A few weeks ago one of The Broons trilogy of comics that was free in The Sunday Post showed a few pages from an adaptation of Treasure Island drawn by Dudley Watkins. I was intrigued about this and Down the Tubes editor Jeremy Briggs kindly sent me a spare copy of the book. (In exchange for which I've agreed to do a drawing for him. I haven't forgotten, Jeremy! Will do it this week.) Here are a few pages from that book.
Dudley Watkins (the original artist of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, and others) drew his adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in 1949 for serialization in the People's Journal, published by DC Thomson. He also drew adaptations of other classics for the magazine, such as Oliver Twist, Robinson Crusoe, and Kidnapped, and the stories were later collected into book form and published in the 1950s. In effect, these were precursors to the 'graphic novel', although all the dialogue appeared in the text beneath the pictures, not in word balloons.
The format of this Treasure Island book is a compact A5 size hardback with 124 pages. Although best known for Desperate Dan, Watkins was able to adapt his style with more detail for his adventure strips. The results are richly illustrated images that depict the story perfectly.
My classmates and I read the prose edition of Treasure Island at junior school and the sequence with the dreaded 'black spot' had us so engrossed we immediately played out that scene at break-time in the playground. Pretending to keel over dead with fright seemed hilarious when we were eight.
I've always been amazed at the amount of high quality work that Dudley Watkins turned out, week after week. He really was one of the best comic artists we've ever seen.
Serialized reprints of Treasure Island began in The Topper No.1 in 1953, with added colour. Personally I prefer seeing the strip in black and white as intended.
The book also contained a few feature pages, presumably newly drawn for the collection, showing what a dangerous experience it would have been to encounter pirates.
Readers accustomed to Dudley Watkins' lighter adventure strips (such as Jimmy's Magic Patch) might have found this dark, grim adaptation quite a change, but I'm sure the atmpspheric, blood-curdling story would have them transfixed. It would be great if this Treasure Island book (and Watkins' other strip adaptations) were re-issued. The quality of the work is too impressive to be consigned to history.