The news of the passing of legendary comic artist Ian Kennedy, perhaps best known for his work for the long-running DC Thomson title, Commando, who died at the weekend, has rocked both creators and fans alike, many paying tribute to a kind and generous soul, who had been working in our industry for over seventy years.
His work spanned countless covers and comic strips, for titles that also included boys comics such as 2000AD, Eagle, Lion and Warlord, and girls titles too, including Bunty and Diana.
He was also a generous man, who occasionally helped us here at downthetubes in our efforts to document aspects of the British comic industry, support that often came unbidden and was hugely appreciated by our disparate team.
“At DC Thomson we were privileged to work with Ian for 73 years,” the Commando comics team announced in a statement. “A genuine, friendly and kind man, he’ll be missed by us all. Without a doubt, his legacy in the comics world will remain and his work will continue to inspire and bring joy. For Commando, Ian was our Squadron Leader and our best pilot. We salute him.
“Our thoughts are with Ian’s loving family at this time.”
Commenting in a personal capacity, Commando staffer and writer Georgia Battle said, “Ian was such a lovely and witty man. He was a true gent and it was always a pleasure to see him. His death is truly, truly devastating news.”
“Ian lived just a couple of miles down the road from me and I used to see a lot of him, but not for the last few years,” recalled former Bunty editor Jim Davie. “As well as his magnificent illustrations for Warlord I used to ask him to draw covers for me when I was editor of Bunty.
“Extremely talented and versatile artist, a good bloke and will be sadly missed.”
“I’m very sad to hear about the passing of Ian Kennedy,” said former Commando staffer Scott Montgomery. “As a youngster, I was enthralled by his stunning artwork then, many years later, I had the privilege of working with him on Commando editorial. Such an astounding talent and a gentleman. A true class act.
As Murray Scougall noted in an interview with Ian for the Sunday Post last year, childhood dreams of becoming an RAF pilot might have ended thanks to an ear condition in his youth, but Ian’s passion for planes was not wasted.
“Met him on my first day at DC Thomson in 1985,” recalls writer Iain McLaughlin. “We were both waiting for a lift up to the ninth floor. I was a spotty nobody, and he was already a legend but he was kind and friendly and welcoming and I never saw him be anything else. I was always really chuffed when he did a cover for one of my Commando stories. Magnificent artist and a really lovely man.”
“Everyone at 2000AD is very saddened to learn of the passing of artist Ian Kennedy,” stated Michael Molcher in a tribute on the comic’s web site, also outlining just some of Ian’s incredible comic career.
“It is no hyperbole to describe Kennedy as a legend of British comics. With a career spanning more than seven decades, his meticulously detailed but dynamic work graced dozens of titles, from Hotspur to Bunty, from Commando to 2000AD… His humility and easy, unassuming, friendly manner endeared him to all who met him.
“Even though he had semi-retired, he continued working – producing covers for comics and graphic novels that betrayed no lessening of his talent.
“We have lost another titan of British comics, it is no exaggeration to call Ian Kennedy irreplaceable.”
“I am very saddened to hear of the death of Ian Kennedy,” writer and editor Kelvin Gosnell, who is penning a longer tribute, told downthetubes. We worked together on stories in Valiant and, later, on 2000AD. I had known and loved his artwork from reading the War Picture Libraries as a youngster, We both had an interest in, and enthusiasm for, aviation and it was undoubtedly this which brought us together professionally. I couldn’t believe my luck when I got the chance to work stories with him.
“We became good friends and got involved in a number of crazy moments – being targets-for-the-day for an RAF SeaKing was one of them.
“Ian was one of the greatest illustrators among UK strip artists and illustrators,” he continues. “He came from the same ‘school’ as Brian Lewis, Don Lawrence, Roy Cross, Joe Colquhoun, the Embletons etc.. Many other artists would easily admit they learnt much from his work. His unique, crisp, clear and energetic visual style is unequalled, He is one of the true ‘greats’ in our genre, he was also, for me, a good, kind friend. He will be greatly missed.”
“It was a privilege to help him his these last few years,” said Mark Seddon, who ran Ian’s official web site and Twitter. “… He loved aircraft, and his childhood dream was to be a pilot.
“My thoughts are with his family, friends and his many fans who had their lives touched by his work or had the good fortune to meet him in person.”
“My career owes the biggest debt of gratitude to my childhood art hero Ian Kennedy,” commented Commando cover artist and comic artist Neil Roberts.
