Bash Street Kids, by David Sutherland
'Bash Street Kids' (2013).

David Sutherland was a Scottish comic artist, and a longtime contributor to the comic magazine The Beano. He was the second and longest-running artist to continue the classic gag comic 'The Bash Street Kids', which he did from 1962 until his death in 2023. Sutherland enriched the series with various spin-offs and new characters, including the teacher's pet Cuthbert and the filthy cafeteria cook Olive Sprat. Sutherland was also the second artist to draw another popular Beano comic, 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher' (1970- 1998). During his run, he added Dennis' pet pig Rasher and Gnasher's puppy son Gnipper to the cast. The artist also drew three spin-offs, 'Gnasher's Tale (1977-1986), 'Rasher' (1984-1988) and 'Gnasher and Gnipper' (1986-1992). Additionally, he became the third artist to draw the children's adventure comic 'General Jumbo' (1963-1965), the second to continue the gag comic 'Biffo the Bear' (1969-1971) and the third to carry on the time travel gag series 'Fred's Bed' (2008-2009). Among his own original humor creations were the gross-out comedy 'The Germs' (1988-1992) and the gag comic 'Oscar Knight - Child Actor' (1992-1993). Earlier in his career, Sutherland also worked on more realistically-drawn adventure comics, of which the superhero comic 'Billy the Cat (and Katie)' (1967-1974) was the most enduring. In DC Thomson's other magazine The Dandy, Sutherland briefly continued 'Korky the Cat' (1999-2000) and was the second artist to continue the gag series 'Jak (and Todd)'.

David Sutherland was born in 1933 in Invergordon, Highland, Scotland, as the youngest of three children. His mother died when he was two years old, after which the family moved to Stirling, and later Kirkintilloch, close to the Scottish capital Glasgow. In school, art was David's favorite subject and he always looked forward to these lessons. At age fifteen, Sutherland left school and began working as an errand boy and assistant at the Rex Studios advertising agency. After a while, Sutherland illustrated promotional material for cinemas about upcoming films. In the mid-1950s, he was the only artist who received approval from the Walt Disney Studios to draw Disney characters in British ads. To hone his skills, he took evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art, studying commercial art and life drawing. In the second half of the 1950s, he fulfilled his national service in Egypt, and did freelance work for a studio that produced labels for whiskey bottles and fruit jars.

The Beano
In 1959, Sutherland ended third place in a drawing contest held by the Scottish publishing company DC Thomson, famous for publishing the comic magazine The Beano. Editor Harold Cramond recognized his talent and acted as his mentor. Soon, Sutherland was hired to ghost comic features by David Law and his childhood idol, Dudley D. Watkins. Underneath the artwork he was allowed to sign, he wrote his initials "DS". Sutherland would remain associated with The Beano for almost 65 years, longer than any other contributing artist.

'Danny on a Dolphin' (The Beano #1363, 31 August 1968).

Danny on a Dolphin
Sutherland's earliest comics for The Beano were adventure series, created in a style inspired by another one of his favorite artists, Paddy Brennan. He drew two stories of the serial 'Danny on a Dolphin' (1960-1962). The first ran from issue #933 (4 June 1960) until #951 (8 October 1960). The second kicked off in issue #1025 (10 March 1962) and was concluded in issue #1055 (6 October 1962). Title character Danny Weston is a young boy who owns a shoal of tame dolphins. His best friend is pet dolphin Flash. The sea mammals help him out during his fight against rogue naval criminals. Contrary to popular thought, 'Danny on a Dolphin' didn't cash in on the film 'Flipper' (1963), nor the popular TV series of the same name (1964-1967). Both were made much later.

The Great Flood of London
Sutherland's next adventure serial in The Beano also had an nautic theme. The post-apocalyptic text comic 'The Great Flood of London' (1960-1961) ran from issue #954 (19 November 1960) until #1015 (30 December 1961). Set in the then still faraway future year 1970, it follows young Harry Foster and his family, who are confronted with a global flood, a disaster caused by melting polar caps. The Fosters manage to climb into a rubber life raft and sail around in flooded London. They move in the abandoned Big Ben clock tower and try to survive in this harsh new environment.

' Lester's Little Circus' (The Beano #1062, 24 November 1962).

Other adventure comics
From issues #983 (20 May 1961) to #1007 (4 November 1961), Sutherland was one of several artists to work on the adventure comic 'The Cannonball Crackshots'. Set in 1809, during the Napoleonic Wars, it follows three British artillerymen under command of the Duke of Wellington. Ezra Applegate is the master gunner, and Mighty Jack Armstrong and the young soldier Billy Ready are part of his gun crew, nicknamed the "Cannonball Crackshots". Sutherland followed this up with another costume drama, 'Lester's Little Circus', set in the Wild West. The main characters, Tom and Mary Lester, are young British circus orphans who travel to California by wagon train, accompanied by their pet elephant Rajah. The narrative ran from issue #1056 (13 October 1962) to issue #1071 (26 January 1963). Sutherland was additionally the third artist to continue Paddy Brennan's 'General Jumbo', about a little boy who solves crimes. In issue #1126 (15 February 1964), Sutherland succeeded John Nicol and continued Jumbo's adventures until the feature was discontinued about one year later, in issue #1175 (23 January 1965). It took until 1969, before a new artist, Sandy Calder, would draw new stories.

' The Bash Street Kids' (The Beano #2417, 12 November 1988).

The Bash Street Kids
In 1962, Sutherland was assigned to do his first gag series in The Beano. He received the honor of continuing Leo Baxendale's 'The Bash Street Kids', one of the magazine's flagships since 1954. The title characters are a group of naughty school children who in every gag try to undermine their teacher's authority or skip school. Yet, to him it's almost a game of wits. The headmaster tries to punish or counterprank them, making it unpredictable who will turn out as victor in the final panel. During Sutherland's run, the core concept of 'The Bash Street Kids' remained the same. He initially tried to mimic Baxendale's style, but by the end of the 1960s he settled on a simpler, more personal look. These changes were easily accepted by readers, given that 'The Bash Street Kids' remained extraordinarily popular for decades. So much in fact, that during Sutherland's run, various spin-off features were launched. Yet he only made graphic contributions to two of them. 'Singled Out' (2004-2009) was made in collaboration with Mike Pearse and Tom Paterson and focused on one particular Bash Street Kid per week. A shorter-lived spin-off by Sutherland, 'At Home with the Bash Street Kids!' (2011), offered a look at the protagonists' domestic settings.

'The Bash Street Kids' (The Beano, 21 April 1979).

Out of all Bash Street Kids, Sutherland had a soft spot for the tall and goofy kid Plug. He described him having "fantastic pliable features and actions that illustrate his character." But the artist also introduced several new cast members. In 1972, the teacher's pet Cuthbert Jason Cringeworthy made his debut. Like his name implies, he's an annoying nerd who always does his best for school. Originally, the other Bash Street Kids couldn't stand him and saw him as yet another irresistible target for their shenanigans. Later Cuthbert became more accepted, since his higher intelligence is a useful aid for their problems. In 1981, Sutherland also introduced the cafeteria cook Olive Sprat, who is blissfully unaware that her culinary skills leave a lot to be desired. Her food looks and tastes disgusting. It leads to many funny background gags and hilarious gross-out comedy. Through a 2007 competition organized by the BBC children's show 'Blue Peter', young viewers could choose a new member of The Bash Street Kids. On 14 March 2007, a pupil named Wayne was declared the winner. His character traits were that he was talkative and prone to accidents. However, Wayne only lasted a year in the series before he vanished without a trace. In 2008, dim-witted Bash Street Kid Smiffy received two pets, Boris the goldfish and Kevin, a simple pebble. They too became recurring characters.

On 2 June 2021, two British girls of Indian descent were introduced to 'The Bash Street Kids', Mandira Sharma and Harsha Chandra. Both originated in two older Beano gag series, 'Mandi and her Mobile' (2018), scripted by Nigel Auchterlounie and drawn by Emily McGorman-Bruce, and 'Har Har's Joke Shop'. In June 2022, three additional pupils joined the Bash Street Kids who'd all made their debut three months earlier (on 9 March) in their own respective solo series. The black creative genius boy Stevie Star was introduced in Andy Fanton's 'Stevie Star', the sporty Pakistani girl Mahira debuted in 'Mahira of the Match', also by Fanton, and the skilled Muslim girl artist Khadija in 'Sketch Khad'. Although Sutherland didn't design these characters, he did include them in the regular 'Bash Street Kids' stories.

'The Bash Street Kids' (The Beano #2593, 28 March 1992).

The comic strip also went along with the changing times in other ways. In 1994, The Beano announced that the cast would be updated, making the tone less subversive and more politically correct. A huge public outcry followed, but it all turned out to be a publicity hoax. It took until May 2021 before any real but still minor changes occurred. The obese character Fatty was renamed "Freddy" and in December of that same year, the freckled boy Spotty became "Scotty", both to avoid young readers name-calling similar-looking children. British Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg commented on this decision, calling it "comically woke." Yet, the changes were applauded by the eating disorder charity Wednesday's Child for "potentially impacting the self-esteem and mental wellbeing of their audience."

Sutherland continued 'The Bash Street Kids' for more than 60 years, longer than Baxendale or any other artist had done. Over the years, several additional artists have helped him out, like Gordon Bell, John Sherwood, Kevin Reynolds, Tom Paterson, Mike Pearse, Kev F. Sutherland, Nigel Parkinson and Shannon Gallant. Between September 1998 and 2000, Sutherland briefly left the strip, making Nigel Parkinson his temporary successor. Many scriptwriters worked on the series, including Craig Ferguson, who penned narratives since 1985.

'Billy the Cat'.

Billy the Cat and Katie
Sutherland's last major adventure series was 'Billy the Cat' (1967-1969, later retitled 'Billy the Cat and Katie', 1971-1974). William Grange, nicknamed "Billy", is a schoolboy who lives with his Aunt Mabel in the town Burnham. He has a secret double life as a crime fighter. His nickname "the Cat" alludes to his uniform, which has a feline look. The costume comes with a rucksack, full with useful gadgets. All episodes of 'Billy the Cat' were typically short stories, rarely running longer than one issue. It was also the last series in The Beano to be published in a text comic format, with captions underneath the images. Since most readers preferred balloon comics, this became the standard format later on. Sutherland drew 'Billy the Cat' from issue #1289 (1 April 1967) until issue #1412 (9 August 1969), after which he passed the pencil to Sandy Calder. At this occasion, Billy teamed up with his cousin, Kathleen, nicknamed "Katie", marking a title change as 'Billy the Cat and Katie'. Calder in turn continued 'Billy the Cat' until issue #1494 (6 March 1971). Three decades later, in issue #3195 (11 October 2003), the series made a comeback, this time drawn by Wayne Thompson. 'Billy the Cat' would be rebooted two more times, in 2005 and 2008, respectively by Nigel Dobbyn and Barrie Appleby. Laura Howell also made a one-off episode in issue #3443 (2 August 2008). 'Billy the Cat' was also once parodied by Simon Thorp as 'Barry the Cat' for the adult comic magazine The Viz.

Beano cover, by David SutherlandBeano cover, by David Sutherland
Cover illustrations for The Beano annuals, 1990 and 1981.

Dennis the Menace, Gnasher and their spin-offs
One of The Beano's most popular gag series was 'Dennis the Menace', created in 1951 by David Law (not to be confused with Hank Ketcham's U.S. gag panel 'Dennis the Menace'). In issue #1363 (31 August 1968), the mischievous boy received an equally mean dog, Gnasher, who quickly became his inseparable companion. In the summer of 1970, Law suddenly fell seriously ill and was unable to continue his 'Dennis the Menace' comic. Gordon Bell quickly drew that week's episode, after which David Sutherland stepped in on 1 August 1970, becoming the new permanent artist. At this occasion, the series was also retitled 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher'. Sutherland continued making Dennis' gags for the next 28 years.

During David Sutherland's run, 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher' was actively promoted as the Beano's new mascot. On 14 September 1974, his face replaced the previous mascot Biffo the Bear on the magazine's front cover. The series also spawned a couple of spin-offs. In issue #1818 (21 May 1977), 'Gnasher's Tale' (1977-1986) made its debut. The comic focuses on Gnasher's puppy years, when the little mutt was already a ferocious biter. Although intended as a prequel to 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher', it didn't actually follow continuity. In 'Gnasher's Tale', a toddler version of Dennis is already shown to be Gnasher's owner, and all the other characters are also shown as junior versions of themselves.

