Obituary: Jim Baikie, Orkney-born artist who conquered world of comics

Jim Baikie celebrating a birthday with family members
Jim Baikie celebrating a birthday with family members
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James George Baikie, artist. Born: Island of Hoy, Orkney, 28 February 1940. Died: Orkney, 29 December 2017, aged 77

Jim Baikie was a Scottish comic artist whose career stretched from the mid-1960s until the turn of the 21st century, taking in a wide and eclectic range of UK and US strips, from early Doctor Who and Star Trek adventures in titles like TV21, to a lengthy stint on the British girl’s comic Jinty in the late 1970s, and work on US properties such as Star Wars and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed in the late 1980s and ‘90s, for companies including the superhero giant DC Comics.

Yet his position as one of the finest artists the British comics industry has produced in the past half-century is based largely on his time with the cult British sci-fi comic 2000AD, in particular the first strip he worked on for the title, 1983’s Skizz. Co-created with writer Alan Moore, who went on to become the definitive comics creator of his time via titles like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Skizz was essentially the story of ET: The Extra Terrestrial – at that point a huge hit in cinemas – but transplanted to Birmingham and dressed up with references to unemployment and apartheid, placing it firmly in Thatcher’s Britain.

Baikie’s work on Skizz showed the very best of what he could do, from the design of a world which was both perfectly realistic and utterly fantastical – he subscribed to New Scientist and wanted his sci-fi work to be anchored in reality – to the detailed poise and personality of his characters. An aspiring writer who had been thwarted by the old-fashioned comic book convention that scripts and art had to be created by different people, Baikie was permitted to write and draw a second series of Skizz in 1992, when Moore refused to be involved, and it was so successful that his third arrived the following year.

Collected in a single volume by 2000AD’s current publishers Rebellion last year, the Skizz series was the work of which Baikie was most proud. He worked with Moore again afterwards – 1985’s Vigilante for DC gave the artist his first US work, while the pair’s co-created 1999 superhero satire First American was one of Baikie’s final series.

For 2000AD, Baikie was also known for his grimly stoic take on the title’s lead character Judge Dredd, in particular two classics of the future cop’s (so far) 40-year run; “Hitman”, in which Dredd spent much of the story confined to a hospital bed after an assassination attempt, and “In the Bath”, in which he foiled a break-in while taking a bath. New Statesmen was another highlight, a story about genetically engineered superweapons for 2000AD’s more political sister title Crisis, with writer John Smith.

James George Baikie was born on the Island of Hoy in 1940 to Orkney-born parents Vic, a blacksmith, and Nettie, a housewife, with one younger sister, Janice. Schooled locally, he was a keen student, but largely had to teach himself art. In his early teens his first professional illustration was published in a science fiction magazine after his father submitted it, although the editor refused to believe his age until Baikie’s teacher sent a letter of confirmation, such was the ability he showed. Keen on a career as an artist but frustrated by the lack of local opportunities, Baikie signed up to the RAF in 1956 and left Orkney. He spent seven years enlisted, posted at RAF Leuchars in Fife, Dundee – where he took art school night classes – and Cyprus, and met his wife Wendy (nee Lawson) at Leuchars, where her father was also employed. The couple were married in Germany in 1961, although Wendy says his first career choice was “a terrible mistake… he wasn’t the least military-minded, he didn’t like institutions at all”. Baikie resolved to use his service to get himself an education, and to learn guitar and practice art in his spare time, until he eventually bought himself out in 1963.

The couple moved to London, and illustration work for National Savings led to a regular gig on Valentine romance magazine in 1967, where Baikie worked on strips featuring the Small Faces, the Monkees and Thunderbirds’ Lady Penelope; he loved the title’s European artists, and enjoyed drawing female characters.

Music was his other creative love, and he played bass guitar in the Whirlwinds in Cyprus, Jaymes Fenda and the Vulcans (who released a Christmas song named Mistletoe Love on Parlophone) in London, and with musicians who went on to form the hit groups Savoy Brown and Foghat, creating album covers for both.

In London he went to the same parties as the Rolling Stones and was asked to play bass with a pre-fame Richie Blackmore and the eccentric pop maverick Screaming Lord Sutch, although every time Baikie’s music career looked like it might take off, he shied away to avoid jeopardising his comics work. In 1972 he and Wendy moved back to Orkney, and he continued to work on titles including Look-In, Countdown and the harder-edged Warrior, before arriving at 2000AD.

“He loved Hoy, he loved the beach,” says Wendy. “He was born in the right place, he had an idyllic childhood here which encouraged his creativity. There was lots of laughter in his house growing up, and he was very funny too, none of our daughters’ friends had a father quite like him. The comic business could be cutthroat, but no-one in it had a bad word to say about him.”

Baikie’s mural of Bonnie and Clyde adorned the wall of the St Ola Hotel in Kirkwall for many years, and he created a Millennium Project painting depicting island life for the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, one of his few pieces of classic fine art.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1991, Baikie continued to work for more than a decade, although after First American his symptoms meant it became difficult for him to continue drawing, and in 2004 he returned to writing again, developing an unfinished script for a fourth series of Skizz. An artist with a remarkable and understated versatility which lent itself to humour, sci-fi, traditional boy’s and girl’s own adventure strips and edgily dynamic realism, he is survived by Wendy, daughters Jacqueline, Jane, Vanessa, Caitrian and Ellen, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

DAVID POLLOCK