A Talented Life On The Drawing Board

The Sun Herald

Sunday November 1, 1992


SYDNEY artist Keith Chatto, who died last week, drew more comic strips than most people read in a lifetime.

Mr Chatto, 67, died after a long battle with cancer but his most recent creation, Kane, will continue to run in The Sun-Herald for the next 18 months, thanks to the sheer volume of work he produced.

Many readers will recall some of his earlier works that littered comic books and newspapers during the 1950s and 60s, including Captain Midnight, Buck Davies Rides Again, El Lobo, The Lone Wolf as well as his ghosting of John Dixon's Air Hawk.

Most recently he had begun drawing the local edition of Falk's The Phantom, the first Australian awarded the honour.

Chatto's widow Jean said drawing and cinematography were the two creative passions of a very crowded life.

"Keith's father used to work at the old Smith's Weekly and took him along there as a child," said Mrs Chatto, of Kogarah, in Sydney's south.

"One of the first things they did was let him sit in on the life classes to draw at a very tender age. Soon he was drawing constantly and fellow artist Jim Russell was there to provide the encouragement.

"I think Jim had just started The Potts and he inspired Keith to draw cartoons. He was hooked.

"World War II intervened and Keith joined the RAAF, initially to train as a commando, but as soon as they found out he could draw they made a very logical decision. They had him working producing manuals.

"It was only when Keith was discharged that he went back to the sort of drawing he really wanted to do, and by the time he was in full swing so was the boom in comic books and newspaper cartoon strips."

The first break came when he approached The Sydney Morning Herald with an idea for a cartoon called Destiny Scott. The Herald accepted it and in 1947 he submitted another story to the Allied Authors and Artists group about a character called Bunny Allen.

This, too, was accepted and Keith Chatto had at last embarked on a career that was to prove at times as fulfilling as it was controversial.

He is still regarded as the creator of the world's first official nudist strip titled, unassumingly enough, John and Mary.

This was included in a club magazine produced by the Ashworth Group and although the chief censor's office cleared that production, they forced the closure of two strips because of the perceived violent nature of the protagonists.

According to Jim Russell, a man equally famous for his work on The Potts series as well as the early Fatty Finn, the secret to Chatto's style was simple.

"He had an eye for a good line," Russell said, "and a very good talent at drawing women. Some of his strips, like Glamour Girl and Wanda Dare, were good examples of his art. I don't mean to say he was a 'perve', or anything like that, but he captured women well.

"You've also got to realise his talent wasn't just restricted to his drawing. He was a very, very accomplished film cameraman and documentary maker who used to do stringing work for the major television networks.

"Back then in the 60s when television news was shot on film stock, he'd always have a Bolex camera ready to rush off and cover a fire or an accident or something.

"At the same time he was developing those skills he was turning out comic strips at a time when comic strips were the making of a newspaper.

"In the past few years he had done some great work on The Phantom as well as Mandrake, in both cases being one of the few people in the world authorised to draw these characters.

"In fact, the last three Phantom comics came from his pen, from the cover all the way through. That put Keith in a league of his own."

© 1992 The Sun Herald

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