Tom Poes by Terry Willers
Marten Toonder's Tom Poes - 'De Grootdoener' (1963-1964).

Terry Willers was a British-born Irish cartoonist, illustrator and comic artist. He made several slapstick cartoons about rural life. Earlier in his career he was an anonymous artist for Mickey Mouse Weekly, TV Comic, Jack and Jill, Wham, The Beano and The Dandy. He was additionally notable as the only Irish comics artist to ever work for the Dutch Toonder Studios, even being the main artist on the signature series 'Tom Poes' between 1963 and 1965. Willers was additionally co-founder of the annual Guinness International Cartoon Festival in Rathdrum, Ireland.

Early life and career
He was born in 1935 in Barnet, North London, though some sources have incorrectly claimed Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk was his birth town. At age 15, Willers started working as an intern for what some sources have incorrectly described as a London branch of the Walt Disney Studios. For the same reason he is often erroneously referred to as an animator. In reality, he was an errand boy for a London-based film studio. Walt Disney had hired the studio to film several live action movies, including 'The Story of Robin Hood' (1952). At the reception, Willers had made a mural with Disney characters, which caught Walt's attention. Disney's praise landed him a job with the British Disney magazine Mickey Mouse Weekly. By the time he was 17 he drew the pantomime comic 'Tich' (1952-1953), about a young bald-headed boy, for TV Comic, and 'Zip' (1959) for Jack and Jill. During the 1960s he moved to Carrigower, Ireland, later settling down in Rathdrum, where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Toonder Studios
In the early 1960s Marten Toonder was already famous in the Dutch-language countries as the only Dutch comics artist with his own professional studio, which syndicated several series to other countries as well. In 1965 Toonder eventually moved to Greystones, Ireland, where he continued to write and ink his signature series 'Tom Poes'. Two years earlier, in May 1963, he had his son Eiso establish a separate studio in Dublin, named Pollaphuca Ltd. The intention of this letterbox company was to outsource the script- and artwork to Ireland, while the studio in the Netherlands took care of the syndication. Willers was the most important artist to work for Pollaphuca, albeit mostly because his drawing room was used as the studio address. And so, Terry Willers became involved in the production of Dutch newspaper comics.

Between 1963 and 1965 he succeeded Dick Matena the main pencil artist of 'Tom Poes'. He was assisted by a young man named "David", and for a short while by the Dutch artist Mark Smeets. Willers added a slapstick element to the strips and intensified the absurdism of the artwork. Unfortunately Pollaphuca never quite got off the ground. Eiso Toonder was young and unexperienced and all advice from his father happened through letter correspondence. Willers too was an unstable factor. Marital problems caused him to fall increasingly behind with his daily deadlines, while there were also discords about the financial compensation for the use of his studio space. By late 1964 Pollaphuca was disbanded.

Willers gave up 'Tom Poes' because he couldn't keep up with the intense deadlines. The Dutch artist Fred Julsing became the new penciler, while Marten Toonder did the finished art and inking in Ireland. However Willers remained associated with the Toonder Studios. Between 1966 and 1968 he was the regular pencil artist on 'Kappie', a Toonder newspaper comic about a sea captain. Inking duties were provided by studio staffer Richard Klokkers in the Netherlands. In 1968 and 1969 Willers also drew 'Tom Poes' stories intended for the Dutch Disney weekly Donald Duck. Contrary to the newspaper strips, the 'Tom Poes' stories in Donald Duck had simplified language and made use of speech balloons instead of text captions, since they were aimed at younger readers. In 1968 and 1969 he additionally penciled five stories of 'Panda', Toonder's other popular funny animal newspaper comic.

Between 1970 and 1980 Willers and Piet Wijn provided artwork for Eiso Toonder's gag comic 'De Goeroe'. It ran in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and later also in The Irish Times under the title 'The Guru'. Wijn and Willers merely provided stock images, which Eiso Toonder then cut-and-pasted in his daily strips. Along with the South African Alexander Podlashuc, the Welshman Harry Hargreaves, the Englishman Robert Hamilton and some Spanish agency artists, Willers was one of the few foreign artists to work for the Toonder Studios.

Tom Poes balloon strips for Donald Duck, by Terry Willers
'Tom Poes en de Rappe Ratsers' (Donald Duck #13, 1968).

Wham!, The Dandy and The Beano
For the British comics magazine Wham!, established in 1964, Willers often ghosted Leo Baxendale's gag comics 'General Nitt and his Barmy Army' and 'Georgie's Germs' for four years. Though in this case the term "ghosting" is a bit out of place, as Baxendale did allow Willers to sign his work. He didn't receive this honor for his work in The Dandy and The Beano, for whom he also made anonymous contributions during this decade.

Cartoons
Later in his career, Willers was more prominent as a one-panel gag cartoonist. He worked with oil and water colors and recurring themes were farmers, cows, golfers and beach vacations. His happy-go-lucky slapstick cartoons appeared in The Farmers Journal, The Sunday Independent, The Evening Herald and the Wicklow People.


'Georgie's Germs' (Wham! #88, 19 February 1966).

TV fame
During the 1970s until deep into the 1980s, Willers was a recognizable face to several Irish TV viewers thanks to his regular appearances in the satirical TV sketch show 'Hall's Pictorial Weekly' (1971-1980) and the talk show 'The Mike Murphy Show' on the TV channel RTÉ. His cartoons often appeared in these shows and/or he was invited to make drawings during the emission. In 1975 he won a Jacobs Award for his work in television.

Guinness International Cartoon Festival
Between 1992 and 1998 Willers and Martyn Turner were founders, organizers and chairmen of the Guinness International Cartoon Festival in Rathdrum. Willers was inspired by a friend who had recently visited a comics festival in France (presumably Angoulême). Turner took care of inviting cartoonists and setting up exhibitions. Willers, through his numerous contacts with several townspeople, was able to set everything up. The Guinness International Cartoon Festival is still an annual event in Rathdrum today.

Book illustration
Terry Willers livened up the pages of several books, including Brian Power's 'It's All Happening' (1970), Desmond Forristal's 'The TV Generation' (1970), Tadhg Hayes' 'Gift of the Gab! The Irish Conversation Guide' (1996), Frank Kelly's 'Twelve Days of Chaos' (1997) and Eamon O'Donnell's 'Stop Howling At The Moon' (2007).

Album covers
He illustrated two comedy albums by comedian Frank Kelly, namely 'Listen... Guess Who' (1977) and 'Comedy Countdown' (1984). He additionally designed the cover of musician Danny Doyle's 'Harry Nilsson's The Point' (1977), comedian Noel V. Ginnity's 'Am I Getting Any Bigger?' (1980), comedian Brendan Grace's novelty song 'Visit to Santa' (1981) and Will Millar's children's CD 'The Keeper' (1994).

Final years and death
Between 1991 and 1994, Terry Willers contributed to the short-lived adult-oriented comics anthology The Yellow Press. For The Beano he created the gag comic 'Minder Bird' in 1995. He died in 2011 in Rathdrum at age 76. Several of his cartoons for The Evening Herald are catalogued at the National Library of Ireland.

Terry Willers on the Bear Alley blog

Terry Willers on Lew Stringer's blog

Series and books by Terry Willers in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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