Back cover of the 'Between the Buttons' record by The Rolling Stones (released on 20 January 1967). Artwork by Charlie Watts.

The British musician Charlie Watts, who was best-known as the drummer of The Rolling Stones, had a brief stint as a cartoonist. As an art student, Watts wrote and drew a picture story, 'Ode to a Highflying Bird', which paid tribute to jazz legend Charlie Parker. It was sold in 1965 as a book. Watts drew comic strips for The Rolling Stones' 1966 U.S. tour program and the back sleeve of their album 'Between The Buttons' (1967).

Early life and career
Charles Robert Watts was born in 1941 in Bloomsbury, London, as the son of a railway lorry driver. As a child, he showed a gift for drawing as well as drumming. He studied at the Harrow Art School (nowadays Harrow campus at the University of Westminster). After graduation, Watts initially worked as a graphic designer in the London-based Charlie Daniels Studios. In his spare time, he drummed in jazz and R&B bands, including Blues By Five and Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. In this latter band, Watts met Brian Jones.

The Rolling Stones
In 1963, Watts became the drummer for a blues rock band, named after the Muddy Waters song 'Rollin' Stone'. The other Rolling Stones were Mick Jagger, lead singer, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, guitarists, and Bill Wyman, bass. Brian Jones drowned in his swimming pool in 1969 and was replaced by Mick Taylor until 1974, when Ron Wood took over on guitar. Bill Wyman left the band in 1993. In the early days, The Rolling Stones mostly covered blues standards, before writing hits with lustful and druggy lyrics. They were promoted in the European press as direct rivals to The Beatles. While the Beatles broke up in 1970, the Stones kept rolling, eventually becoming one of the longest-running rock bands, touring and releasing material up to Watts' 2021 death and beyond.

Charlie Watts, the musician
While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards enjoyed being flamboyantly dressed frontmen for the group, Charlie Watts preferred a dapper attire of suits and largely avoided press interviews and kept his personal life private. Nicknamed the “Heartbeat of the Rolling Stones” by Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts is known for his no frills drumming style. Outside his activities within The Stones, Watts played in boogie woogie and jazz bands, like Rocket 88 and his own group, the Charlie Watts Quintet. In his spare time, he enjoyed reading and drawing in his sketchbooks, continuing his interest in graphic arts. In a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Watts said he drew every hotel bed he slept in, starting with the 1967 tour.

From: 'Ode to a Highflying Bird'. Published 17 January 1965. 

Ode To A Highflying Bird
During his university days, Watts wrote and drew a children's book, 'Ode to a Highflying Bird'. Originally intended for a class project, it is a biography about one of his musical heroes, Charlie "Bird" Parker, who, in reference to his nickname, is depicted as an anthropomorphic bird. The story is drawn in a simple graphic style, with narration handwritten above the images. Previous success of John Lennon's  'In His Own Write' (1964), prompted the publisher of Rolling Stones Monthly to ask Watts for permission to publish his book. On 17 January 1965, 'Ode to A Highflying Bird' was released as a 5 by 7 inch, 36-page book by London's Beat Publications. In 1991, it was reprinted as part of the Charlie Watts Quintet album 'From One Charlie...'.

Comic strip by Charlie Watts for the Rolling Stones' 1966 U.S tour (June-July 1966). 

1966 U.S. tour comic strip
Charlie Watts' next artistic work was a comic strip, printed inside the Rolling Stones' concert program for the 1966 U.S. tour. Entitled 'It's The Same Old Story (If Not The Song)', it shows Mick Jagger singing on a platform. One man in a hat keeps criticizing the group, as the crowd around the platform grows and the platform steadily rises. The original artwork is in the collection of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Charlie Watts cover art and comics
In 1967, the Rolling Stones released their album 'Between the Buttons'. On the back cover, appeared another Watts comic, made in the same vein as the one from the year before. The panels show people cheering for the band, while others keep changing their opinion about how good/bad they are. The speech balloons contain condescending commentary such as: "All head and no bread!" and "Is that a boy or a girl?". Once the group gets famous, the former critics suddenly start to like them: "You know, they ain't so bad after all." Lyrics from the title song appear as captions underneath the panels. Wyman addresses the readers with the message: "Between the Buttons"! To understand this little rhyme, you must tap your foot in time. Then the buttons come much nearer. And the Stones you see much clearer." Charlie Watts also designed the covers of the Rocket 88 album 'Rocket 88' (1981) and of the Charlie Watts Quintet's 'From One Charlie' (1991), which also included a full reprint of his 1965 book 'Ode to a Highflying Bird'.