' Dennis the Menace & Gnasher' (The Beano #1818, 21 May 1977).

In issue #2279 (22 March 1986), The Beano decided to launch a publicity stunt. In the latest 'Dennis' gag, Gnasher was suddenly gone without a trace, leaving Dennis to ask the readers where his beloved pet might be?. For a couple of months, Dennis kept searching for Gnasher and thought up traps to get him back. Eventually he became so desperate that he visited the headquarters of The Beano to ask chief-editor Euan Kerr to help him out. He also went to BBC radio host Mike Read. Young readers wrote letters and phoned to find out whether Gnasher would ever be back. To help them out, various clues regarding Gnasher's whereabouts were sprinkled in the next issues. At the time, the central question "Who's Gnicked Gnasher?" received considerable attention in British papers, radio and TV channels, including the BBC and The Times. During Gnasher's absence, the spin-off 'Gnasher's Tale' was replaced with 'Foo-Foo's Fairy Story', focusing on side character Walter's pet poodle Foo-Foo instead. Finally, in issue #2286 (5 May 1986), Gnasher returned. His absence was explained by the fact that he had spawned six puppies. Five daughters, Gnorah, Gnatasha, Gnanette, Gnaomi and Gnancy, and one son, Gnipper. They became recurring characters, but also marked the end of the previous spin-off 'Gnasher's Tale'. In some of the Beano Annuals, new episodes of 'Gnasher's Tale' would still appear, but drawn by Barry Glennard.

'Gnasher and Gnipper' (The Beano #2417, 12 November 1988).

After 'Gnasher's Tale' disappeared from The Beano's pages, it was replaced with a new spin-off, 'Gnasher and Gnipper' (1986-2009). The first episode ran in issue #2286 (1 November 1986) and focuses on gags starring Gnasher and his son Gnipper. All events are shown from the animals' perspective. In 1993, Sutherland passed the pencil to Barry Glennard, who continued 'Gnasher and Gnipper' up until 2009. In 2011, the spin-off 'Gnasher's Bit(e)' (2011-2014) came about, scripted by Ryan C. Gavan and drawn by respectively Jimmy Hansen and afterwards Barrie Appleby. Gnipper received his own short-lived solo gag comic, 'Gnipper' (January-July 2013), drawn by Graham Howie and printed in the Funsize Funnies section of The Beano. In 2014, Barrie Appleby revived 'Gnasher and Gnipper', which he still continues as of 2023. Gnasher disappeared a second time on 29 August 2018, but already returned the next issue, on 5 September. The event brought attention to the animal welfare society Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and the need to microchip pets in order to find them back whenever they are missing.

'Dennis and Gnasher' (The Beano #2464, 7 October 1989).

Another 'Dennis' character introduced by Sutherland is Dennis' pet pig, Rasher. The gluttonous swine debuted in issue #1920 (5 May 1979). Many gags revolve around Rasher's attempts to steal food, sometimes with Dennis' help. On 22 September 1984, the pig received its own spin-off series, 'Rasher'. Readers were introduced to his family members, Uncle Crackling, Little Piglet and Rasher's brother Hamlet and sister Virginia Ham. A recurring antagonist, Butch Butcher, tries to slaughter them, but to no avail. 'Rasher' ran for more than a decade, until the final episode was printed in 1988. In 2009, the spin-off was briefly revived. Sutherland also created Dennis' pet spider Dasher in 1987, although the invertebrate made less frequent appearances than most other side characters.

Sutherland also helped 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher' move along with the changing times. By the 1980s, British school children were no longer spanked with a cane or a slipper as punishment, which was also reflected in the comic. Likewise, Dennis' frequent target Walter was also transformed into more of a worthy opponent instead of a helpless, pitiful victim. In 1993, Sutherland redesigned the Dennis character, who had been drawn increasingly taller over the years, making him resemble a young adult rather than a boy. The new Dennis looked more like a kid again. In August-September 1998, Sutherland discontinued 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher' and was succeeded by David Parkins.

