Billy's Boots, by John Gillatt
Billy's Boots/De Wondersloffen van Sjakie

John Gillatt was a longtime artist 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' and the sci-fi features 'Jet-Ace Logan' and 'Dan Dare'. He also drew the newspaper football strip 'Scorer' for the Daily Mail.

John Gillatt was born on 17 August 1929 in Peterborough in the Cambridgeshire county, where he lived his entire life. He 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

He 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 was 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. The series was later parodied by Petri Hiltunen as 'Rocket Reynolds.'

Johnny Cougar by John Gillatt
Johnny Cougar

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', which was also previously drawn by Geoff Campion. He worked on that feature 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 comical '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

He additionally started working with Baker on what is probably his best-known work: 'Billy's Boots' from the first issue of Scorcher of 10 January 1970 on. The strip was sort of a reboot of the more comical feature that Frank Purcell had made under that title for Tiger in 1961-1963. The young Billy Dane is a poor football player, but after putting on the boots of legendary striker Charles "Dead Shot" Keen he becomes an amazing goal wonder. Other artists have worked on the feature as well, such as Barrie Mitchell, Tom Kerr and Colin Page, but the team of Gillatt-Baker is generally considered to be responsible for the best stories. Gillatt and Baker worked together on the comic for 16 years, initially in Scorcher, and then in Scorcher and Score (1971-1974), Tiger (1974-1985), Eagle (1985-1986) and Roy of the Rovers (1986-1988). 

Billy's Boots by John Gillatt

Besides being the most beloved feature in Scorcher & Score, 'Billy's Boots was particularly popular in The Netherlands, where it ran as 'De Wondersloffen van Sjakie' in comics 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.

John Gillatt had left 'Billy's Boots' to Mike Western in 1988 to draw the pilot of the future, 'Dan Dare', for Eagle, which had been restarted as a weekly pulp comic by IPC in 1982. Created by Frank Hampson in the 1950s and later drawn by artists like Frank Bellamy and a host of other artists in the 1960s and 1970s, Gillatt worked on the comic in IPC's new Eagle for one year. Other 'Dan Dare' artists for this publication were Gerry Embleton, Oliver Frey, Ian Kennedy and Carlos Cruz.

Scorer by John Gillatt
Scorer

Gillatt then worked on a variety of short-lived titles and comics, such as 'Magic Man' for Hot-Shot!, a comic book version of the animated TV show 'Ring Raiders', and 'My Pet Alien!' in Eagle. His regular work for the comics weeklies ended in 1990. In the years that followed, he made cover illustrations for the Johnny Cougar's Wrestling Monthly reprint magazine (1992-93), and educational strips for Young Telegraph. He returned to football comics in 1990, when he took over the daily 'Scorer' strip from Barrie Mitchell. He worked on this strip with writer Barrie Tomlinson throughout the decade, assisted by David Pugh. Gillatt suffered a stroke in 2003 and left the strip to David Sque, who drew it until the end of its run in February 2011.

The artist suffered another stroke in May 2016, which left him paralyzed down one side and unable to speak. John Gillatt passed away on 4 November 2016, at the age of 87.

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 in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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