Very little seems to have been written about the British artist Denis McLoughlin, but what there is is comprehensive. The biographical facts on this page are precised from the books by Dave Ashford (The Hardboiled Art of D. McLoughlin) and Father Francis Hertzberg's Denis McLoughlin: The Master of Light and Shade.
Denis McLoughlin was born in Bolton, England on 15 April 1918 and won a two year scholarship to the Bolton School of Art in 1932 at the tender age of fourteen. He described himself as a sickly child, suffering from severe bouts of asthma.
He was only at Art School a few months before leaving to join Ward & Copley, a Manchester based advertising agency: a job that lasted until January 1940 when he was finally "let go". A short period of unemployment began which came to an abrupt halt when he received his call-up papers in March 1940. After basic training at Aldershot, Gunner McLoughlin was posted to the Royal Artillery Depot at Woolwich (near London) where he served King and country until hostilities ended.
However, because of his safe posting and his skills with a brush, he soon found himself painting murals on canteen walls, and making a bob or two by sketching officers' portraits. More importantly, his billet also gave him an unwarranted freedom to go up to London and show his artwork to various publishers. It was during this period that he started contributing cartoons to various London publishers such as Youngman for their Basinful of Fun series.
The first publisher to show interest was Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. who commissioned some book covers: notably Navy Colt by Frank Gruber (1943), and others followed. Evidently pleased with his work, Wells Gardner, Darton recommended him to T.V. Boardman. Audrey Meir, who was then running Boardman whilst the Boardman family were in South America, in turn passed him on to Kangaroo Books for whom he did a number of joke books and a few covers. Denis also illustrated his first comic during this period, a version of Custer's last stand based, he says, on his memory of the Errol Flyn film They Died with their Boots On.
However, it was Audrey Meir at T.V. Boardman that gave Denis his chance: she provided him with a few covers (including Barbary Freight by Richard Burke: published in 1945) and the result was nearly twenty years of continuous work. He officially started for Boardman after being demobilised (de-mobbed) from the Army in 1946. Almost immediately he was busy producing book covers for the TVB series, as well as as the Red Arrow series of paperbacks (comprising of romance, mystery and western titles).
In 1948 Denis took on the job of altering panels of artwork for a comic strip called Buffalo Bill which was produced in Switzerland by Lennart. Boardman Snr. had decided once more to try publishing a comic, the Lennart strips were available but were the wrong size to fit into the format that Boardman wanted. Hence Denis got involved. Believing he could do a better job than the Lennard strips he produced a couple of roughs for Boardman, his brother Colin was roped in to produce the scripts, and Boardman gladly accepted them. So Denis became involved in the rotogravure comics with which much of his future aclaim would be associated.
The rotogravure issues were (mostly) twelve pages long and used both front and back covers as story pages. They were printed in three colours (generally black, white, and red or green). Mildly inspired by Alex Raymond, Denis and Colin filled the first seven issues with the adventures of detective Roy Carson and science fiction hero Swift Morgan alternately.
Roy Carson was a very American private eye (sometimes called Special Agent) who operated in England. However, the style of clothing, the cars and even the police armed with machine guns were definately inspired by US pulps rather than the average Bobby. Although titles changed with each issue, numbering remained consistent through out the entire series. Boardman still held the rights to material from Quality Comics, so Blackhawk (at least sixteen issues) and the Spirit (only two issues) were added to the rotation of titles. These reprints were always repackaged by Denis McLoughlin. The twelve-page rotogravure format lasted for 44 issues until October 1951. In February 1953, the series numbering continued but with color covers and black & white interiors until somewhere in 1954. It seems possible that number 61, featuring Blackhawk, was the last issue. Rebound newsagent returns of the rotogravure series were released as Super Colour Annuals (there were three issued from 1949-1951).
Let me say straight away that Denis was not a great comic strip artist, the artwork being almost cartoony in it's construct. Yet his book cover work was superb - as was his figure work to judge by the scan at the top of the page. That is not to say that he did not have his own distinctive style for he most certainly did - and what a great style it was. Any McLoughlin piece is immediately recognisable - you either like his work or you don't - I do.
Like the Hampson studio producing Dan Dare, McLoughlin often used photos of himself in costume to create some of the covers used for the Boardman covers. At the foot of this page I have added soem of the toys (bought by Denis from Woolworths), which inspired some of his science fiction artwork.
McLoughlin's style, the use of shadows and unusual visual angles, were very different from those of his contemporaries. Influenced by pre-war American pulps (he had a huge personal collection) as well as American film noir, and in fact anything related to America, Denis re-interpreted the "American experience" into something an English audience could understand and relate to. If a survey were to be taken, his average fan would probably be born between 1940 to 1960, an era that still remembered the war, the indebtedness of the nation to America for it's part in it, as well as possessing a fascination for the country.
I can still remember the first time that I saw a Buffalo Bill Annual (No. 12). In comparison to the World Distributor western annuals, based on popular TV westerns, that I had owned previously, this was immediately different. Instead of bland Dell 4-color reprints, were images of depth and detail - amazing detail. The stories (there were precious few strips in the BBAs) were fascinating and brought home to the young reader more information than a bookshelf full of Bronco Layne and Bonanza Annuals ever could. Denis designed a newspaper for the Annuals (some years it was the Tombstone Enterprise in others the Deadwood Gazette) that was full of interesting "news" and seemed absolutely genuine. The Buffalo Bill Annuals evoked the Old West as no other annual (or comic for that matter) has or ever will again. It was not long before I was swopping Beano and Dandy Annuals with school friends for every Buffalo Bill Annual I could get my hands on. Even today, nearly fifty years later, that feeling of wonder still persists when I look at them.
With the single exception of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual, by the mid to late-1950s, Boardman comics were no more and, after the 1961 issue, Buffalo Bill folded as well. Denis McLoughlin continued to illustrate book covers for Boardman Books until 1967, when the company folded. Even prior to Boardman's demise, McLoughlin turned to other publishers for work. Even though Boardman retained the copyright, the last four Buffalo Bill annuals were prepared for Dean & Son Publishing, Ltd., and printed by Purnell & Sons, Ltd., both London firms. After Boardman folded, McLoughlin helped produce four western annuals for Purnell, The Dakotas Annual for 1963 and 1964 and the Gunsmoke Annual (based on the T.V. series) for 1965 and 1966.
In 1967, McLoughlin went to work for IPC (ex-Fleetway), then the largest comic publisher in the United Kingdom. He took over the art chores on Saber and also drew Big Hit Swift (a cricket strip which McLoughlin detested) for the pages of Tiger. From March 20 to October 21, 1971, McLoughlin illustrated Fury's Family about a boy and his menagerie for Lion. McLoughlin then took about two years off from comics to finish the compilation of Wild & Woolly, his encyclopedia of the American West published by Doubleday in 1974 and reprinted by Barnes and Noble in the late-1990s.
After sending art samples, McLoughlin found stories to illustrate for the Scottish publishing firm D.C. Thomson, in 1974. He worked for them until his death and contributed to just about all of their adventure titles including Wizard, Victor, Buddy, Crunch, Bullet, and Scoop. Primarily, however, McLoughlin's work appeared in Wizard. At his height with the company (October 22, 1977), five McLoughlin stories graced the pages of two Thomson titles, Wizard and Bullet. Perhaps the best regarded of McLoughlin's strips for Thomson were Sign of the Shark featuring ex-agent Jake Jeffords, The Green Lizard which was a science fiction tale. Denis drew two western features for the 1983 Look and Learn Annual before beginning his monthly stint for Thomson's Commando, a 64 page pocket format war comic. At the time of his death in 2002, McLoughlin was still producing about one issue of Commando a month.
Denis took his own life at his home in Bolton in 2002: using what family and friends thought was a reproduction Smith & Wesson Frontier Colt .45 that he had in his collection.
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