Comic artist Mike Noble passed away on November 15th, aged 88. For over five decades, often uncredited, he produced some of the most dynamic and colourful artwork imaginable. Arguably the king of tv tie-ins, Noble breathed new life into Fireball Xl5, Star Trek, Zero-X, Follyfoot, Timeslip, Space:1999, The Tomorrow People, The Lone Ranger, and Worzel Gummidge. He also drew the artwork for Susan Starr of The Circus, a serial segment of the BBC tv series Zokko!
Mike Noble began his illustrating career in advertising and also drew for magazines such as John Bull, Home Notes, Woman, Woman’s Own, Weekend, and Titbits. His first published comic strip was Simon and Sally for Eagle’s younger sibling Robin. He would move onto The Lone Ranger and Tonto for Express Weekly and then Range Rider for TV Comic.
Even if his name wasn’t on the page for a generation or two, we knew Noble’s art when we saw it. Certainly for me, his vision of Fireball XL5 is the definitive version. When I originally saw the tv show it was being displaced by Stingray, and my ITV region preferred the submarine to the spaceship, but Steve Zodiac and his crew lived on in the pages of TV Century 21, navigating civil war among the Astrans, giant insects, invaders from Volcanus, killer snowmen, time travel, the threat of Damacles and disgruntled trainee astronauts who pretty much wrecked Fireball on a distant planet. Essential reading every week.
The TV Century 21 version of Fireball XL5 abandons the puppet proportions of the characters, forgot about the oxygen pills and went for all-out action. Working from Alan Fennell’s scripts, Noble imbued the ship with a kinetic force that made every ray blast, every explosion jump. He carried this into Zero-X, the spin-off from the movie Thunderbirds Are Go and then into Captain Scarlet who had a bit more fizz on the comic page than he did on the television.
Although they were painted in colour, some of Noble’s Fireball XL5 was reproduced in black and white for Polystyle’s Countdown/TV Action and they lose none of the dynamism. They might even be a little moodier.
Some of his Zero-X strips were a touch surreal with reanimated skeleton dinosaurs and mind-controlling planets that turn their victims into cylopean-drones.
Noble took over Star Trek when it became TV21's cover feature in its twilight years. However, he soon followed Alan Fennell to the newly launched Look-In, the self-styled Junior TV Times. In the glossy new comic, he drew Timeslip as a more traditional adventure serial than the tv show that inspired it. This was followed by Folyfoot, The Adventures of Black Beauty and a host of other strips such as Space:1999. He would return to the world of Gerry Anderson in the late Eighties providing posters for Fleetway’s line of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet reprint comics.