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Wife’s tribute to David Sutherland OBE after death of legendary Beano artist from Broughty Ferry

David Sutherland, Beano artist, who has died aged 89.
David Sutherland, Beano artist, who has died aged 89.

David Sutherland, the artist who gave life to some of Britain’s best-loved comic characters, has died aged 89.

He was the creative force behind Beano’s Bash Street Kids from 1962 until he drew his final comic strip at the end of last year.

That illustration will appear in next week’s issue of Beano, to be published on Wednesday.

It will be the first and only piece of his artwork to be bylined, David Sutherland OBE, in recognition of the award he received in the New Year Honours.

David Sutherland’s final Bash Street Kids illustration which will be published in the Beano on Wednesday.

David also drew Dennis the Menace for over two decades, and Biffo the Bear, which he took over from his hero, Dudley D. Watkins.

John Anderson, Beano editor, said David Sutherland’s contribution to the comic and British comic history will never be matched.

“No one will ever repeat what David achieved over 60 years. He was one of a kind, a genuine legend. It is the end of an era.

“Given that David started working for DC Thomson in 1959 and had been drawing The Bash Street Kids since 1962, he is the single most important illustrator in Beano history.”

David Sutherland’s first Bash Street Kids strip from 1962.

Christopher Thomson, Chairman of DC Thomson, said: “David was a tremendously talented artist and creative and we are immensely grateful for the outstanding contribution he made over the last 60 years.

“He brought joy to our beloved audiences – children and adults alike – and to those who were fortunate enough to work alongside him. He will be much missed and his legacy will undoubtedly have a lasting impact for many years to come.”

Nigel Parkinson, current Dennis & Gnasher illustrator, said David’s work had thrilled Britain for six decades.

“The nation and its children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have all loved David Sutherland’s joyous, happy, teeming-with-life, hilarious drawings nearly every single week in Beano for 60 years, he has touched the heart, tickled the funny bone and amused the eyes of millions.”

In his early years with newspaper, magazine and comic publisher DC Thomson of Dundee, David was understudy to legendary comic creators Leo Baxendale and David Law.

He also ghosted for Dudley D. Watkins, the artist behind The Broons and Oor Wullie, which first appeared in The Sunday Post and remain part of Scottish iconography to this day.

A Great Flood of London picture story created by David Sutherland in 1961.

Steve Bright, a long-standing DC Thomson illustrator, said: “David Sutherland was an unsung hero to me when I was a boy, avidly devouring and copying his wonderful Bash Street Kids, as I learned how to draw by sketching in his footsteps. Every line taught and inspired me more and helped determine my ambition to one day draw comics and cartoons as a career.”

David was born in Invergordon in 1933, the youngest of three children.

Tragedy struck when his mother died when David was only two. His father had to work to support his three young children, so David and his siblings moved to Stirling where his father’s family were able to help bring up the children. Shortly after, the family moved to Kirkintilloch near Glasgow.

As soon as he left school, David joined Rex Studios in Glasgow where he learned the art trade, illustrating adverts for all manner of products.

While there he attended evening classes at Glasgow School of Art to add to his qualifications.

David and his future wife, Margaret, met in Glasgow through friends and married in Kilsyth in 1958. They went on to have two of a family, Lorraine and Fiona and, in time, grandchildren, Lily, Angus and Liam.

A Beano cover from December 1973 by David Sutherland.

He illustrated cinema advertising posters and was the only artist approved to draw Disney characters in the UK. He also created street posters of the royal family which were displayed around Glasgow for the late Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

In 1959, David entered a drawing competition organised by DC Thomson.

His artwork made such an impression that he was invited to illustrate adventure strips for Beano.

His wife, Margaret, recalled that time: “The editor of The Beano, Harry Cramond, came to Glasgow to interview him and offered him a job.

“Harry was an older man who was an inspiration to David and became a great mentor. When David was awarded the OBE, Harry’s family got in touch to congratulate him.”

In an interview with The Sunday Post last year, David spoke of breaking into comic publishing.

“I didn’t win the competition but I did win a prize. I was delighted because there was a fantastic number of artists who had competed. The editor of The Beano, Harold Cramond, then took me under his wing and helped me mould my career in comics, and for that I am truly grateful.”

David began work on Beano adventure strips such as Danny on a Dolphin and The Great Flood of London.

Attention to detail

Margaret said her husband took immense care over these illustrations and used reference books to get the tops of London buildings just right.

His ability and versatility were obvious to the editor and soon he was working on some of Beano’s most famous strips as an understudy to the established comic greats.

David was able to mimic the style of the original artists so closely that even the most practised eye could not tell whether David or the original artist had drawn the strip.

By 1970, David was the mainstay of the comic, drawing Biffo the Bear on the cover, The Bash Street Kids in the centre spread and Dennis & Gnasher on the back cover.

Indeed, he drew well over a thousand episodes of Britain’s favourite wild child, Dennis, over a 28-year period from 1970 until 1998.


But it was on The Bash Street Kids that he would create his greatest legacy.

David replaced Leo Baxendale on the strip in 1962 and produced his final illustration at the end of last year, for publication next week.

The Bash Street Kids had begun life as When The Bell Rings in 1954 under comic editor George Moonie who took his inspiration from pupils in the playground of Dundee High School, across from DC Thomson’s headquarters.

The quality of David’s work saw The Bash Street Kids promoted from a single page to a double page before they were rewarded with the coveted centre spread.

Over the years he drew well over 3,500 individual instalments in the comic. When you include annuals and other specials this takes the total to over 4,000 episodes.

The artist working on the Bash Street Kids.

John Anderson Beano Editor said: “This brings us to another of his defining characteristics – his dedication.

“David, even when he was in his late 80s, was still delivering a Bash Street Kids comic strip every week.

“Across such a stretch of time David has worked through many life events, including working from Australia for several weeks while visiting his family.

“His pages were delivered weekly via airmail with only the occasional squished mosquito making the journey. Dave also had some health issues that would have forced even younger artists to hang up their pencil.

“David was a man of enormous warmth. He cared not just about the quality, but also about the readers themselves and this came through in the work.

“No matter how well you imagined your script would look in comic strip form, he always made it better with subtle background details and unexpected perspectives.”

David Sutherland at work in his home in Broughty Ferry.

David and Margaret lived in Broughty Ferry since their move to Dundee and he played golf at Monifieth.

Margaret said: “David only put his pen down last month when he took ill. Drawing was his life; it made us forget the age he was.

“He was getting older but we never noticed it. He just kept going and the editors remained happy with his work.”

David officially retired from DC Thomson in the late 1990s but continued to work on a freelance basis.

Mike Stirling, creative director of Beano Studios, said: “David had been very much part of the work to modernise the Bash Street Kids in terms of inclusion and diversity.
“In his late 80s he was as enthusiastic and as energetic as anyone in adopting our new characters, giving them a provenance that is very important.”