing style and I loved his sense of energy,” commented editor and writer David Leach, who worked with him on the “Wallace and Gromit” strip. “He had the distinction of drawing the very first episode of the strip and I commissioned him to draw the very last week’s worth,. He was an editor’s dream to work with.”
“He was an amazing talent and a genuinely nice guy,” agrees Simon Furman, who also worked with him on Wallace and Gromit, on three Titan long form humour stories, Catch of the Day, The Whippet Vanishes and A Pier Too Far.
“I never met Jimmy in person, but I’ve known of him throughout my career, and we became phone friends in recent years,” says cartoonist Steve Bright. “He was always an absolute joy to talk with about anything and everything, but particularly our mutual field of cartooning.
“A real gentleman in all senses of the word, and one of the very best in the business.”
“He was such a special human being,” commented Redan editor Donna Nestor. “I worked with him for many years, yet though I only met him twice I thought of him as a friend. We used to have wonderful conversations and he always seemed so proud of his children’s achievements. He was a great artist and I loved working with him.”
“We were fortunate to have met James on several occasions a few years ago, at his Brighton home, when we lived on the south coast,” says Phil Shrimpton of comics auction house Phil’s Comics. “Jim first contacted us to say he had several of the former Fleetway comics bound volume archives (Whizzer and Chips, Eagle, Cor, Smash, Jester and Tip Top) that he was interested in auctioning.
“He described how, in the early days of his 40 year comic art career, whilst visiting or working at the Fleetway office, artists had the bound volumes piled up on the desk to make a stand for a makeshift easel. No-one had any idea then that they’d go on to become sought-after collectable items and Jim took some home I believe, in part, to continue to use as an easel stand as a freelancer at home! They were a bit battered but had a certain charm about them, considering the hundreds of pages that were drawn upon them.
“We also acquired a few pages of Jim’s original artwork to auction. The quality of Jim’s work was exceptional, with incredibly crisp lines. The two highlights we auctioned were the original cover artwork for the 2010 and 2011 Beano Books. Jim was very keen for them to be presented in the best way and, in a couple of cases, waited for his son to return from holiday to ink in the black areas to enhance the appearance.
“Jim was a genuinely nice chap and a pleasure to spend time with. Like many tributes that have come in in recent weeks, I wish I had stayed in contact with him and asked him more about his time working in comics.”
“Jimmy was a good kind generous soul who was a dream to work with,” says comic creator John Michael Burns. “we worked together off and on over the last ten years, we learned to use the computer together, and we liked each other’s work. Our favourite time was working on the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ strips and books.
“I had always been a fan of Jimmy’s work, from back when he did the ‘Bumpkin Billionaires’ strip [for Whizzer and Chips]. We had fun doing the ‘Slash Moron’ strip for Aces Weekly, but by this time dear old Jim was going through hell with extreme illness.
“I admired and loved the man, he never complained, from the time they found tumour on his spine and he said to me, ‘I’ve got to work standing up at my drawing board’ to the time he discovered he had cancer and would be on chemotherapy for life.
” I had so much respect for him… Because we worked together and struggled with technology together I feel we built up a closeness that is hard to get over. My heart goes out to his family.”
“I was lucky enough to work with Jim for almost twenty years,” recalls writer and editor Iain McLaughlin. “I wrote scripts for him for the Beezer and Topper, for the Dandy and for the Beano. I always knew that his artwork would come in and be superb – and it always came in just that bit even better than I expected.
“His humour strips had energy and life, he was kinetic but he never lost characterisation. When we did ‘Over The Fence’ for Beezer and Topper he added little looks between the Mum and Dad that gave an extra layer to the humour.
“He was versatile, too. He could ghost any of the characters in the paper, as he did when he drew the Robin Hood and Treasure Island pantomime issues of the Dandy.
“His straight or adventure work was delightful, too. He did the ‘Island of Terror’ serial in the Dandy for me and I loved his version of ‘Valda’. I have some of his Batman work.
“I admired Jim’s work and I loved working with him but more than all of that, Jim was just a really, really good guy. I always believed it was important for a writer and and artist to have a connection of some kind. Jim and I chatted on the phone and swapped noted with scripts and artwork.
“He always spoke with so much warmth about his family, hinted that he had more or less been run out of Africa and hadn’t been able to go back to see his ‘old Ma’ (his word, not mine) until apartheid ended (I didn’t get all of the details on that and I wish I had).
“But what always struck me most about Jim was that he was a really good, really decent man. When he was ill early in this decade and couldn’t keep up with his commitments on ‘Dennis the Menace’, he seemed more worried about possibly letting us down than with his own health.
“I was really sad to hear of his passing. A great talent and a really good guy. He will be greatly missed.”
Our condolences to James family and friends.
James Hansen, born 15th July 1948, died 19th June 2018. He is survived by his wife Margaret and two sons
With thanks to John Anderson, John Michael Burns, Iain McLaughlin and Phil Shrimpton for their help with this tribute. All art copyright respective creators and publishers