Obituary: Keith Watson

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The Independent Online
John Keith Watson, artist: born Ormesby, Middlesbrough 1 February 1935; married 1961 Beverley Greig (one son, one daughter); died Cheam, Surrey 9 April 1994.

KEITH WATSON was the artist who kept alive the true spirit of the original 'Dan Dare' strip cartoon.

Born in Ormesby, Middlesbrough, in 1935, Watson, along with thousands of other young boys, read the first adventures of Britain's very own 'Pilot of the Future' in 1950 in the pages of the new national strip- cartoon weekly the Eagle. From that day, Watson's life was entangled with strip cartoons and his admiration for the artist Frank Hampson, the creator of 'Dan Dare', led to his applying for a job with the Dare team by sending Hampson his own version of the strip using the balloon wording to put over his message. He was taken on as an assistant in 1958.

Watson never attended art school and learnt the tricks of the trade from Hampson and his colleagues Don Harley and Eric Eden, who were based in Epsom, Surrey, and gave Watson a good grounding in airbrushing techniques. After only a year Hampson's team broke up and Watson and Harley moved to a studio in Fleet Street where they worked under the direction of Frank Bellamy. In 1960 Watson went freelance and drew 'Captain Condor' for the Lion comic before he returned to Eagle in 1962 and took over 'Dan Dare' singlehanded. Having started off on the inside pages in line and wash, Dare was later moved to the cover of Eagle and Watson produced some of the most outstanding pages of artwork since the Hampson years. He was very popular with the purist fans because he reintroduced all the original characters and hardware.

As Eagle declined, 'Dan Dare' was moved off the cover, and Watson ended his involvement with the feature in early 1967. More strip work followed with 'Captain Scarlet' and 'Joe 90' for TV Century 21, based on the television series made with Gerry Anderson puppets. Watson also drew 'Battle of the Planets' for TV Comic and 'Crossbow' for the Hotspur.

For a lengthy spell in the Seventies and Eighties Watson drew a football strip, 'Roel Dijkstra', for a Dutch comic, Eppo. It was scripted for a time by David Hunt, editor of a 'new' Eagle comic launched by IPC in early 1982. Many different artists were used to illustrate 'Dan Dare' (the only strip to survive from the original Eagle) but it was not until 1989 that, due to popular demand, Watson was once more asked to draw the legendary space hero. He did two stories, one in 1989 and one in 1990. He went back to drawing Gerry Anderson's creations in 1992, a Thunderbirds adventure for the comic of the same name.

Although he will be remembered for his strip cartoon work, Watson also produced some very fine advertising commissions in the Eighties and early Nineties. Three 'Dan Dare' inspired posters for Mobil, posters for Raleigh and some impressive press advertisements for Volvo and Vauxhall. Often he would be asked to do an illustration of this kind in a 'Dan Dare way' but would also be told: 'Don't make it too much like Dan Dare.' A striking line-and-wash advertisement for the British Heart Foundation showed just what a skilled artist he was.

Watson was the most modest of artists and yet he lived through a unique time for British comics and had worked with two of the giants of the 1950s, Hampson and Bellamy. Watson never stopped championing the former, a man he admired and believed in. Younger fans, who missed the Hampson years, looked on Watson in the same way. Watson, however, insisted he always fell short of that 'perfection' many artists strive for.

(Photograph omitted)

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