“He was, to me, the very best kind of artist – always leading by example – he consistently made great art, was incredibly generous with his knowledge and had a long and illustrious career. All things I can only begin to aspire to.
“I respected him, his work and his career – I can only hope to continue his good work. Thank you Ian.”
“I’m deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my pal and fellow Commando creator, Ian Kennedy,” mourned Commando writer Colin Maxwell. “He was such an inspiration. Condolences to family and friends.
Separately, Colin recalled a happier occasion, a panel at Dunfermline Comic Con 2019. “I had just asked Ian what the difference was between a Spitfire and a Hurricane – just look at Ian’s grin as he replied that a Hurricane was an excellent aircraft and piece of technology while the Spitfire was just a ‘pretty thing’.”
“A great artist with a phenomenal body of work,” acknowledged Commando writer Heath Ackley. “I was honoured to learn that he had produced covers for my Commando issues. A legend in the UK comics industry who will be sadly missed by all.”
“So sad to hear of the passing of Ian Kennedy,” commented former Eagle editor Barrie Tomlinson. “He was a master artist who entertained so many people in the world of comics. I was proud his work appeared in my titles and proud to call him a friend.”
“One of my fondest memories of Ian was him and Gladys Kennedy making a rare visit to London with his latest drawn episode of ‘Dan Dare’,” former Battle editor Dave Hunt told downthetubes. “After enthusing over the artwork, we then retired to enjoy a lunch filled with much good humour and pleasant conversation.
“Self-effacing, extremely generous with his knowledge, hugely talented, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known and worked with Ian Kennedy, a delightful human being.”
“So sad to hear the news that Ian Kennedy has passed away,” said writer and 2000AD founding editor Pat Mills. “He was a brilliant artist on so many comics including Commando and Dan Dare. I met him only a few years back when he did the cover of my Ragtime Soldier. It was as superb as all his previous work. We will all miss him.”
“We will not see his like again,” feels Mike Donachie, graphic novel reviews editor for the Toronto Star. “He was an incomparably skilled comics artist, spanning generations, a gentleman and a good person. His work hangs in my kitchen and is my most-loved possession in a collection I have gathered over a lifetime.
“When I saw Ian for the last time, just before I emigrated to Canada, he shook my hand and said: ‘Thank you for your friendship.’ I burst into tears. It felt like such an honour.
“He made beautiful things and knew so much. Thank you.”
“Ian Kennedy was one of the true greats of British comics, and a genuinely lovely person,” noted artist and author David Roach. “… ‘Hunters of the V-1’ from the 1973 Air Ace Holiday Special, was the first time I saw Ian’s work and I was just knocked out by it. He became one of those artists whose work I always bought whenever I found it. be it in Commando, Starlord, 2000AD or Eagle.
“I was lucky enough to sit next to him at a Birmingham convention a few years ago and he seemed genuinely bemused at the affection shown to him by his many fans there. A great artist and a kind, humble man, he will be sorely missed.”
“There is no artist that I admired more and who has left a stronger impression on me,” commented artist Simon Fraser. “His work has awed me since I was a very young boy. I think that he was one of the best that there ever was and it was an enormous privilege to meet and talk to him when I did. He was just the nicest man. I’m really quite upset right now. Thank you Ian, you were my hero.”
“Such a gentleman, a super talented artist, who never stopped painting and drawing at the highest level,” commented artist and writer Monty Nero. “A really great guy. My heart goes out to his family.”
“A true master of comic art who had been part of the industry for over 70 years,” acknowledges artist, writer and British comics archivist Lew Stringer. “Still drawing, and still sharp as a tack right up to the end. My condolences to all his friends and family.”
“A true great of British comics and illustration,” acknowledged artist Dan Cornwell. “I had the pleasure of meeting and having a meal with him and John Wagner on a couple of occasions and he was a wonderful man to talk to with. He was such a kind and generous soul full of tips and advice. He had a fascinating life and listening to his stories was a privilege. He was still working even at such a late stage of his life and his work was truly incredible. Such a huge loss.”
“A true titan of British Comic Book Art,” concurs artist Chris Weston. “A truly brilliant artist. RIP, sir, we salute you.”
“One of the great British comic artists in my humble opinion,” noted artist Steve Pini. “I knew from the first time I saw his art in some of the old annuals of the 1960s that he was a stickler for detail. He put a great deal of love into his work.. He will be missed by his many fans.”
“I couldn’t let the legendary comics artist, Ian Kennedy’s passing go without a word from me. He was there at the front of Boys’ Adventure comics and worked up to the end,” notes artist David Pugh.
