Thursday, December 04, 2008

Jim Cawthorn (1929-2008)

Mike Moorcock has announced that his good friend and occasional collaborator, Jim Cawthorn, died on Tuesday, 2 December, shortly before his 79th birthday. Jim's work was inextricably linked to Mike's: the two worked together on Tarzan Adventures, the Sexton Blake Library and New Worlds; Jim produced a finely illustrated comic adaptation of The Jewel In The Skull and worked for Savoy Books.

Born on 21 December 1929, Cawthorn was a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs which led to meetings with other fans and contributions to SF fanzine Satellite in 1953/4 and to ERB fanzines, ERBania and Burroughsiana in the mid-1950s. The latter was edited by Mike Moorcock, ten years Cawthorn's junior but already about to find his way into publishing. After collaborating with Cawthorn on various fanzines (Ergo Ego, Flail, Eustace), Moorcock took over the editorship of Tarzan Adventures in 1957 and began writing his own series of sword & sorcery adventures featuring Sojan, which Cawthorn illustrated. Another Cawthorn contribution was the brief (4-part) comic strip "Planet Peril" (1958) as well as a handful of his stories featuring Handar the Red (actually, Cawthorn would later point out, a single story published in parts).

Cawthorn provided spot illustrations to the Sexton Blake Library where Moorcock was a sub-editor under Howard Baker in 1959-61, as well as collaborating with Mike on a full-length Blake novel, Caribbean Crisis (Sexton Blake Library 501, Jun 1962) published under the house name Desmond Reid.

Cawthorn became a cover and spot illustrator for New Worlds when Moorcock became editor in 1964 and continued his collaboration with Mike in a number of different magazines, ranging from Frendz, where he drew "The Sonic Assassins" (Nov 1971), based around the adventures of Hawkwind, and an Elric strip and poster which was never published as Frendz folded.

Cawthorn produced many unpublished strips, including numerous adaptations of Burroughs; amongst them was The Land That Time Forgot, which led to work on the Kevin Connor-directed movie, filmed in 1974, which he co-scripted with Moorcock. Another collaboration was The Distant Suns (Llanfynydd, Unicorn Bookshop, 1975) for which Cawthorn used the pen-name Philip James.

Over the years, Cawthorn illustrated many books, including editions of Lord of the Rings, and children's science fiction anthologies for Armada, although his most successful work was with Savoy Books in the 1970s and 1980s, including graphic novel editions of Stormbringer (1976), The Jewel In The Skull (1979) and The Crystal And The Amulet (1986) and Savoy's reprints of Henry Treece. His fascination with Fantasy as a genre can be seen in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books (London, Xanadu, 1988).

In the late 1940s, Cawthorn had discovered Milton Caniff and Burne Hogarth through the pages of Star Weekly, the Canadian newspaper supplement. Hogarth was later to write of Cawthorn's Jewel In The Skull, "There is a quality here that is most compelling and fascinating. He has gone far beyond any of the existing fantasy interpretations of the cartoon heroics one finds in most book material today. He has reached a point of the unpredictable in his characterisations, his mood, his strange atmosphere and gross, brutal intensity ... He has an authentic talent."

Obituaries: {feuilleton} (John Coulthart) (4 December).

(* Illustration from The Jewel In The Skull © 1979 Savoy Books/Big O; "Sonic Assassins" © Moorcock/Cawthorn; the photo is from the Savoy Books website, which also has an extensive interview with Cawthorn by David Britton, originally published in The Jewel In The Skull.)


  1. Jim was a huge asset, first to my fanzines and then to Tarzan Adventures and so on. His style WAS considered old-fashioned by editors and hard to sell to Fleetway, but he wrote a lot of comics and features, especially for LOOK AND LEARN. Ironically, he could draw in almost any style -- witness his work for Storm Bird, Storm Dreamer in NW and various others, but PREFERRED to draw in the style you see in Stormbringer, Jewel in the Skull and so on. He was pretty obstinate about his work and ultimately this is why it has lasted so long. He actually had a psychology a bit in common with Frank Hampson's. His lifelines were essentially his style and his enthusiasms. He was a real artist and a tremendously loyal friend.

  2. Um -- that was me, Mike Moorcock back there. LOCUS will publish a more formal obituary in the next issue.



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