When artist Gerry Dolan died last November I started writing this tribute, but for various reasons it got pushed back in its publication until now, and I can only apologise to those of you who already knew of his passing and those who kindly provided information for this article, including Trevor Goring, Marise Morland-Chapman and Sydney Jordan. To be honest at the time his death was something of a shock, even though he had been ill for some time, after sudden and unexpected illness, from which he never fully recovered.
Born Gerald Felix Dolan on 10th June 1951, he was an artist who it was my great pleaseure to work with on Doctor Who Magazine in my Marvel UK days, drawing a strip written by Paul Cornell (Paul’s first strip work for DWM). Very much an “ideas man”, Gerry also drew some sample strips for an unrealised Doctor Who newspaper strip I wrote during my tenure, pitched at the Daily Express.
As regular readers will recall, I reported in 2014 how Gerry was in hospital in the US, where he had been working as a storyboard artist on for several years, after suffering a “hemorrhagic stroke”. This was, apparently, not as bad as a full heart attack – even if it sounds like it – but it appears that it was an incident from which he never fully recovered.
Gerry’s career in comics began with his work with Sydney Jordan and Trevor Goring at art agency Helicopter. There, he worked on newspaper strips such as the Jeff Hawke follow up Lance McClane.
Although best known as a storyboard and comic artist, he was also something of a frustrated writer and in earlier times in the British comics industry might easily have carved himself a distinctive career in that field. Sadly, this was not to be.
“I met him when newspaper strips were dying out,” Syd told me last November. “He was an ideas man – they’d come from everywhere. He was something of a film buff, and his writing was always very cinematic in style.”
In 1996, he provided storyboards for the only published episode of Syd Jordan’s revival of Dan Dare for the short-lived The Planet on Sunday newspaper, a revival inspired by Gerry himself. Very few knew he did the lay outs on the short-lived story.
“Dan Dare would have have been perfect for Gerry,” Syd feels. “He’d have followed the style set by Frank Bellamy and Frank Hampson.”
Gerry was one of the first artists I worked with when I assumed editorial control of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, initially providing illustrations for the short story The Infinity Season which ran in Issue 151, written by Dan Abnett, followed by the strip Stairway to Heaven (Issue 156) plotted by Paul Cornell – his first DWM comic story – scripted by me and inked by Rex Ward.
Both featured Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and I felt very strongly that Gerry captured McCoy’s likeness with aplomb. Indeed, I was so impressed that, when the opportunity arose, I asked him to drew some sample Doctor Who newspaper strips for a longer story, “Terror from the Deep”, that we pitched, unsuccessfully, to the Daily Express, but, sadly, that was to be his last work for the magazine.
In terms of comics work, his last comics credit around that time seems to be his contribution to The Worm, an exercise in record breaking that took place 1991 at London’s Trocadero. From an outline by Alan Moore, 125 creators gathered to draw and letter a 250-foot long comic strip, recognised as the longest comic strip in the world.
Leaving the UK for the United States, Gerry carved a successful if little noticed career as a storyboard artist, his credits including work on the animated series Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles and Max Steel.
“His dream was to be in Los Angeles,” Syd Jordan recalls. “He was never happy in the UK, but he was a great socialiser, and always approached any project with tremendous enthusiasm. I’m so glad he found a good life in the United States that he never had here.”
Very occasionally, down the years Gerry would pop up unexpectedly in my InBox with a cheery line to say he was well and busy, but as far as I’m aware, never worked in comics again, until very recently, when he began working with writer John Clarke on a new comic strip series, British Power: 1957, featuring a whole new universe of costumed superheroes.
“Among a lot of no-hopers and quite-interestings, Gerry’s submissions easily stood out as the best of the best,” recalls John of Gerry’s work on the project, after he put out an appeal for an artist on various forums.
“We also seemed to be on the same wavelength and exchanged numerous emails about our shared interests and our ideas for the series. I felt really elated to have found someone so good for the series that is closest to my heart.
“Gerry had got as far as layouts for the first issue when he was laid low. I’d heard recently from his friend Trevor Goring that while Gerry was in recovery, he could expect to need care for the rest of his life. I’m gutted to hear that that life has now been cut so short.”
John has now posted some of Gerry’s work on the project online.
“I’d planned on keeping Gerry’s work to myself until I could move ahead with British Power with another artist. I’d wanted to include Gerry’s work as a supplement, to show him how much it had inspired me to continue with the project and how much confidence his work had given me in my writing. That won’t happen now. So I’m sharing some of the work he sent me now as a tribute.
“Thanks, Gerry. I wish I’d had a chance to know you better.”
As do I, John.
Our sympathies to his family and friends. I’m sorry it took me so long to write this tribute and I hope it does you justice.
• “Stairway to Heaven” was re-published by Panini in their Doctor Who collection Nemesis of the Daleks and Gerry’s newspaper strip Who who features in the collection The Good Soldier. Both books are available from all good bookshops
• IDW re-published “Stairway to Heaven” in colour in Doctor Who Classics #4, published in September 2013
Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation. Doctor Who © BBC. British Power: 1957 © John Clarke