In Memoriam: Comic Artist and Writer Nick Spender

Artist Nick Spender, aka Nicholas Spender

We’re sorry to report the unexpected passing of comic artist, writer and illustrator Nick Spender, aka Nicholas Spender (and, earlier in his career, “Nik Spender”), whose numerous credits spanned book illustration and book covers, including Doctor Who, children’s books and characters, graphic novels, and more.

Many fans of both Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who will be familiar with his work, illustrating some Doctor Who books in the 1980s, for example, or his work for the Blake’s 7 ‘zine, Horizon. But over 40 years in the illustration business, he also created some stunning comic strip work, including an unpublished attempt to revive Dan Dare, working with John Ridgway, and two terrific self-published graphic novels, The Story of The Dambusters, and The Conquest of Everest, both still available digitally. (Nick had hoped to publish an expanded print edition of Dambusters, put his crowdfunding campaign was unsuccessful).

A freelance illustrator who lived in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute, Nick was a consummate professional, who was educated at the University For The Creative Arts, in Epsom between 1975 and 1980, learning his trade under the watchful guidance of Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson, and went on to work as a graphic designer for the BBC in the mid 1980s.

In 1979, he created a tribute picture of the band, Sparks, that was published in a book, Rock Dreams, his very first proper ‘paid for’ gig, an early example of his exemplary freehand airbrushing.

Sparks art by Nick Spender, published in the book, Rock Dreams - his first paid gig

His earliest book was sometimes credited to “Nik Spender”, but included interior illustrations for the Fighting Fantasy game book, The Rings of the Kether by Andrew Chapman published in 1985, also published in French; and covers for Exiles of Colsec by Douglas Hill (1984), Colsec Rebellion, The Caves of Klydor by Douglas Hill (1986), Mindbenders by Nicholas Fisk (1987), Egypt Green by Christopher Hyde (1989), Onlooker by Roger Davenport (1990), Warrior of Light by William Raeper (1993) and Empyrion by Stephen Lawhead.

As a freelance illustrator, he worked for many of the major publishers and agencies in the UK and overseas illustrating subjects as diverse as Wuthering Heights, Muhammed Ali, The Battle of Little Big Horn, Transformers, and many more, including a range of illustrated children’s books for the French publisher, Piccolia, who translated Jane Brett and Nick’s four-book series, Scruffy and Squeak, for younger readers, drawn in a style akin to his “Bute Teddies”, into French as Poupy et Lily.

Book illustration by Nick Spender. Foxes chasing a  pheasant
Book illustration by Nick Spender. Foxes chasing a pheasant
An illustration by Nick Spender for Transformers - Battle Beneath the Ice, published by Corgi Books, written by Dave Morris. Image via the Transformers Wiki
An illustration by Nick Spender for Transformers – Battle Beneath the Ice, published by Corgi Books, written by Dave Morris. Image via the Transformers Wiki

As a cover artist, his work encompassed a huge range of subjects for covers and children’s books, including Bagpuss, Doctor Who and Star Trek. His Who work included covers for editions of The Sensorites, The Aztecs, The Highlanders, Inferno and Just War by Lance Parkin. A digital version of his cover art for and unreleased “An Unearthly Child” audio book is part of the Doctor WhoAdventures in Time and Space” art exhibition still open at Weston Museum until April.

Doctor Who - The Aztecs art by Nick Spender
Doctor Who – The Aztecs art by Nick Spender

