When I was 19 years old, I would take the Liverpool-to-Wallasey ferry across the Mersey each day to go to work as the assistant to a commercial artist, Dennis Collins. In those days before the computer, Dennis was good at everything: hand-lettering, design and layout, illustration in watercolor and gouache. He understood color. He was equally at home with the brush or pen and ink. He could draw the figure without reference as well as most did later, after the Polaroid was invented. He was amazingly fast in anything he tackled, and he not only satisfied clients, he delighted them.
Today in the day of the scanner, the computer and Adobe Illustrator, when I think what expert forgery goes on with their help in the world today, it seems amazing what Dennis Collins did during WWII. He and a group of fellow artists huddled in a country mansion on the Welsh border working for the British Secret Service. There, Dennis told me, they literally hand lettered every word of passports and other identity papers for use by British agents and escapees from Nazi POW camps as they were smuggled through occupied Europe to freedom.
He was my first mentor, and taught me art skills that I still use today. But not only that, he taught me everyday skills like dealing with a bank and other such matters. He enhanced my knowledge of music; introducing me to Poulenc and Delius, Ibert and Rodrigo and Shostakovich and other 'moderns'. He wrote a book, explaining a new language devised by George Bernard Shaw, entirely by hand, because it used new characters for which there was no typeface yet. Dennis played the piano and painted beautifully. He wrote poetry in English and Welsh that attracted the attention of scholars. For the fun of it, he even drew pictures on an old manual typewriter. Once, he typed portraits of The Queen of England and of Prince Phillip, reproductions of which eventually ended up in the Royal collection! Dennis was amazing.
I was with Dennis for one year and eventually I emigrated to the United States, where I still happily live today, and I lost touch with Dennis. At one point, I was able to send him a gift recording of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, which he had played for me. There was a brief and beautiful flurry of correspondence in which he refused my belief that I owed so much to him. Then I moved and we lost touch again. It was just before losing touch, that he told me of his comic strip The Perishers which he drew for 26 years. He told me that he thought the strip would be sinecure but had found himself working harder than ever. Upon retiring, the Cartoonists Club of G.B. gave him a plaque as Humorous Strip Cartoonist of 1983.
He lived in the little town of Upton on the Wirral with his wife and daughter. Dennis Collins was undoubtedly my most unforgettable character. I shall always be grateful to him.
Eric Hall, USA
Dennis Collins describes his part in the genesis of The Perishers on the Authenic Perishers web site.