It is generally accepted that an Englishman born on February 27th 1907, in Manchester, England, Dudley D. Watkins, was Scotland's greatest cartoonist. Undoubtedly some of the people who say it is so simply pay lip-service to that notion because he remains to this day one of the few cartoonists people in Britain can actually name (even if they only say "the guy who did the Broons"), but to many comic fans and cartoonists alike, Watkins simply was the best. All over Great Britain and the Commonwealth, legions of fans collected every single full-page episode of The Broons and Oor Wullie from the weekly edition of The Sunday Post newspaper, a newspaper that regularly found its way all over the world as families oceans apsrt kept in touch with distant relatives. And every Christmas, The Broons and Oor Wullie Annuals were a standing dish here in the UK and overseas. Then of course there were those other fans who grew up with Dudley's work for The Beano and The Dandy, two comics that really only came into being because of the tremendous popularity of Dudley Watkins work.
For we cartoonists' who are not naturally gifted and have to work hard at our craft, there is some solace in looking at Dudley's very early work before the Broons and Oor Wullie. That's because if you began with no knowledge of his earlier work, and you just picked up a Broons or an Oor Wullie page from the 1940s or 1950s, and then traced it back to the first Broons comic of 1936, it can be very intimidating indeed. Although the Broons of 1933 is rougher than the Broons of 1943, it is still a very polished looking page for that era. There is no sign of the very rough artwork of say, the first Tintin story by Herge, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Indeed, if you start with the Broons alone, Dudley seems to have just sprung up as a fully-formed cartooning genius. Of course, that wasn't the case, and Dudley's earlier art work is a little rough around the edges, thankfully, although it is still intimidating in itself because it illustrates the rapid professional development of the man's penmanship.
Watkins's first published work appeared in Boots in-house magazine, The Beacon, while he was working for Boots Pure Drug company in the early 1920s. In 1925 the Watkins family moved to Scotland and Dudley attended classes at Glasgow School of Art. It was the school principal there who recommended the talented illustrator to the Scottish publishing powerhouse D.C. Thomson, and soon afterwards Watkins moved to the Thomson company's Dundee base. It was there that Dudley began what would become a life-long career in comics, as just one of a number of DC illustrators, churning out pages for Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and The Hotspur. To make ends meet, Watkins earned a little extra income teaching life drawing at Dundee Art School, but his talents did not go unnoticed for long, and a keen-eyed editor assigned him the drawing of two new comic strips, The Broons and Oor Wullie - both of which were launched in the 8 March 1936 edition of the weekly newspaper The Sunday Post.
Just three short years after his first full strip appeared, Watkins had begun work on what would become the most iconic cartoon characters in Scottish history. The Broons and Oor Wullie comic strips were tremendous hits with the Scottish public, and it was their success that encouraged Thomson to produce both The Dandy Comic (1937) and The Beano Comic (1938), both of which were built around the look and style of Watkins work. From The Beano #1, until his final comic for Beano # 1422, the creator of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and Biffo the Bear, served up a steady diet of comic masterpieces that impacted on almost every single child growing up in Britain, and even further afield. Such was his reputation that he was the only Thomson artist at the time who was allowed to sign his own work, a shy D.W on the adventures of Lord Snooty in the Beano #292, September 7th 1946, gave way to the more familiar and iconic signature Dudley D. Watkins in issue '293.
There were very, very, few cartoonists in the world producing work of the quality of Watkins's work. The Broons pages contained less panels than the more action-orientated Oor Wullie, so there was more of a canvas for Watkins to experiment on. His command of perspective and shifting points of view was almost peerless and I think, with the exception of a handful of European and American greats, like Winsor McCay, it would be difficult to think of a more talented and influential cartoonist. He truly was one of the all-time greats.
One dream Dudley Watkins did not managed to fulfill, was his dream of adapting the entire Bible into illustrated format. Oh that would have been something, wouldn't it? That would have been an awesome "graphic novel", a spectacular celebration of what a dedicated cartoonist could achieve. But it wasn't to be. On the morning of 20 August 1969, his wife found him, a half-finished Desperate Dan strip on his drawing table before him, Dudley D. Watkins had died of a heart attack, doing what he loved.
Artwork copyright D.C Thomson.
Some pics purloined from various sites. For more, and more detailed, information on the great Dudley D. Watkins, I suggest you try the following excellent sites: