Billy's Boots, by John Gillatt
'Billy's Boots' (Dutch-language version: 'De Wondersloffen van Sjakie').  

John Gillatt was a British comic artist, who worked for the comic magazines published by IPC/Fleetway from the mid-1950s throughout the 1980s. He is known for drawing the soccer comic 'Billy's Boots' (1970-1988) and continuing the sci-fi features 'Jet-Ace Logan' and 'Dan Dare'. He also continued the newspaper football strip 'Scorer' for the Daily Mail.

Early life
John Gillatt was born on 17 August 1929 in Peterborough in the Cambridgeshire county, where he lived his entire life. He was the son of a mason. Gillatt grew up reading American comics like Milton Caniff's 'Terry and the Pirates' and Alex Raymond's 'Rip Kirby', and studied at the Leicester College of Art. Gillatt began his career as an advertising illustrator and as a draughtsman for the Perkins Diesel engineering firm. 

Jet-Ace Logan by John Gillatt
'Jet-Ace Logan'. 

Jet-Ace Logan
Gillatt switched to making comics in 1957, starting with the adventures of  interplanetary RAF pilot 'Jet-Ace Logan' in the IPC magazine Comet. The feature was created by artist Geoff Campion and writer Mike Butterworth in 1956, and continued by Gillatt and writers like David Motton and Frank Pepper from April 1957 on. Gillatt continued the comic in Tiger after Comet merged with that title in 1959. The feature was one of the few real competitors for the front-page 'Dan Dare' comic of competing magazine Eagle by Odhams Press. Gillatt continued to draw 'Jet-Ace Logan' with intervals until 1962. 

Johnny Cougar by John Gillatt
'Johnny Cougar'

Sports comics
Gillatt began his long tenure with drawing sports comics at IPC's Tiger magazine in 1963. The first was about the wrestling Native American 'Johnny Cougar', previously drawn by Geoff Campion. Gillatt drew the series from 1963 to 1969, with a break in 1966 when he drew a comic strip based on the Canadian TV series 'The Forest Rangers', the superhero comic 'The Black Archer' and the feature about actor-turned-criminal 'The Great Thespius'. His first soccer comic was the humorous 'Football Family Robinson', about a family that owned a football club, written by Fred Baker. The comic was previously drawn by Joe Colquhoun, and Gillatt continued it well into the 1970s.

Football Family Robinson
'Football Family Robinson'

Billy's Boots
In the first issue of the comic magazine Scorcher (10 January 1970), Gillatt and comic writer Fred Baker launched their signature work, 'Billy's Boots'. The association football-themed comic was a reboot of another comic titled 'Billy's Boots' (1961-1963), that ran in the magazine Tiger, drawn by Frank Purcell. However, while Purcell's comic was humorous, Baker and Gillatt's version of 'Billy's Boots' is a more serious, realistically-drawn series. The plot revolves around an English boy, Billy Dane, who is bad at playing football. One day he puts on the boots of legendary striker Charles "Dead Shot" Keen and suddenly becomes an amazing goal wonder. 'Billy's Boots' was popular with readers and ran for more than 16 years, surviving many mergers between magazines. Between 1971 and 1974 it ran in Scorcher and Score. When this publication folded, 'Billy's Boots' ran in Tiger (1974-1985), Eagle (1985-1986) and Roy of the Rovers (1986-1988). Baker and Gillatt worked for 16 years on the series. Other artists who occasionally drew episodes were Barrie Mitchell, Tom Kerr and Colin Page. In 1988 Gillatt passed the pencil to Mike Western, who continued 'Billy's Boots' until 1992. 

Reprints of 'Billy's Boots' were published in annuals, released by the respective magazines that ran his adventures throughout the year. Other reprints appeared in the magazines Total Football and Striker. 

Billy's Boots by John Gillatt
'Billy's Boots'. 

