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Mike Western (1925-2008)

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Darkie's mob

"Darkie's Mob", from Battle Picture Weekly, 1976-77

Michael E. Western (b. Southampton, 4 February 1925; d. 13 May 2008) worked as a cleanup artist for Gaumont-British Animation after military service in the Second World War, alongside Eric Bradbury, Nobby Clarke, Ron Smith, Bill Holroyd and Harry Hargreaves. After the studio closed he worked for Anson Dyer Studios and on the Hallas & Batchelor production of Animal Farm. In the early 1950s, lacking formal art training, he struggled to get work as a magazine illustrator, and at the suggestion of Clark, he began drawing for Amalgamated Press' Knock-Out comic, specialising in adventure strips like the western "Lucky Logan" and the aviation strip "Johnnie Wingco", which was the comic's cover feature from 1957 and ran for six years.

In 1960 he moved to TV Express, where he drew TV tie-ins "No Hiding Place" and "Biggles", the latter in colour. He drew a few full-length stories for Air Ace Picture Library, and in 1962 he began drawing for Buster, including "The Leopard from Lime Street", on which his pencils were inked by Eric Bradbury, "When Britain Froze", "World in Peril", "The Star of Fortune" and "The Shrinker". The same year he joined the newly launched Valiant, edited by Sid Bicknell, a title he would be assiociated with for the next thirteen years. One of his most notable strips there was "The Wild Wonders", written by Tom Tully, about a pair of wild boys, brought up by animals, who turn out to be fantastic athletes, for which he used a semi-cartoony style which was much imitated. He also drew "Jack O' Justice", "The Duke of Dry Gulch", and more than 500 covers.

After Valiant folded in 1975, he moved to Battle Picture Weekly, where he reverted to a grittier style and drew John Wagner's "Darkie's Mob" and "HMS Nightshade", as well as "The Sarge" and Tully's "The Team That Went to War". He drew "Baker's Half Dozen" for short-lived sports title Speed in 1980, then "Topps on Two Wheels" and "Golden Boy" for Tiger and "Computer Warrior", "The Hard Men", "Shadow" and "The Avenger" for the relaunched Eagle. He drew "Billy's Boots" for Roy of the Rovers for four years, before taking over the Roy of the Rovers daily strip in the Daily Star following the death of Yvonne Hutton, which he drew in 1992-93. He then retired from comics, with the exception of a strip called "Theatre Mask" in a theatre magazine in 1997-2000, and concentrated on painting and magazine illustration.

His greatest inspirations were American comic artists Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon) and fashion artist Francis Marshall. He died in 2008, aged 83, having been confined to bed for a few months following a heart attack and a stroke.

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