Tuesday 12 January 2010

The Art Noire of Denis McLoughlin Part 2

Continuing on from yesterday's posting (blog confession time - this piece was written a few years ago when I edited an issue of the Association of Illustrators Journal, but I still think it holds up well - I hope, pray even ...)

The work with Boardman's was more than just a guarantor of a steady income, it was the realisation of McLoughlin's exceptional abilities, which were precisely attuned to the fantasies of the audience he was servicing. There are no better examples of this than the two primary and high profile vehicles afforded McLoughlin's artistry by Boardman's.

The Buffalo Bill annuals are still familiar to enthusiasts of post war British comic art and still crop up from time to time in second hand bookshops. With sales through Boardman's favoured vendor Woolworth's acheiving quarter of a million the annuals which debuted in 1949 and ran until 1962 coloured many a young lad's dreams, illustrator Mick Brownfield was probably not alone in pinning the superb colour plates from the annuals to his bedroom walls. The books which took some six months of truly intensive work to produce, were described by the artist as a real labour of love and turned into something of a family affair, where eventually all duties including writing the annuals were handled by Mcloughlin and his brother Colin. They would also photograph each other dressed as Wyatt Earp or the Daltons. Everything that appeared in the annuals was imbued with as much authenticity as possible although the artist's life-long fascination with the U.S. would remain unconsummated. McLoughlin's take on America was fuelled by film rather than direct experience, which perfectly mirrored the view of his readers in an era where travel to the U.S. was a distant dream for the majority of Brits.

If McLoughlin's most immediately familiar contribution to the annals of post-war illustration was the exploits of the buck-skinned, be-whiskered and definitely non PC Buffalo Bill, it was his less well known but arguably even more powerful creation of a world of perpetual "noir" that has really captivated connoiseurs of detective fiction. McLoughlin produced covers incorporating his exquisite sense of letter form, for two ongoing series of books devoted to "hard-boiled" fiction. These books which noted critic and connoisseur Robert Lessor described as "the best hard-boiled detective series ever published", are for many McLoughlin's greatest acheivment. Featuring stories by the likes of such purveyors of pulp fiction as Harold Masur, Henry Kane and Fredric Brown the stories would frequently appear as both T.V.B. hardbacks and paperbacks allowing the artist the fun of two takes on the same story. With titles such as, "Deadhead", "Layout for a Corpse" and "Tweak the Devil's Nose" and subtitles such as "Death and Detection", "Sluggings and Slayings" adding a further mordant twist of humour by McLoughlin, the books rank amongst the most unjustly neglected high-spots of British illustration.

Part 3 soon ...


  1. Although (or perhaps because) these covers were done at speed, I find them very striking. The use of a simple, powerful image with dramatic angles, limited palette and strong light & shade makes for an incredibly effective combination.

    When I look around the latest titles displayed at my local comic store (Avalon Comics on Lavender Hill) I do think that today's artists have largely lost the knack of creating memorable covers. With the Buffy Season Eight TPs, for example, I always have to check the number on the spine because the covers themselves all look pretty much the same.

  2. I'd definitely echo your comments Dave, McLoughlin's imagination, coupled with an innate love of design and a really fantastic sense of lighting makes these covers a real delight.

    Trouble is having done these postings I'm now on the trail of more of this stuff.

    There's some really stupendous examples (albeit very small) in a book by Norman Wright and David Ashford with the title "The Hardboiled Art of Denis McLoughlin.

    Worth checking out if you can get hold of a copy - Steve Holland is another devotee who's very well versed on McLoughlin's output.