Billy's Boots' foreign success
'Billy's Boots' also proved succesful abroad. The series was translated in Bengali and ran in the Indian magazine Shuktaara as 'Billir Boot'. In Turkey it was known under the title 'Sihirli Ayakkabılar', printed in the children's magazine Doğan Kardeş. Swedish comic readers read Billy's adventures as 'Benny Guldfot' in the Swedish version of the English magazine Buster. Later it ran in the Swedish magazine Barracuda too. In Finland 'Billy's Boots' ran under two different translated titles: 'Benny Dane' and 'Benny Kultajalka'. In Iceland the series was translated as 'Kalli í knattspyrnu'.

In The Netherlands 'Billy's Boots' ran as 'De Wondersloffen van Sjakie' in comic magazine Sjors from 1973 to 1975. Interestingly enough, some stories were altered for this publication. In one story, Billy was sent to the Netherlands to play a match. Publisher Oberon asked Gillatt to redraw the sequence where Billy takes the ferry, and let him hitchhike to the venue instead. As an inside joke, Gillatt added an Oberon-truck with a caricature of Dutch album editor Meerten Welleman in this segment. Whereas the British strip ran continuously until the 1990s, the Dutch version had Billy/Sjakie become a professional football player at the end of the comic's run in Sjors, in an extra story drawn by Jaap Vermeij. All in all, 33 albums of 'De Wondersloffen van Sjakie' were published in the Netherlands between 1980 and 2001, 24 of which with artwork by Gillatt. Gillatt especially provided the original cover artwork for these books.

Dan Dare
In 1988, John Gillatt joined the IPC magazine Eagle, to draw the sciencefiction aviation comic 'Dan Dare', for Eagle. The classic feature had been created by Frank Hampson in 1950 and continued by other writers and artists until 1967. A decade later, 'Dan Dare' was revived twice, first in 2000 A.D. (1977-1979) and then in the relaunched Eagle, from 1982 on. Apart from Gillatt, other artists who drew 'Dan Dare' during the 1980s and 1990s were Gerry Embleton, Oliver Frey, Ian Kennedy and Carlos Cruz.

Scorer by John Gillatt

Work in the 1990s and 2000s
In the late 1980s Gillatt worked on a variety of short-lived comic titles, including 'Magic Man' for Hot-Shot! and 'Ring Raiders', a celebrity comic based on the animated TV series of the same name. 'My Pet Alien!' ran in Eagle. From 1990 on, he took over the daily newspaper comic 'Scorer' in the Daily Mirror, launched a year earlier by scriptwriter Barrie Tomlinson and artist Barrie Mitchell. Tomlinson and Gillatt continued the adventures of the top scoring football player Dave Storry for more than a decade, assisted by David Pugh. Between 1992 and 1993 Gillatt also provided cover illustrations for the Johnny Cougar Wrestling Monthly reprint magazine and drew educational comics for Young Telegraph.

Gillatt also parodied himself by drawing a spoof of 'Billy's Boots', titled 'Willie's Boots', for a 1997 comedy book released by the makers of the humorous sports game show 'They Think It's All Over'. In the parody, Willie (a caricature of football player Ray Wilkins) finds a pair of football shoes that belonged to his grandfather, who was a football star. This lets him to believe that by putting them on, he will enherit his talent (the real Ray Wilkins was also related to a former football champion, George Wilkins). Unfortunately, the shoes have side effects. Willie transforms into a typical 1930s football player, complete with old-fashioned language, unhealthy habits and racial slurs. Eventually he dies from rickets.

Final years and death
In 2003 Gillatt suffered a stroke and passed 'Scorer' to David Sque, who drew it until the end of its run in February 2011. His health problems marked the end of Gillat's comic career. In May 2016 he suffered another stroke, leaving him paralyzed down one side and unable to speak. John Gillatt passed away on 4 November 2016, at the age of 87.

Comic book cover for a Dutch-language version of 'Billy's Boots' and cover illustration for Johnny Cougar's Wrestling Monthly issue #2 (November 1992). 

John Gillat's obituary on the Bear Alley blog
Lew Stringer on the Dutch publicatons of Billy's Boots

Series and books by John Gillatt you can order today:


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