Titles he worked on encompass so many subjects, some of the following graphic novels: Henry V, published by David West Books; Spartacus: The Life of a Roman Gladiator by Anita Ganeri (2005); Graphic Natural Disasters: Earthquakes by Rob Shone (2007); Bigfoot and Other Strange Beasts; Graphic Forensic Science: Corpses and Skeletons and Graphic Forensic Science: Solving Crimes Through Criminal Profiling, written by Rob Shone (2009); Graphic Classics: Wuthering Heights (2009) Graphic Biographies: Muhammad Ali (2009); Graphic Discoveries: Ancient Treasures and Graphic Biographies: Rosa Parks, by Rob Shone (2009); Ankylosaurus: The Armoured Lizard by David West (2010); Graphic Survival Stories: Defying Death in the Mountains, Defying Death at the North and South Poles and Graphic Survival Stories; Defying Death at Sea, by Rob Shone (2010); George Washington and the Winter at Valley Forge, written and drawn by Nick (2011); John Adams and the Boston Massacre, Samuel Adams and the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere and His Midnight Ride, Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Paine Writes Common Sense, written by Gary Jeffrey (2011);  Achilles and the Trojan War, Graphic Heroes of the American Revolution, The Battle of the Little Bighorn and The Battle of the Alamo by Gary Jeffrey (2012); Graphic Shakespeare (2012); On the Western Front, Gallipoli and the Southern Theatres and The Soviet War in Afghanistan by Gary Jeffrey (2013); Classic Comix: Macbeth (2022); and Graphic Medieval History – Castles and Graphic Medieval History – Knights by Gary Jeffrey (2023).

Along with John Aggs and Nana Li and Emanuele Boccanfuso, he also contributed work to A Graphic History of the Civil Rights Movement by Gary Jeffrey (2012).

He also self-published two stunning graphic novels: The Story of The Dambusters, published in 2014, that would not have looked out of place in the original Eagle, followed by the equally impressive The Conquest of Everest, in 2016. He was subsequently bombarded with suggestions for other books in the same style.

The Story of the Dambusters by Nicholas Spender
The opening page of “The Story of the Dambusters” by Nick Spender
A page from "The Conquest of Everest", written and drawn by Nick Spender
A page from “The Conquest of Everest”, written and drawn by Nick Spender

Nick was also a contributor to the “Dorad & Sirius” SF project created by Geoffrey Ellis, alongside Marko Keranen and John Ridgway, an intriguing concept that has its roots in a children’s TV pitch back in 1990. Although the project’s official site at is currently offline, you can follow developments on X, @DoradandSirius.

Dorad & Sirius © Geoffrey Ellis. Art by Nick Spender
Dorad & Sirius © Geoffrey Ellis. Art by Nick Spender

Sadly, recent years had not been kind to this illustrative genius. Victim to long Covid, after a long and thorough investigation, which he had been told, might drastically reduce his life expectancy. Despite this, he continued to create beautiful illustrations, often of his Scottish home and nearby countryside, and brought smiles to faces with his “Bute Teddies” and animal art featuring Old English Sheepdogs and Guinea Pigs.

One of Nick Spender's favourite subjects - fluffy dog and mad Guinea Pigs....
One of Nick Spender’s favourite subjects – fluffy dog and mad Guinea Pigs….
An image from Etterick Bay on Bute, by Nick Spender
An image from Etterick Bay on Bute, by Nick Spender
One of Nick Spender's many "Bute Teddies" artworks, this one created during the pandemic that so impacted his own life
One of Nick Spender’s many “Bute Teddies” artworks, this one created during the pandemic that so impacted his own life. This illustration was created as a thank you to the staff who looked after him when he fell foul of the disease

Tributes from fellow artists

Doctor Who Fridge Magnet art by Nick Spender
Doctor Who Fridge Magnet art by Nick Spender

Paying tribute to Nick, fellow Andrew Skilleter recalls that he first met Nick at an Eagle Day event in Bournemouth in the 1990s. “He was a very gregarious, friendly guy and we had quite a chat,” he says. “He gave a talk on how by chance he was taught at Epsom School of Art by Frank Hampson himself. Well, you can’t top that. 

“So we had Frank in common, and also the fact that we were both versatile illustrators working traditionally at a period in the 1990s where the illustration market was in recession. We kept in touch by phone from that point and later by email and online. Nick was always interesting, sharing his personal and illustrative adventures.

Dan Dare art by Nick Spender
Dan Dare art by Nick Spender
Dan Dare art by Nick Spender

“One of his strengths was illustrating factual subjects with many books to his name and then there was the realisation of his personal passions, namely The Dam Busters (2014) which he wrote and illustrated in strip form, followed by The Conquest of Everest (2016). Impressive achievements. Both are still available from Amazon and I recommend them.

“He was one of the ‘good guys, a talented pro and generous with it.”

I knew Nick not only through his work but more importantly himself,” artist Pete Wallbank says of his friend. “As a kid, I loved to draw and along with many other things Doctor Who! It was through my fascination with all things art and those wonderful novelisation cover arts that I first became aware of Nick’s work. He created very individual and sterling works for the novels The Aztecs, The Highlanders and Inferno. Fantastical imagery combined with consummate painting skill, marrying figurative gouache work with airbrush flourish.

Doctor Who - The Second Doctor (played on screen by Patrick Troughton). Art by Nick Spender
Doctor Who – The Second Doctor (played on screen by Patrick Troughton). Art by Nick Spender

“Along with others Nick was a huge inspiration to the fledgling illustrator in me – I even attempted to copy the very beautiful ‘Highlanders’ cover, although I never actually admitted this to him as I got to know him on a personal level in later life.

“I’ve had the great fortune in my own career to be able to meet and mix with my own creative inspirations of which Nick was definitely one. A likeable and knowledgeable man who was very easy to get along with and who was a proper ‘Southerner’, at the same time I was introduced to his lovely girl, Penny. Such good friends we became that I helped them to move when Nick and Penny decided to re-locate to the Isle of Bute in Scotland. We became good illustrative friends often talking about work,films and life in general.

Old English Sheepdog and Guinea Pig, art by Nick Spender

“He’d often come to me for advice on all things technical – the typical impractical artist!”, Pete adds, “as well as all things DIY! He was a total disaster in this area!

“Nick was a consummate professional, often married to creating work for all different genres, and awful lot of it for agencies. I loved Nick’s work but at the same felt he was underrated. I think at times he felt under valued, which is a shame, as he was a great artist/illustrator. I tried as best as I could to help, sometimes brokering sales of his original work for him – It was lovely to see and hear the recognition that original works brought people.

“Nick was most definitely troubled by various different health issues at the end, but I do know one thing in that he’s at peace now, and frantically drawing, painting away whilst busy trying to control those impossibly large old English Sheep Dogs he so loved. Heaven gains yet another new star. God bless you, Nick.”

Nick’s Final Work

Nick’s final work will feature in gamebook author, collector, and blogger Mark Alain’s first Destiny’s Role game book, Dimensions 1: The Great Fall which he had been working on for some time after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Nick was to have created 30 illustrations for the project, and at least four were completed before his unexpected passing.

“He was very unwell,” Mark noted in a campaign update, announcing Nick’s passing, “and had been hospitalised several times recently resulting in his moving into supported housing late in 2023 and he spent much of Christmas in hospital. But then [he] was in fine form in January and we had many creative discussions to finalise the illustrations for Dimensions 1.

“Although I know Nick was working on those 20 illustrations, I have no way of knowing if any were fully completed (and even if they were, I probably can’t get hold of them), although I do have the four pictures that were already finished and these will, of course, be going into the book and the book will be dedicated to his memory.” A fitting tribute.

Our sympathies and best wishes to Nick’s family and friends at this time.

Nick Spender 25th May 1959 – 19th January 2024

Artist and writer John Ridgway pays tribute to comic artist and writer Nick Spender, who died in January, pondering roads sadly not taken and what might have been…

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database – Credits for Nick Spender

Categories: Books, British Comics, British Comics - Graphic Novels, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Obituaries, Other Worlds

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  1. Remembering Nick Spender: A Personal Tribute by John Ridgway –

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