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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Les Barton 1923 - 2008

I'm sorry to report that cartoonist and comic artist Les Barton has died. He passed away at his Nursing Home yesterday (October 20th) after a long illness, aged 85.

I'm sure that other comic enthusiasts more familiar with his long career will be publishing their tributes to Mr.Barton, but to my mind he will always be "The I-Spy artist". Back in 1969, aged 10, I would look forward to every Friday to read the latest installment of comedy-action serial I-Spy in the Sparky. This was a strip in a similar vein to Odhams' Eagle Eye and The Cloak, but it had its own unique charm thanks to the clear penmanship of its artist Les Barton.

Remembered fondly by many, the mysterious I-Spy never showed his face. All we saw was the trenchcoat and hat, - and the countless gadgets and weapons that sprung forth for every occasion. Other artists handled the strip a few years later, including the excellent Brian Walker, but for me it was the original I-Spy artist Les Barton who set the premise and whose strips I remember most.

Moving on from I-Spy in 1971 Les began drawing a new strip for Sparky entitled The Wonderful World Inside Ma Kelly's Telly. This was a very similar concept to The Tellybugs that had appeared in Smash! five years earlier, although its roots can be traced back earlier to The Numskulls in The Beezer. In Ma Kelly's Telly, tiny creatures operating the tv and acting out its programmes from inside the box, whilst the viewers are oblivious to the proceedings.

Les also worked for the IPC comics in the 1970s but he was also very busy outside comics as a gag cartoonist. Recent years have seen his work in Private Eye but his long career included spots in Reveille, Blighty, Punch, Tit Bits, Men Only, Daily Mirror, The Oldie and others. He sold his first cartoon in 1944 and was one of the longest standing members of the Cartoonist Club of Great Britain, where he attended the first meeting (on April Fool's Day 1960) and held the position of treasurer for over 20 years.

During the final days of his illness, Les dictated a letter to his son to be sent to the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain in order to thank them for their "many cards and cheerful messages during my incarceration (care of Her Majesty's NHS)". It's a warm and heartfelt letter showing how much he appreciated the camaraderie of his fellow cartoonists over the years. It tells of the highs and lows as experienced by everyone in the business and ends on a positive note: "I wouldn't change a damn thing".

My thanks to Steve Bright for passing on this information and sad news.

More information:


Anonymous said...

nice tribute, LEW, you clearly have a fondness for LES' 'I SPY' work...his stuff was sometimes simplistic-looking, but it possessed a dynamic sense of urgency that lifted it out of the ordinary.

The example above from 'SPARKY' annual 1971 is one of the all-time 'I SPY' highlights, with LES afforded the luxury of the extra space to draw in, creating a brilliantly epic storyline.

I will resume with my 'I SPY' writings on COMICS UK soon.......believe it or not, I actually haven't read some of the later LES ones yet; I've been trying to savour 'em!


Tim Perkins said...

Hi Lew, sad news indeed.

As you know I am a big I-Spy fan and wish someone would reprint the early stories.

Like you, I relished the comic coming out and saved I-Spy until the rest of the comic had been read, before then savouring the superb spy strip.

Great tribute, mate!!!


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