It is difficult to say how much artist Gordon Livingstone, who died recently aged 82, has influenced my appreciation of art.
I first became aware of his work way back in December 1973, probably with the DC Thomson war comic Commando Issue 796, “Black Beret”. Since then, my love of art has grown and that love was fed on a monthly basis by the amazing output of Gordon as he illustrated Commando and many of the DC Thomson’s women’s magazines.
Born 17th August 1934, Gordon hailed from the tenements of Dundee. By the time he was six, he was already a veteran at listening out for the wail of the air raid siren that warned of another bombing raid on his native city. He heard his first while in the King’s Cross Hospital, when he was recovering from diphtheria, saying later that it gave him the fright of his life. Having heard the eerie wail myself as an adult, I can fully sympathise with the junior Gordon.
(His brushes with childhood diseases – far more prevalent then than now – did not deter Gordon from being an active sportsman. He played tennis, football, badminton, cycling and later there was the enjoyment of the links and the occasional foray to the 19th hole).
Gordon left school early at a youthful 14 and a half and ended up working for a law firm as an office boy in Bank Street, Dundee. A young office boy should of course always keep himself busy and Gordon did… by drawing!
Luckily, Gordon’s boss, a lawyer whose name is lost to the mists of time was a good friend of Norman Lee, Chief Artist for John Leng & Co. Clearly recognising Gordon’s talent, his boss showed some of the budding teenage artist’s art to Norman and as a result, Gordon was given an offer of work. On the day he turned sixteen, he could begin to work for Norman Lee as a junior artist.
He was also hired by DC Thomson, and remained a loyal contributor to the firm for nearly 50 years, working on children’s and women’s magazines such as Secrets, My Weekly and The People’s Friend.
I’ve been able to see some of Gordon’s women’s magazines work thanks to his daughter, including art for the weekly title, Secrets. The illustrations confirm how versatile he was, his art is as drop dead gorgeous as the ladies that he drew.
Gordon spent much of his time honing his already growing talent to a level where he would become one of the regular staff artists, a career only briefly interrupted in the 1950s when he was called up for his two years’ national service in the Army, mostly spent in post-war Germany in the Royal Army Service Corps. He also managed to spend a lot of time playing hockey. (There’s that sporting link again).
(As he was serving when George VI passed away, he was one of a small number of service personnel who would go from dealing with the King’s to the Queen’s Regulations. When you consider that this change has only happened three times since the introduction of the Regulations in 1731, that’s a nice historical footnote to be involved in).
After demob, Gordon returned to his career as a staff artist at John Leng & Co, and was building a career as a respected artist on many of the women’s magazines, working in titles such as Golden Heart Love Stories, Love and Life Library and Silver Moon, when he was asked by the son of his godmother Charles “Chick” Checkley to do some samples for his new project at DC Thomson, a picture library digest called Commando. As Gordon looked up to Chick as a father figure, it was no surprise that he was happy to do these, his first work appearing in Issue Four, with “Mercy for None”, written by Eric Castle. This was the start of a beautiful run of art from 1961 to Gordon’s retirement in 1999.
Through his long comics career, Gordon provided the internal art for over 360 issues of Commando – coming to the rescue of editor Ian Forbes on no less than four occasions when the original artist was not able to complete an assignment. Gordon also did the cover art for 67 issues of the long-running war comic.
As Steve Holland noted last week over on Bear Alley, roughly two-thirds of his issues have been reprinted, which means he was responsible for an eighth of Commando’s total run of just over 5,000 issues.
Along with Terry Patrick, Gordon was also one of the artists for the educational centre spread feature “The Falklands File” (1982-1983), which covered the 1982 Falklands conflict between Britain and Argentina in DC Thomson’s weekly war comic Warlord.
I would have loved the chance to have met Gordon during his career at DC Thomson’s or after he had retired. Instead, I have to content myself with knowing that others appreciated him as much as I did.
Although Gordon’s passing is sad, here’s a tale to end this tribute on, one that will make us all smile. I was only told of it two Saturdays before he passed away.
A fresh-faced young sub, (yes former DC Thomson editor Calum Laird was once fresh faced) was moved to work with George Low, then the current Commando editor. George advised Calum what his duties were and who to expect on certain days as staff artists and local freelancers would drop in their art. When Calum found out that one of the artists that would come in every Thursday was Gordon Livingstone, his interest was heightened.
So, on that first Thursday, Gordon walked into the office and greeted the new sub-editor, but was more than a little bemused when Calum asked Gordon to autograph two of his favourite Commando issues, “The Silver Spitfire” and “Bombers Moon”. Indeed, more than bemused – he was downright suspicious, thinking the request was all a bit of a wind-up on George’s part, and asked where he was hiding!
Such was Gordon’s modesty, Calum’s request left the talented artist floundering. In his mind, it seems, nobody cared about the Commando artists, so ho would want their autographs?
Gordon, like Calum before me, I would love to be able to ask for your autograph and I know that I will miss your lightness of line and depth of colour. But as it is not to be, I hope that those who you have left behind are comforted by the depth of our love for the beauty you put into our lives with your art.
Gordon Livingstone borne 17th August 1934, died 19th June 2017
More about Gordon Livingstone on downthetubes
A life-long comic fan, specialising mainly in UK adventure comics, Colin did his very best to support his passion for the comics of his youth, Commandos (still going!) and any small press that interested him. Sadly, Colin passed in March 2021, an invaluable downthetubes team member, much missed by us all