A Tribute by Peter Duncan
I’m sad to report the recent death of talented cartoonist Duncan Scott at the age of 44. Best known for his writing and art on Beano and The Dandy, he worked as a freelance cartoonist since graduating with a degree in visual communication in 1999.
One of his very first well paid commissions as a commercial artist was for Dixon’s Cards, producing a batch of 24 card designs called “Simon Simple”, which were sold nationwide, including in Harrods. His talents were many, even winning his family a trip to Israel after winning a competition around the Dove of Peace.
Duncan modelled his style on Tom Patterson and revelled in hiding throwaway, visual jokes in his strips. His first work for The Beano was providing illustrations for readers limericks in the popular “Rhyme Time” feature, a job he would retain for most the early 2000s.
From 2001 he also supplied single panel gags under the title “Stripz“, that were used to fill half-pages of room left at the bottom of a full-page strip.
His first regular strip came in 2004 with “Colin the Vet“, one of the entries in a ‘Comic Idol’ competition, in which Beano readers voted on a series of strip tryouts, the winner joining the regular lineup of the comic. His entry did not win, but the margin of error was so small that it was decided that both “Colin the Vet” and its rival, Wayne Johnston’s “Joe Jitsu”, would find a place in the Beano.
His style, which managed to combine vibrant colours and the anarchic action of his idol Tom Patterson, was more suited to the new version of The Dandy and by 2010 most of his work, including “Count Snotula” and “Brain Duane” was appearing there. Fellow artist Nigel Parkinson selected him to write “Harry Hill” strips for the comic and he showed another string to his bow as an excellent scriptwriter. At the same time as his work for Beano and Dandy, Duncan was supplying illustrations for TV Times, Blue Peter Magazine and for the BBC’s Learning is Fun magazine.
Sadly, the closure of The Dandy in 2012 proved a big blow. It had been his most reliable income and he turned, like many comics artists, to more general work as a commercial artist, producing commissions for fans, caricatures from photographs and cartoon work for various businesses.
An injury in around 2017, where he dislocated his shoulder, initiated a spiral of misfortune. Unable to draw for several months, he lost his last regular comic strip work, for, I believe, a medical journal or magazine, and saw his income slashed.
In quick succession, he lost his flat, was forced to sell his laptop on which he did his work and developed a dependency on anti-depressants. An incident with a friend, who committed suicide using, in part, drugs he may have received from or through Duncan led to a two-and-a-half-year investigation, which weighted heavily on a man already feeling vulnerable,
His friends in the comics scene found him more and more difficult to contact. Offers of work or commissions were not taken up; his heart was just not in the production of comics anymore. He continued to produce single images for businesses and individuals, earning rave reviews from his clients on the people-per-hour website, but things were not going well.
When Duncan’s case finally came to court in January 2020, his lawyer noted the impact the delay had had on Duncan’s mental and physical health and referred to a “very serious incident”, from 2004, that began his dependency on drugs. An incident he had hinted at to some his comics friends, but one he had never really spoken of.
The judge took a lenient view and absolved Duncan of much of responsibility for events, ordering him to carry out community service rather than a more serious punishment, but it appears the impact on his recovery from addiction and mental health was severe. A death reported by the Blackpool Gazette in Fleetwood last week has been followed by the identification of Duncan on social media.
I’d known Duncan since about 2016, when he had produced a commission for me that led directly to my entry into the world of self-published comics. He was the epitome of a “gentle man”, a delight to talk to and one of the most conscientious and eager to please artists I have ever come across. We communicated quite regularly from then on, and I was aware of many of his problems and issues. He seemed to find it difficult to accept help, as if he did not deserve it and an offer of assistance was the thing guaranteed to result in a temporary break-off in contact.
“Dennis the Menace” artist Nigel Parkinson summed up the feelings of many of us who wanted to help out or work with Duncan over the past couple of years.
“I got Duncan some work, but he never seemed very happy. He wrote very funny scripts and lovely cartoons, so vibrantly coloured and cuddly. Although l always kept in touch, he seemed to drop off the radar bit by bit, and when l last invited him to an unofficial cartoonists event he didn’t seem to remember who l was. A very tragic early end.”
Duncan’s death is a reminder of two things: how difficult the life of a freelance artist can be, with its uncertainty and vulnerability to changes in circumstance; and the huge mental health and addiction issues facing our society, particularly after the year we have just gone through.
Duncan was a talented comics writer and artist. He was a real pleasure to speak to on the subject and always seemed to think more of others than himself. But he had his demons and, at the age of 44 those demons appear to have won the battle.
Peter Duncan is editor of Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000AD fanzine and Splank! – an anthology of strips inspired by the Odhams titles, Wham!, Smash! and Pow! He’s also writer of Cthulhu Kids. Full details of his comics activities can be found at www.boxofrainmag.co.uk