“Not only did he design Loner for me, but I worked with his character style sheets for M.A.S.K. comic. To continue working up to the age of 89, is a tribute to the ease that line and paint came to him. I was burnt out at the age of 59, drawing was always a battle for me, to get that line right; for Ian it was as natural as breathing.”
“It’s a cliche to say you should never meet your heroes but Ian Kennedy was one of the rare exceptions to that,” commented artist, writer and editor Steve White. “I remember copying his Beaufighters as a kid and his work was a huge inspirations to me growing up. But I was also really lucky to work with him on Johnny Red, where he did two covers for Garth Ennis’ series which I was fortunate enough to edit.
“Rather than scan his work, he would send them into the office – and they were huge pieces! Wonderful to examine them in the flesh. And when I got to meet him in person, he was the perfect gent and completely charming.
“A giant talent and a great loss.”
“Ian Kennedy was a huge talent and such a lovely man,” commented Professor Christopher Murray, Chair of Comics Studies and Associate Dean for Knowledge Exchange and Partnerships at the School of Humanities, University of Dundee, “He had a long and glorious career in comics and generously supported Comics Studies at the University of Dundee.
“He attended many events, encouraged our students, and worked with us on some projects. I loved hanging out with Ian and Phillip Vaughan at many conventions, after Phil introduced him to the convention scene! He really loved getting out there and meeting his fans. I am honoured to call Ian a friend. He’ll be much missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”
“Not only was Ian Kennedy still doing conventions as recently as 2019,” noted writer Dan Whitehead, “he would make a point of visiting every table and personally wish everybody good luck before the doors opened. Truly one of the nicest people in comics.”
“I’m still finding it hard to get myself together after learning this morning of Ian Kennedy’s passing at the weekend,” said convention organiser and writer Paul Trimble. “The word ‘Legend’ just doesn’t seem big enough to describe Ian, and yet he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege to know in the comics industry.
“I grew up with Ian’s art on Commando, Warlord, Battle, Tornado, Eagle – in fact just about everywhere, but it wasn’t until he accepted my invitation to the Omagh ComicFest in 2018 that I actually got to meet him. Ian charmed everyone – and he was the last one out of the bar on the Saturday night and the first one down for breakfast the next day! Via Messenger, email and the occasional phonecall we became friends and he returned to Northern Ireland for the Enniskillen ComicFest in 2019. A very popular guest, he had a long queue all day. Ian enjoyed himself so much that he would regularly mention Enniskillen in interviews, and was so keen to come back in 2020 that he offered to pay his own way over to help ComicFest take place.
“That was Ian. He always made time to talk to my daughter and they became friends too. Again, that was Ian. It was an honour that you referred to me as a friend.”
His work also touched those outside the comics world, too, and his fame extended far beyond Britain, his work on the comic strip “Tybalt”, for the Swedish comic Fantomen in the 1980s and 90s, for example, gaining him a following there, even if the strip was not one of his favourites.
“He was so active, and still so good, up to the end,” enthused Ben Shepherd, historian at Glasgow Caledonian University. “Commando comics helped nurture my interest in World War Two from the age of about six, and Ian’s covers played a big part in that. RIP and thanks for all the great art, sir.”
Thank, you, Ian, for giving us so much wonderful art, for Commando, for Eagle, Lion, and so many, many other comics. You may no longer be with us, but the art you gave us is with us still, and an overwhelming number of creators and fans will ensure you will not be forgotten.
Our sympathies to family and friends at this difficult time. Further tributes to Ian will be published soon.
Ian Kennedy, 22nd September 1932 – 5th February 2022
• Wildcat 1 – Turbo Jones here on amazon.co.uk (Affiliate Link)
RECENT INTERVIEWS WITH IAN KENNEDY
An interview published in 2021, in which Ian noted, “Fans will talk to me on Facebook about past covers I’ve done, many of which when I look at them I have to think twice about whether I did actually do them, because sometimes I’ll say, ‘Gee, I wish I could paint as well as that’. I think most writers and artists would agree when I say that while the money is handy, it’s the sense of achievement that means everything.”
• During the first lockdown in April 2020, Ian was interviewed for The 2000AD Thrill-Cast. You can listen to the episode on most podcast apps or via Soundcloud and YouTube
Commando art © DC Thomson Media | 2000AD and IPC Fleetway art © Rebellion Publishing Ltd | Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation