Two unpublished British newspaper strip rarities, offered by the same seller on eBay, have attracted the attention of fans and collectors, first highlighted by downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf on his Boys Adventure Comics blog. Both seem to be “try out strips”, as neither strip is known to have featured in any British national newspaper.
Introducing Patti Moon by Graham Coton
The first is “Patti Moon”, drawn by Graham Coton, an artist best known for his motor racing strips in Tiger, his war strips in Top Spot and, most of all, for his dynamic covers for the War Picture Libraries and illustration work for magazines such as Look and Learn.
Commissioned by Associated Newspapers, through the BL Kearley Illustration Agency, the strip, dated 1969 -1972, offered here on eBay, introduces the eponymous Patti Smith, trapped in a dull day job, the last of the three strips on offer suggesting that is all about to change.
Style wise, Coton’s take on the strip is akin to “Carol Day” or “Modesty Blaise”, but if this was a try out, were more strips created? Frank Hampson, for example, drew at least eight “Modesty Blaise” strips, before writer Peter O’Donnell chose Jim Holdaway as his co-creator. Perhaps we will never know.
The art was originally sold for £275 in June by Chiswick Auctions, as part of a lot also included the covers of four Enid Blyton books by Clyde Pearson.
Born in Woolwich in 1926, Graham Coton trained at Shooter’s Hill School, where he achieved the highest marks for Art the school had ever seen. He attended the Goldsmith’s College of Art in London, but his education was interrupted during World War Two. By 1946/1947 he was working for the Royal Air Force as a Physical Instructor. He returned to Goldsmith’s but was “obliged to leave early and earn a living quickly.”
He began freelancing for Amalgamated Press in the early 1950s, initially drawing “Kit Carson” comics for Cowboy Comics Library and, later, four short strips for Thriller Comics. He also drew “Dick Barton” for Comet which ran from April 1953 until some time in 1954, stories also printed in Super Detective Library.
His work on the weekly Knockout included several episodes of “Sexton Blake” in 1951, and “Captain Phantom”, the World War Two Master Spy, starting in 1953. Some of these strips were later reprinted in Thriller Comics Library, with the lead character renamed “Spy 13”.
Coton also created the strip “Space Family Rollinson” (which has no connection with “Space Family Robinson”), in the early 1950s, first published in Knockout and reprinted in France, Germany, Italy and Portugal; the motor racing strips “Specialists in Speed” (1960) and “Road Race Roughriders” (1961) for Tiger, war strips for Top Spot, and created dynamic covers for the War Libraries (and, later, Starlord and Tornado), as well as illustrations for Look and Learn and Speed & Power magazines in the late 1960s and 1970s.
An accomplished illustrator, he also created for numerous magazines such as Readers Digest, books, Royal Doulton commemorative plates and book jackets, and more. He also did commissions that were numerous and varied, from portraits to animals, pets, landscapes, seascapes, trains, planes and automobiles, some offered for sale by Fine Art galleries. He died on 14th October 2003, at his home in East Sussex.
Patti Moon by Michael Strand
Intriguingly, artist Michael Strand, another alumni B.L. Kearley, also created a set of “Patti Moon” strips, which comics archivist Shaqui le Vesconte shared with downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf, unearthed during discussions with the agency.
“The exact frame breakdowns are not the same as Graham Coton’s,” he notes of Strand’s take on the strip, “but one – the one in the shower and the phone call, do match and the one where Patti goes into the office where someone waits in the shadows, is similar to another. The first, in the office where Patti works, doesn’t seem to be part of the run I have.
“The Kearleys did not know the exact story,” he expands, “but my estimate from the fashions was these were from either late 1960s or early 1970s. The date on the Coton versions seems to bear out my theory.
“In light of the Coton versions, my theory now is two-fold,” Shaqui posits. “Either both Strand and Coton were asked to pitch for a new strip, or it was either already running somewhere, and they were pitching to take over. I veer towards the former probability, and it didn’t sell. so remained unpublished.
“Another part of my theory is the artists were given a rough plot, and wrote the actual script themselves.”
Not much is known about Michael Strand, an accomplished and prolific comic strip artist most active in the 1970s, but whose credits include both action adventure and girls comics, his credits including “Stingray” for TV Century 21 in 1965, “Lady Penelope”, for the 1970 Lady Penelope annual, “Careful She Bites” for Princess Tina, and “The Farleys Must be First“, for Bunty, in the 1970s. He was also, as we previously noted, a contributor to the Famous Five annuals.
John Bull, Secret Agent
The other strip offered, described as an original political newspaper cartoon strip, is drawn by award-winning artist Mike Peyton and titled by the seller as “Bull and Sir John“, although I’d suggest it’s more likely it was titled “John Bull“. John Bull is of course a national personification of the United Kingdom in general and England in particular, in this instance given the role of a James Bond-style secret agent.
Mike Peyton is arguably the world’s most famous yachting cartoonist and this art is also credited as an Associated Newspapers commission, the back of the board indicating the work came through the hands of B L Kearley, the London-based illustration agency in London still in operation today. Established in 1948 in Marylebone, London as an artist and illustration agent, they have been supplying top quality illustration to the publishing and advertising worlds for over 70 years.
Born into a mining family in County Durham in 1921, his love of art inspired by British comics of the 1930s, he lied about his age to join the Army and was seconded to draw maps of the North African desert by the Intelligence Corps during World War Two. Despite escaping twice, he spent most of the war in a prisoner of war camp, where he drew his first cartoon in 1942, also running a PoW newspaper.
Following the war, the then 24-year-old continued sketching his droll observations of everyday life. But it wasn’t until Peyton bought a boat in his late 20s, naming it Vagrant (because it had no visible means of support) setting up a business offering charter cruises, that he began to turn his illustrations to sailing.
Having provided illustrations for magazines as varied as the Church Times and Corsetry & Underwear, Mike became best known for cartoons relating to his first love – yachting, drawing cartoons for a wide range of magazines, from Yachting Monthly and Practical Boat Owner, as well as New Scientist, working on that title for 35 years.
He also drew the illustrations for Yachting Monthly’s famous “Confessional” for some 30 years, in which readers confessed their sailing sins and received an original Peyton cartoon for the best story.
A retrospective of his work, The World of Peyton, was published in 2015, featuring 150 of his favourite sketches, followed by an autobiography, Quality Time, in 2017. In their Diamond Jubilee year, the Yachting Journalists’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award dubbed him “the Picasso of sailing.”
“I didn’t have to think up cartoons – I saw them happen:” he once said of his work, revealing he got his best ideas in the bath. “They’re all based on real life. I remember years ago I thought I’d run out of ideas. But I never have.”
He died in 2017, aged 96.
Strips That Never Were
“Neither of these strips came up in my travels,” Paul Hudson, author of the upcoming book The A to Z of British Newspaper Strips from Book Palace, tells downthetubes, “so I would say with reasonable confidence that neither of them were published in any of the ‘nationals’.
“Of course, that leaves the ‘regionals’ where I only really scratched the surface, although an awful lot of local papers did seem to run with US syndicated strips as it was probably easier. So, not a definitive answer but I think I would have come across them as I literally went through thousands of actual newspapers, which is much more reliable than online research.”
It’s great to see both these works – let’s hope they sail away to good homes!
More About Graham Coton
More About Mike Peyton
• The A to Z of British Newspaper Strips is a comprehensive guide to the long and distinguished career of the British Newspaper strip, listing every newspaper strip printed in Britain over the last hundred plus years. It’s due for release in early 2022
More about Michael Strand
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