Tributes were paid in the mainstream British media and on social media following the news of the passing of longstanding British cartoonist David Sutherland late last week after a short illness, aged 89. Sutherland had barely weeks ago been awarded an OBE, a British civic award, for services to Illustration having worked for over 60 years on the weekly Beano kids anthology comic – perhaps one of the longest tenures in the title’s 84-year history. His final Bash Street Kids strip – produced prior to his illness – will appear in this week’s issue of the Beano (#4170).

The news was first broken on the afternoon of January 19 by John Freeman, veteran comics editor and journalist of the British comics scene via his Down The Tubes blog, saying:

“We are very sorry to report the passing of legendary comic artist David Sutherland, best known for his work on The Bash Street Kids in Beano.

“The news has just broken, and comes shortly after the announcement [of] an OBE for services to Illustration. He had drawn The Bash Street Kids for the Beano for 60 years.”

Later his former publication the Beano officially broke the news via social media, saying:

“Today we have the sad job of telling the world that our dear friend David Sutherland OBE has passed away.

“David joined Beano in 1959 as a freelance contributor and over the last 63 years has become one of the most important Beano artists in its history.

“Today we share with you a Biffo the Bear story in which the modest David drew himself as Biffo’s neighbour. We couldn’t think of better tribute to celebrate the life of this incredible man

“David viewed himself as a resident of Beanotown, living alongside our characters that he loved and he will live on there forever, and always be in the hearts of Team Beano and the millions of kids who have enjoyed his strips every week.

“RIP David Sutherland OBE”

The British press also took note of his passing – it being reported on public broadcasters the BBC, ITV, STV television channels and websites, and on the Guardian and The Mirror websites, to name a few. On social media more tributes were paid.

The beloved artist, who resided in Broughty Ferry – a suburb of Dundee, Scotland – originally came from Invergordon, in the Scottish Highlands. He entered an art competition organised by Dundee’s major British publishing house DC Thomson in 1959 and despite not winning the top prize was scouted to work on the Beano (which is today known as the world’s longest continuously running weekly title) by its then-editor Harold Cramond. His versatility as an artist meant he was capable of serving as a backup ghost artist mimicking the styles of the Beano’s big names of the time – particularly Leo Baxendale and David Law – on the comedy strips and he also worked on the Beano’s adventure strips (as the title was a mixed anthology comic before it eventually devoted itself entirely to kids gag strips).

Sutherland is credited with having worked on classic regular comedy strips including Biffo the Bear (1969-1986), Britain’s Dennis the Menace (1970-1998), Gnasher and more. He would occasionally work on Beano stablemate The Dandy but his primary association was the Beano and The Bash Street Kids strip which he took over following the departure of creator Leo Baxendale in 1962, and made it his own.

During his sixty-year tenure on The Bash Street Kids (about the escapades of a class of delinquent school students) he was able to transform it into one of the Beano’s most memorable comedy serials. Prior to his short illness in December he had completed the first strips to be published in 2023, with his final one about to be published this coming Wednesday.

Sutherland was bestowed an OBE, a British civic honour ceremonially granted by the monarchy, in the New Year honours list at the start of 2023. He would have formally received the insignia of the award from the current reigning British monarch – King Charles III – at a ceremony in the presence of his close family and friends. While that did not take place, he remains a recipient of the OBE and his final Beano credit this week will state his name as ‘David Sutherland OBE’.

In DC Thomson-published newspaper and website The Courier, Beano editor John Anderson said:

“No one will ever repeat what David achieved over 60 years. He was one of a kind, a genuine legend. It is the end of an era.

“Given that David started working for DC Thomson in 1959 and had been drawing The Bash Street Kids since 1962, he is the single most important illustrator in Beano history.”

It is uncertain what his exact strip count was but it is believed that – taking into account the annuals, special and the regular weekly – he may over well exceeded four thousand strips to the title. And he remained a steady and reliable artist into his later years.

Editor Anderson particularly noted his dedication, saying:

“David, even when he was in his late 80s, was still delivering a Bash Street Kids comic strip every week. Across such a stretch of time David has worked through many life events, including working from Australia for several weeks while visiting his family. His pages were delivered weekly via airmail with only the occasional squashed mosquito making the journey. Dave also had some health issues that would have forced even younger artists to hang up their pencil.”

Margaret, Sutherland’s widow, said:

“David only put his pen down last month when he took ill. Drawing was his life; it made us forget the age he was. He was getting older but we never noticed it. He just kept going and the editors remained happy with his work.”

The Chairman of DC Thomson, Christopher Thomson, also said to The Courier:

“He brought joy to our beloved audiences – children and adults alike – and to those who were fortunate enough to work alongside him. He will be much missed and his legacy will undoubtedly have a lasting impact for many years to come.”

On the BBC’s morning news on Saturday (January 21), current Dennis the Menace artist Nigel Parkinson spoke about Sutherland, saying:

“He could draw in any style and he was meticulous. His linework was beautiful. One of the things I liked about him was that you always came away having enjoyed what he’d done. I think that’s very important – that you enjoy what you are reading in a comic, that’s what it’s for.”

Parkinson also revealed that he briefly served as Sutherland’s own ghost artist during the period between his official retirement from the Beano and his return as a freelancer,

“If the regular illustrator for a strip is on holiday (that doesn’t happen very often) or is sick or decides to move on to something else, you need someone to take their place so that the readers don’t notice there has been a change. That’s what Dave started as and that’s what I started as. In fact I’ve ghosted Dave. I did a few Bash Street Kids when he retired many years ago and I did the Bash Street Kids for him for a few months – but he enjoyed drawing so much that he came back as a freelancer.”

Parkinson then said:

“He worked for sixty years on Bash Street Kids and over sixty years on the Beano; every week, almost. The Beano’s main claim to fame is that it employed Dave Sutherland because every time you think of the Beano – we’ve all read it whether you’re a big fan or not – you think of Dave Sutherland’s art. That’s the image that you have in your mind. That’s the Beano look.”