RON TURNER (1922 - 1998)
A Short Biography
Born in 1922, Ron Turner's interest in science fiction (sf) began with the novels of H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and film classics such as Metropolis and Things to Come. The Flash Gordon serials, together with the Alex Raymond comic strip, also made a great impression, but it was the covers of the American sf pulps, such as Amazing and Astounding which had the most significant impact, encouraging Turner to copy them and develop his interest in art.
In 1936, Turner started work at Odhams art studios in London as a trainee artist, but within two years was providing illustrations for MODERN WONDER, their scientific and technical magazine, until his call-up into the army in 1940 put a temporary halt to his artistic career. When he returned to Odhams in the late 40's, he discovered that many of his colleagues were involved in freelance work for several of the small-time publishers that had 'mushroomed' overnight. One of these was Scion Ltd of Kensington, and Turner decided to try his hand at stripwork for their BIG series of comics. His contributions were mainly sf-related stories concerning The Atomic Mole, a burrowing machine which carried a small crew to investigate the subterranean worlds beneath the Earth's surface.
Turner's natural flair for the genre was noted however, and when the company began producing sf paperbacks, there was no doubt as to their choice of cover artist. As a result, Turner began supplying some beautifully painted covers for their VARGO STATTEN series written by British author, John Russell Fearn. The books were an immediate success with the colourful covers actually presenting scenes from the story, rather than the stock-in-trade method of showing spacemen, rockets and monsters in some conventional scene. The cover art for the series soon brought Turner to the attention of other publishers, and when in 1953 he was taking on more work than he could handle, he decided to leave Odhams Press and turn freelance.
Turner also had a great admiration for Dan Dare artist, Frank Hampson, and like him wanted to produce his own regular comic strip. The opportunity came in late 1953 when he was providing covers for the 64 page TIT-BITS SF NOVELS. Turner's suggestion for a comic was taken up by it's publisher, provided it could be produced to the same digest-size format as the novels. Turner agreed, and the TIT-BITS SF COMICS series was launched, but he had bitten off more than he could chew. In his enthusiasm to provide scripts, lettering and covers in addition to the stripwork, Turner had overlooked the time element and 64 pages a month soon became a difficult target to achieve. Although other artists were drafted in to help, this defeated Turner's objective of producing his own comic and, reluctantly, the series was abandoned after only seven issues. But Turner had proved to himself that he was capable of producing the type of work he enjoyed and found less demanding work on Space Ace for LONE STAR comics. Again he would write and letter the stories, but at 4 pages a month, the deadline was much easier to achieve.
In late 1954, Fleetway's SUPER-DETECTIVE LIBRARY which had been running sf stories, began a series called Rick Random - Space Detective and editor, Ted Holmes, impressed with Turner's work, decided to try him out on the character. With the many design opportunities for spacecraft and machines, Turner soon warmed to the series and gradually began to make it his own, adding new ideas to the artwork to improve the story. In this, Turner had found the ideal comic strip. No longer did he have to provide covers, scripts and lettering but simply to produce the artwork for well-written stories, which he would enhance as he felt necessary. The series lasted five years, and together with Space Ace, represents some of his finest work of the 50's.
In the 60's, future-related stories gave way to the past, with war-related material such as Scoop Donovan for FILM FUN and John Steel-Special Agent, as the replacement for Rick Random in SUPER-DETECTIVE LIBRARY. Turner's work on sf covers had long-since finished but there was more coverwork in the offing with PRACTICAL MECHANICS magazine. The covers sometimes required a speculative, scientific or astronomical cover and Turner provided plenty of eye-catching examples.
