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Millar Watt Cartoonist

Millar Watt with an illustration for Sphere,

London, 1922

WELCOME to this site featuring the comic strip POP and its pioneering creator John Millar Watt.

 

Millar Watt, as he was known, was an artist whose work encompassed four genres of commercial and fine art : cartooning, illustration, advertising and painting. 

His cartoon creation POP was lauded “The Champagne of British humour” making loyal fans amongst readers of the British tabloid Daily Sketch from its introduction in May 1921 and worldwide thereafter, as syndication brought POP to readerships around the globe from 1929 until the 'paper's demise in the early 1970s.

Millar's daily drawing of POP's exploits engaged his daily readers on a universally shared theme - that observation of the ebb and flow of life that is not uncommon among artists.  He also managed to keep up an equally demanding career in commercial illustration and advertising which kept him busy at his drawing board well into retirement.  In this way Millar's work was inspired by, and drew inextricably upon life with his wife and children, later grandchildren, and the work of three generations of his artist family also features in these pages.

Millar Watt cartoons

John Millar Watt and steed, Amiens, France 1917.  Millar recalled that his horse bolted when the flash-bulb exploded for this photograph.

Born in 1895, Millar was of that era of young men and women whose early careers and aspirations were cast aside in favour of war service.  Millar served on the front lines of the French and Italian Fronts throughout World War One. 

 

Upon his return from war, he reentered the bustling, burgeoning crush of London's Fleet Street.  Millar resumed his apprenticeship in a leading advertising agency, recalling being given all the research jobs the other artists did not want.  At lunchtimes he was amused when artists vied for tables with the boys from the printing houses at the cheap and cheerful cafe Lockharts, Millar remembered how the waiters yelled the orders down the dumb-waiter shaft in Italian-Cockney.  He answered an advert in the Times newspaper by the editors of the ’Sketch, who sought to rival the popular  cartoon feature of their chief competitor the Daily Mirror.  

Millar Watt Strip Cartoons
Millar Watt Art
08-32 Cover You'll Never Part with This.

Cover of the 1932 POP annual. 

Each Summer Millar selected 100 or so strips from his originals that year for publication in the POP annuals, which went on sale each November.  He had fun drawing these covers adding quips that highlighted his character's many attributes

My Wife.  Oil on canvas board by Millar Watt. 

The pottery vase reappears in Louise's painting of hydrangea blooms.

Millar’s chief motivation was to enhance his earnings as an apprentice designer in the advertising industry and fledgling illustrator of periodicals.

Also, he wanted to marry his sweetheart, the painter Amy Watt.

Amy Watt artist

When first married, Amy Watt modelled for this 1924 Sphere cover by Millar Watt.

Amy Sewing.  The Studio, Dedham

Oil on canvas.  Millar Watt c1927

Millar was one of the few cartoonists who drew his cartoon strip single-handed.  Many British and American cartoonists drew in teams, sharing the work of collecting material for jokes and the drawing too. 

 

Throughout his life he worked as a freelance artist, working first from a studio in Fleet Street then from home in Essex.

 

POP was demanded six days a week plus extra work for children’ supplements in the Sunday edition.  Yet, he found the time to keep up his obligation to draw POP and to keep current in his first career of illustration and advertising design.

Much later, when commercial work took precedence, Millar made a final decision to stop drawing POP for the 'Sketch.  

In his long career post-POP he produced designs for many household brands, including Sainsbury's, Shell,  Cherry Blossom boot polish, Rowntree’s sweets, an iconic sunburst-motif for Sunblest bread whose derivative is still emblazoned on bakery lorries today, and a long-standing campaign for Ben Truman IPA.

This aspect of his work is featured here.

Amy Watt Artist
Millar Watt Cartoonist

 

Millar and Amy made their first move to their own home, a modernist, grand-design of a house whose main feature was a first floor studio with vast windows overlooking the same views of Dedham Vale that Constable had painted.  Studio space was a feature in a succession of homes that supported and encouraged the art of his family : wife Amy Watt, daughter Mary and always a large walled garden to corral their younger son George.  Even his granddaughter Louise was fascinated by Millar’s illustrative work that kept him busy well into retirement.

Millar was less well known as a fine art painter, although whenever he could find time to try, his paintings were hung in the Summer Exhibition and local art shows. 

 

There are notably longer records of participation at both St Ives and Ipswich Art Club shows.  As a youth before the First World War he made extended study of classical and world art, and was quietly expert in the methods of Old Master painters.  His own life-sized copy of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne hung in the family dining room for decades.

 

Millar Watt

Broadsheet advertisement for Shell, 1961.

Advertising and illustration work post-WWII increased when Millar gave up drawing POP.

The common denominator in his work across all four genres of commercial and fine art was his ability to create sustained interest and richness both in mono’ and colour work.  He retained always, the enthusiasm for illustrating the texts he was first given as a young man, and he eventually specialised in illustrating historical fiction both for adult and younger readerships.  

He was meticulous with research in a pre-digital age; and this enriched the compositional grace and authenticity of each artwork. The scintillating colour he used was highly effective; long admired and much emulated by successive generations of action strip artists.  That thrill of visual abundance that was so intrinsic to Millar's work is evident still, from adventure artwork to animated movies.

Millar Watt Artist

 

Rookery Farm.  Both Millar and Amy found their neighbour’s farm buildings and the Vale of ancient trees a compelling study in paint.  This painting in the Public Collection

Millar Watt Robin Hood Adventure Books

Millar’s illustrations for the Robin Hood adventure books of the 1950s are widely used to date, in licensing sales worldwide.

Millar Watt WattPOP

Tributes to the creator of POP

 from friends and cartoonists published in a double page spread Daily Sketch c1946

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