Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Roy Wilson

«... it was invariably his work that was given pride of place. His was emulated and imitated. By the end of the 1930s, he was the most respected and sought-after artist working for comics…»

And now guess who these lines were written about. My title was a dead giveaway, I admit! But if you’ve heard of Roy Wilson, you are, as it turns out, distinctly in the minority. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (surely that is a sign of success and fame in the modern world) in English, and a quick search for his name yields a lot of unrelated nonsense. But just add the word “comics” to your Google quest, and we’re in business! 

Royston Warner Wilson was born in Northamptonshire, England just at the turn of the century, in 1900. He died young, at 65, but those years were enough for him to leave more than a lifetime’s worth of cartoons, humorous drawings and comic strips. For someone who has been widely credited as the most influential artist of British humour comics in what roughly corresponds to the Golden Age, which is to say the 1930s to the 1950s, his relative obscurity is downright criminal. While not particularly well-remembered by the world at large (even by the British public, it seems), at least he is beloved by legions of fans who were children during these decades and were irrevocably, and delightfully, marked by the antics of his characters.

In the 1930s, he was the leading artist for Amalgamated Press, which unleashed a variety of humour/comic titles, mostly weeklies, upon a delighted audience of pre- and post- pubescent children. Oh, a lot of these publications were around before he stepped in – but he revitalized them. As for the publisher, it had a long history with comics: as a matter of fact, it entered that particular market in 1890 with something called Illustrated Chips.

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Funny Wonder Annual, 1939.
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Funny Wonder Annual, 1941.

Because Roy Wilson was so talented and prolific and his artwork so lively, his style quickly became the house style and remained so for decades, which is why Wilson can be easily credited with having created what we can roughly call the “British humour style”, easily recognizable to this day.

He not only created and drew (and, often, redrew: like some super prolific artists who seem to have too many ideas to put down on paper, he was a perfectionist) the stories, he also lettered them himself. He had a great eye for colour, too! Which leads me to my next point – I’ve often seen him referred to as the « British Walt Kelly », but I’m not entirely on board with that comparison. Oh, there’s similarities – for instance, their common love of playful language and the ease with which both depict frisky, charismatic animals – but I think this monicker does both of them a grave disservice. Let’s appreciate artists on their own merit, shall we?

Only one Wilson monograph appears to have seen print: The Comic Art of Roy Wilson (1983), and it’s quite scarce nowadays. I recently purchased a copy. All images in this post have been scanned from it, courtesy of co-admin RG.

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Roy Wilson was actually allowed to sign his paintings – I don’t know if that was a first, but it was certainly highly unusual in British comics. He was paid about eight guineas per painting.

The reason for the re-occurring octopus, as you may be wondering – other than it being clearly fun to draw – is that he was a character in the stories of Pitch and Toss, published in Funny Wonder. To wit, Pitch and Toss Put On a Good Show and Show How to Make Good Money!:

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Published in Funny Wonder, August 21st, 1937.

The above was the first appearance of Occy the Octopussie, who became a mainstay of the strip. Here are two (rejected) panels from another chapter in the saga of Pitch and Toss, this time for Pitch and Toss and Their Pets Get a Sub and Spend a Happy Whitsun, from March 30th, 1942.

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For a full list of titles his work appeared in, head over to the Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future blog. Also visit Blimey! The Blog of British Comics to see some gorgeously-pencilled original art. 

« Roy Wilson’s art is still very much alive and, even in the comics of today, his influence can be seen. Britain’s foremost comic artist created a host of cheery and boundlessly zestful characters who still exist in the minds of the millions they entertained His art will not be forgotten. » (quote by Alan Clark and David Ashford from The Comic Art of Roy Wilson)

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