In the mid-sixties, Turner was given the opportunity to provide original paintings for the firm of CRAFTMASTER, the paint-by-numbers company, and was quite content to leave the publishing world of books and comics with their relentless deadlines to others. But in 1965 he was tempted by an invitation to work on The Daleks for TV21 comic. This would be the first colour comic strip Turner had ever worked on and although it would also be time-consuming, he found he couldn't turn down the opportunity to draw sf again. The result was some of the most stunning work he'd produced for years. Having only the Daleks to portray accurately, the rest was a tour-de-force of his prolific imagination with the design of spacecraft, machines and strange creatures, set against fantastic backdrops. Left to his own devices, layouts and colour techniques were also given consideration as he experimented with different presentations of overlapping frames, open frames and almost three-dimensional ones as spaceships blasted out of the page towards the reader.
In 1967, The Daleks were finally exterminated, at least from the pages of TV21, and Turner found fresh work at Fleetway, taking over on a strip called The Robot Builders for TIGER & HURRICANE. Although relatively juvenile in its storylines, it had plenty of imaginative ideas for Turner to work on and in lieu of colour he experimented with many unusual angles in which to present the stories. But in 1968, TV21 came knocking once more, this time for strips based on their definitive series, Thunderbirds. The work was for a Summer Special but ultimately lead to related strips and over the next few years he worked exclusively on all the Gerry Anderson annuals including Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.
The 70's saw Turner providing a great deal of juvenile material for IPC's new run of 'funnies' such as WHIZZER & CHIPS with strips including Wondercar, Archie's Angels and Danny Drew's Dialling Man. It wasn't until the latter part of the decade that he was able to return to a more mature type of strip with Judge Dredd for the early issues of 2000 AD.
Unfortunately Turner's clean, streamlined version of Dredd didn't sit well with the new generation of dark, gritty, cyberpunk artists and his time on the strip was short-lived. But from this he went on to IPC's war comic, BATTLE-ACTION and a strip called Spinball Wars which provided more futuristic, motor-cycling action. When later storylines involved robots and aliens, Turner was given more freedom of expression to incorporate into the fast-paced action of the strip.
The 80's started well with Turner's full colour strip, Journey to the Stars, for the new IPC weekly, SPEED, but with comic sales declining in favour of an increasing interest in home computer games, comics soon began to get cancelled and SPEED was one of the first victims. Turner continued with work on comics such as WAR and BATTLE PICTURE LIBRARY, but their days were also numbered and when they finally concluded their run in 1984, Turner decided to retire from professional work.
But this was far from the end. Turner's career was rescued by myself and my good friend and colleague, Phil Harbottle. We both wanted to see Turner return to drawing sf so between us we devised a new space hero called Nick Hazard; a cross between Dan Dare and Rick Random. Phil prepared the scripts, I edited them and Turner agreed to draw them. They were issued in small, digest-size format but later, when accepted for American distribution, published in the traditional comic-book format. Later titles included Kalgan The Golden, an adaptation of an E.C. Tubb classic short story and a strip version of The Golden Amazon by John Russell Fearn.
In the 90's Turner returned to producing sf covers, this time for American publisher, Gary Lovisi's, GRYPHON BOOKS with stories by E.C. Tubb and significantly, for John Russell Fearn with his 'magnum opus' the Golden Amazon novels. Back producing some of his best sf work for years, Turner also returned to paint a new Daleks strip, written by myself for DR WHO magazine and there were plans for many more book covers. Regrettably, it wasn't to be. Towards the end of 1998, Turner suffered a stroke, later followed by a heart attack and died a few weeks later on 19th December.
Ron Turner was a remarkable artist with an incredible imagination. Together with Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, and Ron Embleton, he was one of the few post-war artists whose work inspired and continues to influence many artists today. A true original, he leaves behind an amazing legacy of comic strips and cover illustrations which confirm his reputation as one of the great masters of sf art.
© JOHN LAWRENCE 2002
FOR SALE !!!
Please note that John Lawrence does have some spare copies of the Nick Hazard and Kalgan comics (published by Phil Harbottle and John) available for sale, price £3.50 each including p&p. Please click here and we will forward your enquiry/order to John.
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