Some days it is just so hard to get going, but there are other days when good things just fall into your lap and today was one of those days when good things just kept falling. I had mentioned that my next Comic Creator Spotlight article on Down The Tubes was going to be about Gordon Livingstone and I would be looking at his body of work for Commando. Suddenly out of the blue, Ian Kennedy calls me and was kind enough to put me in touch with Gordon’s daughter Gillian.
So my lunch break at work was pleasantly spent chatting with the daughter of the man who subconsciously had influenced me so much. Gillian confirmed that her father had indeed ended up working on Commando and the story of how Gordon ended up working on Commando is a great one all by itself.
When Commando was due to be released, Gordon had been working on a magazine called Secrets. This was a big seller in its’ day and managed to last a respectable 58 years as it ran from 1932 until 1990. However, when Gordon was working for it, it was in a format remarkably similar to the weekly comics of the day and it seemed to be aimed at the young female adult demographic.
It took me a significant amount of searching on the internet just to find this example and Gillian has said that I can look at the copies that her father was given with the examples of his work! So you can imagine how excited I am to look at those.
I found this example thanks to the Ebay seller Andrea’s Vintage Antiques. The terrible thing that I find is that this magazine is all but forgotten so hopefully this article will spark a few memories for some people. As you can see from the picture, the format is exactly the same as the comics that were published on a weekly basis. Another example of the canny business sense that kept D C Thomson in business all these years!
However, I digress. So Gordon was working on this magazine when Commando was being prepared so Chick Checkley, the first Commando editor decided to use Gordon on this new venture. Quite a daring move as I believe there were strong boundaries between the ladies magazines and the boys comics departments so for an artist to be moved was quite a departure from the norm. However, when we look a wee bit deeper, it all makes sense.
Gordon’s godmother was one Margaret Checkley and Chick Checkley was her son, so it is fairly safe to assume that Chick more than likely grew up with the older Gordon almost as an additional big brother. So when Chick was given the job of launching a brand new comic, he would have wanted as good an artist as he could get and one that could hit deadlines or else his life as an editor would have been a nightmare! And stealing Gordon from the ladies magazines department was probably a lot easier than trying to persuade senior management to pay for another artist to be employed by the company.
Update 4th May 2016
I have found that I have misread the article regarding the passing of Chick Checkley and he passed away at the age of 63 in 1971 rather than 2001. This would have meant that Chick had known Gordon all his life and grown up with Gordon as an additional little brother rather than an additional big brother! So it looks like it was a bit of mentoring that made Chick use Gordon for Commando.
I have also had feedback from David Roach, whose art is sublime and if you don’t know how good it is, then you are missing out and Calum Laird who had done sterling work as the fourth editor of Commando in keeping Commando alive in an era when social media is king and printed work seems to be a very poor second cousin. Both pieces of feedback are going to be used in my Comic Creator Spotlight article on Down The Tubes, but I will leave you with one tantalising piece of information in that Commando is not actually a D C Thomson creation! More on that anon.
And for us comic fans it has paid off handsomely as Gordon drew 372 Commandos between 1961 and 1999. To date there have been over 200 reprints of his work. In fact, over 35 issues featuring Gordon’s work have been accorded, to me, the ultimate accolade of being reprinted twice. This goes to show that Gordon’s work has not only appealed to Chick Checkley, but it has also appealed to Ian Forbes, George Low, Calum Laird and our intrepid interim editor Scott Montgomery as I am sure that the five people who have been at the helm of Commando have not just selected the reprints for its’ ability to withstand the test of time, but if it has retained that everyman quality that Commando does so well and allows Commando to continue to sell while many of its’ competitors ceased publication and are all but forgotten with us dedicated few fans of the Picture Library genre doing our best to keep the flame alive.