Friday 30 April 2010

Achtung Commando!!! Part 3 The Art of Gordon Livingstone

The final part of the equation that made Chick Checkley's particular brand of 64 page war comic so distinctive was his choice of artist, ironically the scripts which again tended to echo the idea of individual against the system, dysfunctionality being a given for many of the characters that inhabited the pages of the early Commandos, were provided by writers from both Thomson's and Fleetway, retired Major Eric Hebden being a case in point.

But as is always the case with comics, the catalyst that steered readers to engage with stories of men that the armed forces (let alone the enemy) found difficult to handle, was the artwork. Checkley had two conduits of artwork, with a whole slew of artists from Barry Coker's Bardon Art Agency (so called because of the sourcing of a lot of their talent from both offices in London and Barcelona) to help pitch in and meeet the omnipresent monthly print deadlines.

But the second conduit and by far Checkley's preferred route was via D.C. Thomson's own in house talent. And in the case of D.C. Thomson's we are talking literally in-house, as being patriarchal and money conscious Scots, they needed to know that their artists were at their desks and not at the golf course. The system worked well insofar as it provided an in-house training for a lot of the younger artists who would often be guided and mentored by their older colleagues, and there were plan chests just brimming with artwork which provided an added inspirational boost.

One of the younger artists that Checkley had under consideration was Gordon Checkley Livingstone, Livingstone's middle name bequeathed to him by Checkley's mother who was godmother to Gordon Livingstone. But it has to be said that all charge of rampant nepotism aside, Livingstone at that time wasn't a natural choice for a comic devoted to tales of military derring do. In fact much of his time had been occupied producing artwork for girl's comics and magazines such as Thomson's "Secrets". He had however done his National Service some ten years earlier in Germany and was no stranger to square bashing and handling, if not actually ever firing, a Lee Enfield rifle.

Livingstone set to his task with gusto, despite having absolutely zero awareness of pocket war libraries. It was this complete lack of knowledge about what had preceded Commando which enabled Livingstone to undertake the task free from any preconceptions about the genre. He was in effect working on a blank slate.

The first story that Livingstone delivered was "Mercy For None", which in many ways was definitely not what you'd expect a war comic to look like but in a kind of weird way it worked. In fact it worked to the extent that for the next thirty plus years until he retired in 1999, Gordon Livingstone was considered the face of Commando comics, with his work conveying a genuine charm in terms of the characterisation and storytelling that set his work apart from a genre where cliche can easily overwhelm individual artistry.

All images © DC Thomson 2010

For up to date information on all things Commando please check the Commando website.


  1. I actually like Livingstone's art: his inks are so angular and choppy in a nice way. Maybe his background in girl's comics did it. :D

    I wonder who does in-house training for comic book artists anymore? :( BTW, I've got new, finished art up on Deviantart and I'm delighted but very exhausted now!

  2. Just been over to Deviantart and really lovely work again Leeann.

    Love the combination of graphic meets painting - really other characters and what on earth is the big brain with three eyes in the jar about???

    No don't tell me it would spoil the fun!

  3. In the early days of Marvel it was always a bit disappointing to buy a comic such as Iron Man or The Avengers on the strength of a stunning Jack Kirby cover only to find the interior had been drawn by Dashing Don Heck instead. By comparison with Jack and Steve Ditko (and for a time Wally Wood) Don Heck had the misfortune to be seen as a kind of second-best substitute: a 'hack' artist who provided uninspired artwork to order without any personal involvement or inspiration. At one point things got so bad that a number of hardline fans became openly contemptuous of him, saying that he was the 'world's worst' comic artist and demanding that Stan Lee should dispense with his services altogether.

    Of course this was absolute nonsense. Though Heck might not have been a certifiable comic book genius like Kirby and Ditko he was a consummate storyteller with a clear, instantly recognizable style who could always be relied upon to do justice to any script. What's more he was fast and always met his deadlines: in short he was the sort of unsung professional whom editors depend on far more than some big-name prima donnas who cause fans to swoon with flashy tricks while their books ship later and later.

    To be honest I'm not very familiar with Gordon Livingstone so I could well be wrong, but it seems to me that he belongs to the same group as Heck - along with so many others like Keith Luck, Robert MacGillivray, Geoff Campion, Mike Western, Eric Bradbury, Don Harley, Dan Spiegle, Curt Swan, Irv Novick: the solid backbone of the industry who are always been ready to step into the breach whenever a superstar like Toth, Steranko, Adams, Hampson or Bolland becomes too precious for their own good.

    So just for a change let's hear it for the Hacks and the Hecks and the Livingstones - without whom we probably wouldn't have had any comics to begin with...!

  4. Well, I'm not at all familiar with British war comics, in fact have never read one, but Phil's defense of Don Heck has certainly got me rallying behind the standard. A very under-rated artist imo, possibly because of his very clean and yet sketchy style. And yet look at his work on early Iron Man, for example - a real example of "less is more" with a very dynamic sense of flow (between panels) and movement (within panels).

    Oops - I'm back to US comics again. Okay, you're having a Brit moment, I get that :)

  5. Thanks, Peter! I hope to get some posters finished and posted!