Dudley D. Watkins

Comic Artists Inspiration, Part 1

In a recent DSGN HAUS Design Jam, a monthly get-together where we discuss our work, influences and design in general, everyone on the team shared someone or something that inspired us. The only requirement was to choose something that wasn’t directly related to our specific roles. That could, for example, be a film, a genre of music or an author, but not another designer or developer.

I chose to share five comic book artists who have provided me with inspiration. I didn’t go into great depth with any, just touching on a few key points of influence, but I thought they’d be worth sharing here too. The first person I chose was Dudley D. Watkins.

Watkins was an illustrator who made his name at D.C. Thomson in Dundee, working as a cartoonist from the twenties through to the sixties. He contributed to most of the comics they produced, although probably most famously for their leading publications The Beano and The Dandy. His style was widely recognized and influenced a generation of British comic artists.

I think Watkins was the first person I ever realized was behind the curtain. When you’re a young kid reading comics you take it for granted they arrive fully-formed in the newsagent. I didn’t stop to consider that someone has to write the stories, someone has to draw them, and often there’s a colorist, typographer or other specialist crafting everything into a finished product. I remember seeing Watkins’ signature in the corner of some panels and it began to dawn on me that someone was responsible for creating these. And maybe they were actually getting paid for it! That seemed like a job I wanted.

As I learned more about the Watkins and his work I realized how prolific he had been. I had to pick up old comics and annuals at thrift stores and jumble sales, but his unmistakable style was everywhere. He drew Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, Biffo the Bear, Ginger and a bunch of other strips. The output wasn’t something I admired until much later, but it seemed like he worked the way a child does: don’t overthink it, just sit down and draw. It all seemed so effortless, natural and a lot of fun. It made me think there was a creative job waiting for me one day.

The final reason I saw Watkins as a source of inspiration was his work for the Sunday Post. His two full-page strips every week, Oor Wullie and The Broons, were the highlight of the day. They were just as entertaining as his other strips, but the characters spoke in a Scottish dialect decades before Irvin Welsh was acclaimed for the same thing with Trainspotting. It was like being in a select group who could decode something secret. I started to sense that no matter where you were from you could create something with your own voice and it would always be valued. 

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