Monday 11 January 2010

The Art Noire of Denis McLoughlin Part 1

There is no doubt that with many blogs there is more than a degree of proselytizing, this blog is no exception. David and I have what we regard as a rather exciting comic strip that we want to turn as many people onto as possible and building a healthy blog audience is one way we're going to seek to achieve this. As I've already mentioned we quickly divined that if you're going to solely run with your own work then you are probably going to run out of fuel somewhere along the way and also your blog is going to lack that vital element of unpredictability, people as they say become accustomed to your face. This blog is so unpredictable that even we don't know what's going to appear on it from one day to the next.

But there is just so much to choose from in regard to the influences and creative stimuli that are driving our Cloud 109 plans forward and having done a quick check this morning, I discover that in Googlesville there is a dearth of material from a pre-eminent artist whose work is just so mind numbingly exciting that it deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

The man whoe work has slipped incongruously into obscurity, is Denis McLoughlin. His reputation was achieved largely on the back of the illustrations he produced for another name now consigned to the annals of publishing history. T.V. Boardman rose to pre-eminence during the post war publishing boom and at it's height was Britain's fifth largest publisher. Founded in the 1930's by Thomas Volney Boardman, they were noted for producing a U.K. outlet for the hard-boiled, "noirish" fiction which seemed so apposite for the post war readership that eagerly sought something more exotic than the world of rationing and shortages they were faced with.

It was here where McLoughlin rose to pre-eminence as an illustrator of this genre, although the seeds were planted a lot earlier. Born in 1918 and described by the artist himself as "a puny and sickly child", his spirit and toughness more than compensated for his diminuitive stature. It was a childhood trip to the doctor, where the asthmatic McLoughlin was a frequent object of attention that his already nascent interest in drawing was really confirmed. His praise for a picture hanging on the doctor's wall prompted the medic to draw the child's attention to the skillful interplay of light and shade which so enlivened the object of his desire.

It was this fascination for lighting that would characterize McLoughlin's work. His understanding and love of the craft of illustration (he would during his lengthy tenure at Boardman's act as a virtual one man art department supplying artwork complete with lettering skillfully incorporated) was refined during his days at the Ward and Copley Studio in Manchester. It was here producing artwork for mail order catalogues that he learned the maxim, "that if it looks right then just leave it".

McLoughlin's tastes were further refined by the profusion of beautifully rendered comic strips that were being produced in the U.S.A. Artists such as Alex Raymond, producing strips such as "Flash Gordon" and of particular resonance to the young McLoughlin - "Secret Agent X-9" were a lasting source of inspiration, in fact McLoughlin admitted once that Raymond's delineation of Flash Gordon's head served as a leit-motif for many of the male characters that so broodingly inhabited his illustrations.

His tenure at Ward and Copley was interrupted by the arrival of McLoughlin's call-up papers, much to McLoughlin's incredulity,"Dad hinted they would never take a wreck like me into the forces - but the sods did!" Conscripted as a Royal Artillery gunner he was deposited at the Woolwich Royal Arsenal, which he proceeded to decorate with fifty humorous and "saucy" murals, which were featured in the November 1943 issue of the magazine "Illustrated". His location to east London allowed him to further exploit new markets and he contributed to a variety of magazines and publishers.

His association with T.V. Boardman pre-dated his conscription, he had started work with them by virtue of an intermediary in 1938 providing covers for three editions of American Sunday comic supplements which the ever astute Thomas Volney was re-packaging.

It was in 1945 that his association with this highly succesfull publisher began in earnest. A cover for Basil Tozer's "Roving Recollections" was followed by a slew of work, to the extent that McLoughlin was in the enviable position of having a regular and reliable source of income. His output for Boardman's spanned a wide variety of publications, all with the exotic allure of the U.S. of A. As a nation we'd had their culture and their armed services big time for the latter years of the war and for the drear world of post-war Britain there was nothing more exciting for a nation in need of entertainment than Americana.

McLoughlin was amply equipped to facilitate these fantasies, his unerring feel for his subject matter was disseminated into book covers, pulp-style magazines and comic strips all produced under the aegis of T.V. Boardman. His output was prodigious, especially when one considers that he had to skim read anything up to four books a day, lying on a setee and making notes. Latterly when describing his approach to work, he would oft times express incredulity at the amount of work, anything up to three covers a day, he turned around:

"Well I just had to do it. You figure it out, I was doing Buffalo Bill annuals, covers, comics. I look at them now and think,"My God! Did I do all that?". I used to come down (to London) every week to deliver the work and have a few drinks and get back at four o'clock the following morning."

When asked about whether he worried about the day's work he had sacrificed making his weekly delivery, he responded with typical pithiness:

"I didn't worry about it as much as them - I just did it."


  1. Great stuff, when I dug out that crime book I mentioned in an earlier post I realised it had an McLoughlin Roy Carson strip written by his brother it does as Paul Gravett mentions in the introduction owe a lot to Brighton Rock but it is none the worse for it.

  2. Great to hear from you James and yes I recall that Colin McLoughlin did a lot of collaboration with Denis, including research and scripting on the Buffalo Bill annuals and also posing for photos for much of Denis's artwork as did Denis himself with Colin as photographer.

  3. Three covers a day! It reminds me of a true story of an Englishman who had gone to Japan to train in karate. His teachers were at pains to correct any romanticized Western notions he may have had concerning the Oriental martial arts. "There is no magic about the martial arts," they told him. "Results are obtained by skill and strength; these will only come through constant practice."

    Sometime later, the Englishman was staying at a rural Japanese inn with several of his teachers and a very elderly Chinese monk from the Shaolin Temple. The inn comprised a huge wooden hall with a central pillar supporting the roof. During the conversation, to demonstrate a point about the focusing of ki, the frail-seeming old monk got up and swept his hand against the stout wooden pillar. He had seemed to use no effort at all, and yet the roof of the inn boomed, the reverberations lasting several seconds.

    After the monk had gone to bed, the Englishman had a question for his teachers: "I thought you said there wasn't anything magical about the martial arts. How about what we just saw?"

    The Japanese teachers smiled. "There's nothing magical about ordinary martial artists," said the senior sensei. "But that old man is from Shaolin!"

    When I read about what guys like McLoughlin achieved, I always think of that story. Those guys were from Shaolin!

  4. Lovely story Dave! I've just been and ordered the destined to become sought after collector's item the Mirabilis 2010 Calendar from I'd recommend any readers here to go and check the Mirabilis Blog - listed stage right!

    Just be careful when you get to the checkout department. Lulu just assumed that I wanted it sent express delivery with a bill of £63.00 for postage!!!

    Just go and change the shipping option if this happens - can't wait for the calendar - very neat idea Dave!

  5. Thanks for the tip-off, Peter. I've added a line to the blog entry to make sure people don't get burned. (£63 for postage? Insanity!) Hope you like the calendar.