Robert Nixon, cartoonist
Born: 7 July, 1939, in Cleveland Died: 22 October, 2002, in North Yorkshire, aged 63
BOB Nixon was an artist, illustrator and cartoonist whose comic characters played an important part in the early lives of a generation of young readers. For 52 weeks a year he produced strips for comic weeklies. His ability with a pen was such that Euan Kerr, editor of The Beano, recalls: "He could draw something out of the phone book and make it funny."
In Nixon’s heyday, the two main comic publishers, Fleetway and DC Thomson, printed a dozen comic titles every seven days. Nixon worked on strips for Whoopee!, Whizzer And Chips and Cor!!, following time with The Beezer, The Topper, Sparky, The Beano and The Dandy. Latterly, he drew just for The Beano. His comic work, however, represented only one part of a colossal output.
Robert’s pen created his trademark style of a clear sharp storyline in which characters assumed identities all their own. When in 1964 he took over Little Plum, Your Redskin Chum (later bowdlerised to "Injun Chum"), Little Plum danced over the red, white and black pages, for Nixon added characterisation to a walk, a stance, an inclination of the head.
One of a family of six born to a Cleveland steelworker, young Bob’s artistic abilities quickly showed at school, and at 15 he won a scholarship to Middlesbrough Art College. He was soon disillusioned, dropping out to start an apprenticeship as a litho artist and photo retoucher. When later he became encouraged enough to try comic drawing, he started submitting work to The Beano in Dundee.
Impressed with his work, DC Thomson increasingly commissioned him, often for full-colour work, and he moved into the pages of The Topper and The Beezer. When Ken Reid, original artist of Roger The Dodger, departed, it was Nixon who continued the strip. By 1965, his comic work became his full-time job in his studio at his home in Guisborough, North Yorkshire.
In the Sixties, the Dundee offices of The Beano, situated in DC Thomson’s red sandstone headquarters in Meadowside, swarmed with an originality of talent. Dudley D Watkins (originator of Oor Wullie, The Broons, Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty And His Pals), in his striking waistcoat set off by a bowler hat, was still alive then, contributing his almost surrealist work. At that time, artists simply produced: no copyright was retained, nor with the exception of Watkins did a signature appear below strips. The weekly work would pop up in annual form at Christmas, later added to by summer annuals too. Nixon’s creativity burgeoned, and for Sparky he fashioned Captain Cutler And His Butler.
Action, humour and pace distinguished Nixon’s style, with his creations acting out their storylines through body language as well as facial expression. The fact that he was himself a people person who enjoyed the observation of human behaviour came through in his work.
In 1972, Nixon moved camps to the rival Fleetway group (later IPC) in London. His essential courtesy never failed him, and he maintained his contact with his Dundee editorial friends with a card every Christmas - as indeed they did with him.
The Fleetway period saw his already formidable work-rate really take off; at his peak he was relentlessly producing some nine pages of strips a week for titles such as Whoopee, Cor!!, and Whizzer and Chips. Because Fleetway allowed contributors to sign their work, he became one of its high-profile artists, also turning his hand to horror humour through characters such as Frankie Stein, Monster Fun, Shiver And Shake, Hire A Horror, Kid Kong and Granny Smith.
The Seventies saw him adding to his weekly commitments with a daily strip called The Gems in the Sun newspaper. Produced over an 18-month period, it had reached the point where regular fan mail began and worldwide syndication was being talked of when the editor, Larry Lamb, axed it.
One of Euan Kerr’s missions when he took over as Beano editor in 1984 was to lure Nixon back to the fold, but the latter refused. Later that same week, a series of IPC cutbacks saw Fleetway comics closed. When Nixon phoned back to Dundee, he was immediately welcomed. Later that year he began what he himself considered his best creation: Ivy The Terrible, based on scriptwriter Alan Digby’s daughter, and a few years later worked on Korky The Cat for The Dandy.
His workload only ever increased: illustrations for jigsaw puzzles, greetings cards and joke books by Giles Brandreth, plus a cartoon for the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette. Yet he still found time to paint in oils, pastels and watercolours.
A stroke in 1995 robbed him of his peripheral vision, but he was quickly back at his beloved drawing board, continuing to produce at least four pages of strips a week. Nor did he contemplate retirement; indeed, his final work - the cover for The Beano Summer Special 2003 - arrived in Dundee the day before he died of a heart attack.
A small, unassuming man, Bob Nixon was marked out by his consistent cheerfulness and abiding love for his family. His business visits to Dundee were occasions greatly looked forward to by his colleagues. He is survived by his wife, Rita, four children and three grandsons.