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February 25, 2008

Steve Whitaker, 1955-2008

imageSteve Whitaker, a well-known, well-liked and influential figure in the British small-press comics scene and a skilled artist and colorist perhaps best known for his color work on the DC Comics edition of V For Vendetta, died on Thursday, February 22 after what may have been a stroke while in a cab on his way to seek medical help. He was 52 years old.

According to his own testimony, Whitaker spent much of his early childhood split between Kent and London, and went to school in Northampton, Bedford and finally Chelsea, where he received a BA Honors Degree in Painting. After a period of what he termed "odd jobs including gardening, working in a toot shop, specialist decoration" he would eventually move into comics and build a coloring portfolio with clients including Marvel UK, Marvel, Harrier, Fleetway, Tundra, DC Comics, Valiant, and Oberon BV.

imageHis highest profile coloring jobs were with projects featuring prominent British writers, two of which were re-coloring efforts. This includes the re-packaging of the Grant Morrison/Paul Grist collaboration St. Swithin's Day, and the enormously well-received muted color work on the DC Comics edition of V For Vendetta. Whitaker was also part of the coloring team along with Nick Abadzis and John Buckle on Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's notorious New Adventures of Adolf Hitler serialized comics story. In his blog entry on Whitaker's passing, Neil Gaiman notes that Whitaker could have been the colorist on his series Sandman but failed to turn in the sample pages on time. Whitaker says in his livejournal biography that he won awards for the work on V For Vendetta and New Adventures.

imageWhitaker was also an illustrator, publishing prolifically through British amateur press outlets and fanzines where his admirers included the writer Warren Ellis. He also provided artwork to Harrier's Swiftsure in the mid-1980s and provided artwork for the first two issues of and more artwork in support of a Trident series titled Man-Elf. (A credit for some comics-property related book for the publisher Ladybird in the mid-1980s may have been art or color; the credit itself is unclear.)

imageWhitaker was also an active member of the comics-related press and heavily involved in arts-writing coverage of the comics scene. He worked on two art magazines in the 1980s, Cipher and Atlas. He was a contributor to Fantasy Advertiser and Chain Reaction. He penned obituaries for cartoonists for a variety of outlets including the Independent and the Guardian. His crowning achievement in the writing about comics was likely the publication of Encyclopedia of Cartoon Techniques in 1993 with Running Press Books. Subtitled "A Unique A-Z Directory of Cartooning Techniques, Including Guidance on How to Use Them," an edition of the book was published as recently as 2002 by David & Charles. Whitaker was a respected teacher, holding classes at the London Cartooning Centre, in workshops at comics shows, and on an informal basis in a number of places.

Judging from the initial outpouring of grief from a variety of sources upon Whitaker's passing from both friends and acquaintances, it's clear that he's remembered as much as an influential presence within the comics scene as he is for any set of surpassing works using the medium. Those tributes paint a picture of an enthusiastic, articulate friend and sometimes even mentor figure to a variety of artists and writers, a man imparting a broad range of knowledge of and passion for a wide variety of artistic expressions, including comics in a number of forms. Many of those friends and colleagues point to Whitaker's active web presence as continuing proof of his skill with and devotion to visual media.

Whitaker was an enthusiastic supporter of Oxford's alt-comics convention CAPTION and the British Amateur Press Association (B-APA), a now-disbanded organization that will reform to produce a special issue in Whitaker's honor.

posted 9:20 am PST | Permalink

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