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Monday, October 01, 2012

The Art of Denis McLoughlin

Denis McLoughlin was an illustrator and artist whose sixty-eight year career bought him little fame. Denis's work had been criminally ignored until the 1970s. A handful of collectors recognised his talents and they, thankfully, were vocal in their praise of his talents. Indeed, for such a minor figure in the world of art, Denis McLoughlin has been the subject of a surprising number of booklets in the past, from Francis Hertzberg's duplicated fanzine Illustrated by d. mcloughlin (1978), which he later expanded into the book The Master of Light & Shade (1995), to Dave Nicholson's The Life and Art of Denis McLoughlin (1993) and David Ashford's The Hardboiled Art of Denis McLoughlin (1994). I have done my little bit to champion Denis, with articles in The Book & Magazine Collector, Paperback Parade and elsewhere... to be honest, he was such a nice guy you wanted to let people know.

McLoughlin was a welcome guest at London book fairs, a short, energetic Lancastrian even in his seventies who cheerfully signed books for fans who sought out his illustrations for annuals and hardbacked books from fifty years past. He had a no-nonsense approach to his work; maintaining a 50-60 hour, six-day working week, which he only slowed down in the 1990s.

Denis's hardcore following cherished his work, discussed and dissected it in the pages of magazines in the UK and USA, where Tom Lesser championed his work; in more recent years Matthew Gore brought his work to the attention of a new generation on the internet via his much-visited web-site.

The Art of Denis McLoughlin is the book that Denis deserved. 272 pages of full-colour at long last shows off his artwork the way it should be seen, displayed in a coffee-table-sized book. Early chapters include autobiographical reminiscences by Denis about his early life and work, illustrated with some astonishing photographs of the murals Denis painted during his wartime service. Even as Denis served his time as an ack-ack gunner, he was earning a little on the side drawing covers and joke books for London publishers. It's a delight to see so many of these early books illustrated as they're now extremely scarce.

However, for most people, the centrepiece of the book will be the pages dedicated to Denis's days working for T. V. Boardman. Publisher of the Bloodhound Books line of crime novels, Denis would draw some 700 dustjackets, plus scores of paperback and magazine covers for Boardman between 1945 and 1967. Early books featured fully air-brushed art (around 1957, the colour was reduced to save money) and were mostly in coloured inks, poster colour and coloured pencils – a particularly effective mixture in annuals. Later books were pen and ink drawings, another cost-cutting decision, but McLoughlin was able to get the maximum potential from each medium.

Over the years, his work ranged from fully painted action illustrations to minimalist designs. He was not frightened to experiment with layouts, incorporate photographs or mix realism and metaphor. With his brother Colin and wife Dorothy, Denis often acted out scenes for reference photographs, and all three were the stars of more than one cover. This aspect of Denis's work is explored in the book with photographs juxtaposed with Denis's finished covers.

One must not forget that Denis was also the artist of a series of Buffalo Bill annuals and comic strips; these, too, are covered in depth. There's even a complete early "Roy Carson" strip for you to marvel at.

The Art of Denis McLoughlin is a fine tribute to the man and his art.

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