Other modern musicians who similarly produced comic art or illustrated their own album covers were Serge Buyse, Kurt CobainDef P, Daniel Johnston, Lucia Pamela, Schoolly D, Urbanus, Dallas Tamaira and Adam Wallenta.

Back cover of the 'Between The Buttons' record, containing Charlie Watts' comic strip (album released 20 January 1967). 

Charlie Watts and the Stones in comic art (1960s and 1970s)
A part of pop culture for more than half a century, Charlie Watts and his Rolling Stones bandmates have employed fine and graphic artists for promotional work and cover art, and have been depicted by comic artists in various publications. Bob Gibson was house cartoonist of the fanzine The Rolling Stones Monthly (1964-1966, Beat Publications. Ltd.). In 1966, Malky McCormick approached the group with a cartoon he had drawn of all the band members, which they all signed. The poster for their TV concert film 'Rock 'n' Roll Circus' (1968) was designed by Alan Aldridge. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Dutch underground cartoonist Peter Pontiac illustrated the covers for bootleg lyric books, including for Stones songs. Several artists have illustrated covers and/or inside sleeves for Rolling Stones albums, including Steven Thomas ('Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!', 1970), Andy Warhol ('Sticky Fingers', 1971 and 'Love You Live', 1977) and Guy Peellaert ('It's Only Rock 'n' Roll', 1974).

Charlie Watts and the Stones in comic art (1980s and 1990s)
Animation was added into the cartoon imagery for the Rolling Stones in the 1980s. Ralph Bakshi's studio made the animated music video for 'Harlem Shuffle' (1985), of which most designs were done by 'Ren & Stimpy' creator John Kricfalusi. Mark Marek drew the comic strip 'Dirty Work Out', printed inside the album sleeve of 'Dirty Work' (1986). Dutchman Danker Jan Oreel drew a 197 comic book about The Stones, 'Big Deal'. In December 1989, The Rolling Stones were the subject of the sixth issue of the 'Rock N' Roll Comics' series by Revolutionary Comics. It contained story artwork by Andy Kuhn, Ken Landgraf, Dean Hsieh and Teri S. Wood. In 1992, Personality Comics released three comic books about The Rolling Stones. In 1995, Marvel Comics published a comic book to accompany the band's 'Voodoo Lounge' tour: 'Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge', written and drawn by Dave McKean, with Karl Bollers, Mort Todd and Tom DeFalco as editors.

Cover to 'Rock 'n' Roll Comics' #6 by Scott Jackson (December 1989). 

Charlie Watts and the Stones in comic art (2000s)
The French publishing house Petit à Petit released a graphic novel ('The Rolling Stones en BD', translated in English as 'The Rolling Stones in Comics', 2010), featuring anecdotes about the band written by Ceka and drawn by 19 artists: Martin Trystram, Patrick Lacon, Dimitri Piot, Kyung-Eun Park, Domas, Clément Baloup, Dominique Hennebaut, Amandine Wadre Puntous, Lapuss', Bast, Patès, Filippo Neri, Anthony Audibert, Bruno Loth, Aurélie Neyret, Sanzito, Sarah Williamson, Joël Alessandra and Mao Suzy-Heng. The Stones have also been caricatured, for instance by Chuck Death, Marcel Gotlib and Sebastian Krüger. The Frenchmen James and Boris Mirroir gave a comical account of the Rolling Stones' formation in the comic book 'Backstage - Pierre qui roule' (Audie, 2011).

Charlie Watts passed away in 2021, at age 80. A couple of months before his death, it was announced that due to medical reasons, he would not participate in that year's Rolling Stones tour, the first performances since the COVID-19 pandemic. He was replaced in the touring band by Steve Jordan.

'The Silent Stone', from: 'The Rolling Stones in Comics', with story art by Patès (2019). 

Series and books by Charlie Watts you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.