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Christian Comics Pioneers
Dudley Watkins in his youth

Dudley D. Watkins (United Kingdom)

Dudley Dexter Watkins was born in February 1907, in Manchester, England, the eldest of three children. The son of a lithographic print artist, he showed early artistic talent. By the age of 10 the local newspaper declared him a "schoolboy genius."

An issue of "Young Warrior" featuring "Tony and Tina - the Twins"
While working for Boots Pure Drug company in the early 1920s, Watkins' first published artwork appeared in Boots' staff magazine, The Beacon. In 1925 his family moved to Scotland where he attended classes at Glasgow Art School. The school principal recommended Watkins to the thriving publisher D.C. Thomson, based in Dundee, Scotland. Watkins was offered what he thought to be a temporary job, moved to their Dundee base, and began providing illustrations for Thomson's "Big Five" story papers for boys (Adventure, Rover, Wizard, and later Skipper and Hotspur). For several years he was just another illustrator, supplementing his small salary by teaching life drawing at Dundee Art School. His colleagues of the time remember him as a rather quiet man, but one who also spoke up about his Christian faith.
2 pages from "William the Warrior"

In 1933 Watkins turned his hand to comic strip work, and soon his editor noticed that Watkins had a special talent for the work. He was assigned two new strips, "The Broons" and "Oor Wullie," both of which were launched in the 8 March 1936 edition of Thomson's Sunday Post newspaper comic supplement. The strips were tremendous hits with the Scottish public. Their success encouraged D.C. Thomson to produce the now well-known weekly papers The Dandy Comic (1937) and The Beano Comic (1938). Watkins illustrated a number of their comic features including "Desperate Dan," which was to become a classic of British comic art and his most famous character. Watkins was considered to be quite invaluable to the Thomsons, and his style defined the look of their whole comics line.

Reportedly, during World War II, The Beano's efforts to help the propaganda campaign against Adolph Hitler and boost the morale of British children were very effective. Their merciless lampooning of Britain’s enemies throughout the conflict led to both Watkins and his editor being targeted by the Nazis to be captured and made answerable to Hitler for the crime of "gross disrespect."

Cover of "Tony and Tina Again"
In 1946 he became the only Thomson artist permitted to sign his work, at a time when virtually all other British comic artists were laboring anonymously. He became the artist for the new front cover feature of the Beano ("Biffo the Bear") in 1947, the front cover feature in The Topper ("Mickey the Monkey"), and the front cover feature in The Beezer ("Ginger").

Despite his prodigious output for the Thomson weekly comics, papers, and annuals, Watkins still found time to pursue activities related to his faith in Christ. He was a strong Believer and an enthusiastic supporter of the Church of Christ in Dundee (where he met his wife). Watkins was also involved with the Dundee For Christ organisation and was president of the Dundee United Evangelistic Association and Tent Mission. On his desk he had a huge Bible on a stand, a Bible in which he made copious notes in the wide margins.

First page of the "David" comic from D.C.Thomson's 1968 "Sparky" annual
He used to deliver Christian chats to children which he illustrated with quick drawings on a blackboard. He contributed artwork for mission calendars, and from 1956 he produced the comic strips "William the Warrior" (shown above, left) and "Tony and Tina - The Twins" (above right) for Young Warrior, a children's comic paper (shown top, right) published by the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade (WEC). These strips, filled with Scriptural quotations, were collected into a series of booklets.

Watkins also illustrated two full-color Bible stories for D.C. Thomson: "David" (shown here, left) appeared in the 1968 Sparky annual and "The Road to Calvary" appeared in the 1969 annual. Dudley Watkins at his drawing board

It was his ambition to adapt the whole Bible into illustrated format, but that dream was never realized. On the morning of 20 August 1969 his wife found him at his desk with a half-finished "Desperate Dan" strip. He had died of a heart attack. His strips "Oor Wullie," "The Broons," "Desperate Dan," and "Lord Snooty" continue to be popular to this day.

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