Keith Chatto, Australian illustrator and cartoonist
1924 - 1992
Australian illustrator and cartoonist
Greg Ray
Page updated 11th December, 2007.
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KEITH Chatto was one of Australia's most prolific illustrators and cartoonists in the post World War 2 period. He is variously remembered for being the first Australian artist to illustrate a full-length comic episode of The Phantom, for his Skippy the Bush Kangaroo comics, for his myriad pulp fiction covers, his original cartoon titles and for his abiding interest in "glamour" illustration.

Ronald Keith Chatto was born in 1924. He studied in Sydney, where Jim Russell of Smith's Weekly is said to have encouraged him to take art classes. He apparently worked for Greater Union Theatres art department and drew recognition charts for the Air Training Corps before joining the RAAF.

During the Second World War he served first as a trainee telegraphist and later as a draughtsman. He worked for a time in RAAF headquarters illustrating air training magazines and booklets, later moving to the Directorate of Education illustrating pamphlets, magazines and posters. Describing his time in Western Queensland after the war he wrote (in an article in Flame magazine) of "designing and painting murals in a welfare canteen" and running a beauty contest, "painting a portrait of the winning WAAF which was ultimately presented to her".

Drawing women definitely appealed to Chatto, as his later career demonstrated.

In an autobiographical article in the lurid 1970s Australian men's magazine Flame, Chatto described how, on discharge from the RAAF, he submitted an idea for a comic strip called Destiny Scott to The Sydney Morning Herald. This was accepted and published.
"A year later," he wrote, "I began work on a fictionalised version of the life of Sir Francis Drake called the Sea Dog. This was bought by The Herald, but to my knowledge never published.
"In 1947 I submitted a story to the Allied Authors and Artists Group which published comic books and magazines. The name of the character was Bunny Allen and she was a country girl, well endowed for her sixteen years who had adventures in the country and city areas and appeared monthly in Tex Morton's Wild West comic.
This ran for several years and was popular. It was also the first comic to be drawn in line and tone. This came about when the publishers decided to go to an offset process and in order to make the comic more realistic, like photographs, I added half tones. Also in 1947, I drew a comic character called Captain Midnight for Fatty Finn's comic, another of the Allied Authors and Artists stable.

Also in 1947 Chatto became resident or staff artist for The Australian Sunbather, a nudist magazine, published by Ashworth Publications. Apart from doing the layout, illustrated headings, retouching of photographs, he dabbled in photography and produced two nudist comic strips. One told the story of "John and Mary Moore" – a suburban couple who go bush in their birthday suits and encounter snakes, sharks and rich yachtsmen with pretty daughters. The other strip was called "Pages from a Naturist Diary".

1948 saw "The Buccaneer", also drawn for Fatty Finn's comic, "The Glamor Girl" (a story about the adventures of a model) for Cooee comic. 1949 saw "Buck Davey Rides Again", a comic based on the radio character created by Jack Davey, the radio star of the 40s and 50s.

"About this time I began illustrating magazine stories for periodicals published by Associated General Publications, the forerunner of the Horwitz publishing group," Chatto wrote.
"During 1949-50, a Melbourne publisher, Atlas Publications, commissioned me to create a western Character for a comic book, I called it The Lone Wolf. This was the first time I was responsible for a whole book, from the cover to all its contents. This character continued for several years and was relatively popular

In 1954 another Victorian publisher, Larry Cleland Publishing Co., commissioned Chatto to produce a full 32 page comic book on a detective character of his own devising named Steven Carlisle.

"From the very start it was to run into censor troubles because of its sophisticated theme and drawings. Despite being held up by Melbourne University as fine example of Australian publishing and art, it came to an end some seven issues later. It was a pity, because I had enjoyed producing the magazine and it was a first of its type. Perhaps a little too far advanced for its time, though it carried as a centre spread an education feature, on printing, publishing, photography etc., but in those days censorship was at its most ridiculous stage. Comics were intensely screened, as were other magazines by the civic fathers.

"Violence, and remember this was a detective story, could not be portrayed in detail ... guns could be drawn, but must not be shown exploding. A stabbing or any of the natural action that one would expect from a detective story continuously ran into censor troubles. The Lone Wolf began running into the same restrictive thinking and slowly the comic hey-day began to deteriorate."

Chatto became disillusioned and switched to other forms of illustration including record sleeves and covers for pulp novels, which he churned out at the rate of up to six a week by the mid-1950s. Cleveland Publishing commissioned him to illustrate a radio serial called "The Twilight Ranger" and then another western hero called "El Lobo, the Man from Nowhere".

As comics and cartooning declined as a money-making field, Chatto diversified into photographic - mainly girlie pictures.

When television appeared it immediately captured Chatto's imagination and he began to involve himself in filming and film production.

In the mid-1960s he was commissioned by Page Publications to provide covers for American and English comic and pulp titles to which they had reprint rights. This arrangement saw him produce a wide variety of covers for everything from crosswords to romance, detective stories and westerns – not to mention his beloved girlie pictures.

Chatto always wanted to publish something really raunchy, and Flame magazine provided him the opportunity, commissioning him to draw a full-colour, full-page strip called "Flame and Ash", a swinging 1970s couple.

"It was my feeling that the subject matter should be approached with humour in mind and situations contrived with tongue well and truly in cheek," he wrote.
"As far as I am concerned, the old days when many Australian artists lived drawing comic strips either for newspapers or comic books are just that . . . the old days, and I doubt if we will ever see their like again."

Flame and Ash was followed by "Randy and Cee Cee" in Flame's stablemate Fury.

Keith Chatto kept working well into his old age and he died in 1992 at the age of 58. #

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