Biffo the Bear
On 20 August 1969, longtime Beano artist Dudley D. Watkins passed away from a sudden heart attack. His cartoonist colleagues quickly continued many of his ongoing series, while more permanent successors were sought. Sutherland succeeded Watkins as the main artist of 'Biffo the Bear', the classic gag comic starring The Beano's mascot. He drew the series until 1971, after which Jimmy Glen took over the pencil.

'The Germs' (The Beano #2375, 23 January 1988).

The Germs
In addition to his several ongoing features, Sutherland was also the creator of the gag series 'The Germs' (1988-2000, 2004), which replaced his previous series 'Rasher' in The Beano's pages. The feature debuted in issue #2374 (16 January 1988), and revolves around a group of microbes: Ugly Jack Bacteria, Jeremy Germ and Iris the Virus (later renamed Violet Virus). The germs control the body of a young schoolboy, Will, nicknamed "Ill Will". As icky as it sounds, the germs are actually his friends. They "help" him getting sick, so he doesn't have to go to school. However, the germs are sometimes combatted by a friendly germ, Auntie Biotic. 'The Germs' went through a number of title changes during its run. Sometimes Ill Will's name was added, other times the fitting description "Totally Gross" could be read in the heading. Eventually, editors settled on 'Totally Gross Germs' as the feature's permanent title. By 1992, Vic Neill became the series' new artist, but since he also had other features to work on, 'The Germs' saw fewer episodes throughout the decade. After Neill's death in 2000, it took four years before Nigel Parkinson stepped in to draw a couple of extra gags. Although 'The Germs' was never revived after 2004, the feature remained popular in reprints.

Oscar Knight - Child Actor
Between 1992 and 1993, Sutherland drew the short-lived gag comic 'Oscar Knight - Child Actor' for The Beano. It centered on a child actor who tries to make it big in theatre, TV and film, but usually blows his big chance.

Comics for The Dandy
In August-September 1998, Sutherland briefly retired from The Beano. He joined The Dandy, another DC Thomson magazine, for two years, where he was one of several artists to work on the classic gag comic 'Korky the Cat', previously drawn by Robert Nixon. Sutherland also continued Wayne Thompson's gag comic 'Jak and Hurley' and introduced a new side character, Spike the cat. In 2000, Sutherland returned to The Beano again. In 2004, 'Jak and Hurley' was picked up again in The Dandy, created by the original artist Thompson.

'Oscar Knight' (The Beano #2651, 8 May 1993).

Return to the Beano (2000-2023)
After a two-year interlude at The Dandy, Sutherland made his triumphant comeback in The Beano in 2000, succeeding his replacement Nigel Parkinson on 'The Bash Street Kids'. Sutherland would continue this gag comic for another 23 years. It was his main weekly feature during this entire period, although he occasionally contributed comics to the annual Beano compilation books. In 2008-2009, he was one of several artists who drew new episodes of Tom Paterson's gag comic 'Fred's Bed'. This time travel series originally ran in the discontinued comic magazines The Beezer and The Topper, but reprints enjoyed renewed popularity in The Beano. Other artists who worked on the 'Fred's Bed' reboot were Hunt Emerson, Nigel Parkinson and Tom Paterson himself.

Between 11 June and 15 August 2012, Sutherland's artwork was exhibited at the University of Dundee. On 31 December 2022, David Sutherland was appointed Officer in the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to illustration.

Final years and death
As late as the Christmas holiday season of 2022, 89-year old David Sutherland was still turning out in his weekly comic pages. According to his wife, he only put down his pen for good when he fell seriously ill. In early 2023, David Sutherland passed away. Beano editor John Anderson commemorated him as "the single most important illustrator in Beano history", given that he had worked for the magazine since 1959, drawing several of its most beloved series. He described Sutherland as a "genuine legend" and his death as the "end of an era". Sutherland's final comics, scripted by Andy Fanton, ran in The Beano issue #4170 (25 January 2023). As a special tribute, the heading credited him as "David Sutherland OBE".

Animator Nick Park ('Wallace & Gromit') has cited David Sutherland as a strong graphic inspiration.

Self-portrait in the 'Biffo the Bear' strip.

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