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Monday, March 17, 2008

Walt Howarth (1928-2008)

Walt Howarth, long-time illustrator of annuals and covers for World Distributors Ltd., died on Thursday, 13 March, at the age of 80.

Walter J. Howarth was born on 1 January 1928 in Bolton, Lancashire, and began drawing as a youngster, his talents noticed as early as the age of 4. After attending Tong Fold School, he was offered a scholarship to Bolton Art School, which he attended for three years from the age of 13. His first professional sale was a cover for the Bolton's Salute to the Soldier Week programme in 1946.

A lifetime fan of Bolton Wanderers FC, Walt sent samples of his work to the club and was invited by manager Walter Rowley to meet the team; before long, Howarth's caricatures of the team were appearing on the programme cover, earning Howarth 5 shillings each week; a portrait of the whole team earned him tickets to the Wembley Cup Final between Blackpool and Bolton--a classic match which Blackpool won in the dying seconds of the game.

On leaving Art School, Walt had found work with Industrial Art Services in Manchester whose clients included World Distributors Ltd. (WDL), a leading publisher of books, annuals and comics also based in Manchester. Most of the latter were reprints of Gold Key titles and Howarth's first commission was a cover for John Wayne Adventure Comics, reprinting the American series by Toby Press. Howarth became the title's regular artist, producing 77 covers and numerous other images of Wayne for the John Wayne Adventure Annual.

Howarth's ability to capture a likeness meant that he became WDL's leading artist, producing covers for most of their annuals; as these were primarily westerns and Howarth was keen to make them as authentic as possible, he became something of an expert on costumes, weapons and other aspects of the wild west.

Working from photographs of the actors, Howarth would have his covers painted almost a year in advance of publication as they needed to be printed in time for Book Fair in January. This occasionally caused problems and one of the few covers Howarth retained was an unused cover for Wagon Train which had to be repainted when actor Ward Bond died.

As WDL expanded their output of TV related titles in the 1960s, Howarth worked on everything from action (James Bond, The Saint, The Avengers, Danger Man, Tarzan) to comedy (Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters). He became a constant watcher of television as many shows were unable to supply all the photographic reference he needed to be able to draw covers and provide all the internal illustrations for stories, features, endpapers, title and contents pages and games and puzzle pages.

Howarth continued to work via Industrial Art Services which meant he also produced material for other clients, including various jigsaw puzzles--ranging from The Beatles to Rupert the Bear--and became one of the accredited artists able to work on various Walt Disney characters.

His most collectable work is probably associated with Doctor Who; he was the main illustrator for the various Doctor Who and Dalek annuals between 1965 and 1970, as well as illustrating jigsaw puzzles. Walt was himself a collectable as he was one of the signers for the Doctor Who Trilogy autograph cards (DWT-A15) as well as producing sketch cards for the same set.

When World Distributors cut back their output in the 1970s, Howarth produced work for a variety of other companies, including jigsaws for the Hope Jigsaw Company and the BBC. In the early 1990s, he was commissioned by Ladybird Books to illustrate four Batman titles.

He retired in 1993 due to heart problems and became the landlord of the House Without a Name pub in Bradshaw, adorning the walls with his paintings. In the early 2000s he attended Memorabilia, the collector's show held at the NEC, selling prints of old artwork and new commissions, often featuring the characters his name had become most associated with. He continued to paint until two years ago when his eyesight became too poor.

Howarth, who had been diagnosed as suffering with polycistic kidneys, had been admitted to Royal Bolton Hospital with pneumonia two weeks before he died. He is survived by his wife, Renee, two sons, a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Strictly Ink had recently announced that they will be releasing a trading card set of "The Art of Walt Howarth" with a promo card already available.

Further reading:
'Doctor Who illustrator dies' by Jane Lavender (This is Lancashire, 15 March 2008)
'Walt Howarth' by Derek Wilson (Gateway, March 2006)
See also Down the Tubes tribute and Lew Stringer's tribute.

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