ARTIST OF THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE 1979-80 ANNUALS, ACTIVITY & COLOURING BOOKS AND MORE
Many fans of the Rev. W. Awdry’s Railway Series will be familiar with the early Thomas the Tank Engine annuals published by World Distributors in 1979 and 1980. The content for these annuals were in large part influenced by the Reverend himself.
You would have also been enthralled by the artwork gracing these two volumes, all drawn and brilliantly illustrated by Edgar A. Hodges. The quality and detail Edgar’s put into these illustrations has not gone unnoticed by fans of his work – for example, Thomas blowing smoke rings adds a really charming touch to the character. Had the Reverend continued the Railway Series beyond Tramway Engines and the Edwards unavailable, one can easily visualize Edgar’s artwork being featured in the stories.
Edgar’s illustrative work, as we’ve discovered, extends far beyond the Thomas annuals, delving into subject matter as varied as they come and spanning a period of several decades. SiF is both chuffed and grateful to have been given the opportunity to ask Edgar a few questions about his artistic contributions, and to be able to share his fascinating insight with Thomas fans young and old.
I would also like to extend my warmest thanks to Joan McCarthy for facilitating this interview, and to Ron Horabin for initially putting me in touch with Edgar
~ with James Gratton, 10 July, 2008
A few of Edgar s other Thomas contributions: Famous Engines activity, sticker and colouring books
Edgar, can you tell us a bit about yourself - Where you were born, went to school, became interested in illustration and of your career as a freelance artist and other work?
Born in 1928 in the cotton town of Bolton Lancashire. I had the usual childhood education until I took an Art exam age 13 – passing easily (thankfully!) due to an interest in drawing and painting from a very early age.
Edgar Hodges at age 13 - Winner of an Art Competition held at the Bolton Municipal School of Art circa 1941. Photo courtesy Edgar Hodges to SiF
As you realize the ones (photos) when I was 13 years old were taken by the Newspaper office on me winning the competition prize at the Art School. They were taken in the early forties, as lots of Cities and Towns in those awful days were opening their own British Restaurants virtually giving food away.
I became an Art Student for three years and then went to work in Manchester at 16+ to help support my widowed mother and two sisters.
At 18 I did National Service in the Army Medical Corps for 3 years where they also took advantage of the fact that I could draw by asking me to provide promotional advertising for service dances etc. and then – would you believe it, they made me Northern Command Sign Writer! A brilliant start to an artistic career!
On demob I went back to Manchester this time to work in a small advertising agency. These were happy formative years continually learning various art techniques which enabled me to use many different styles needed for any commission that we were presented with.
In the middle 1950s I joined a studio of some dozen artists who had many skills whom I felt privileged to join. Our tasks involved working on anything from huge 20/30 ft Murals down to toffee wrappers and anything in between! I stayed at the Industrial Art Services (IAS) studio until 1967 when I was asked to join World Distributors (WD) a Manchester publishing company which had provided the artists at IAS with some years of work.
Edgar at work at Industrial Art Services circa 1950s
Photo courtesy Edgar Hodges to SiF
As you can see, these photos were taken in the Manchester studio of Industrial Art Services in the 1950's and 1960's. Out of interest, these offices eventually were rebuilt and became the Hacienda club which had an excellent reputation in Manchester.
Edgar at the drawing board with IAS, Manchester during the 1960s
Photo courtesy Edgar Hodges to SiF
I made the move and worked in that studio and also at home for all of the later years. All the artists in WD had many annuals to work on; indeed we completed some 50 or more a year.
It seems long ago now and I can’t remember just how many I worked on – we all enjoyed our illustrative work and would often forget break times and just carry on working!
Can you tell us how you became involved with illustrating the 1979 and 1980 Thomas the Tank Engine Annuals?
The Thomas the Tank Engine annuals came my way due to my interest in steam trains, indeed I would go off into the countryside at any opportunity to photograph the fast diminishing steam trains and prowl around engine sheds, or just go off to the Moors and listen to the chuffing of distant engines and record their sound – happiness personified!!
Did you have any prior knowledge of the Rev. Wilbert Awdry's Railway Series books and characters?
I knew the Rev. W. Awdry from my work on the annuals and the activity books. He was a very friendly man and had great patience in going through my artwork, somewhat meticulously! If I made a mistake then he would be blamed for inadequate checking, thankfully I didn’t have too many corrections, I too tried to be meticulous!
One of several photos taken by Edgar that are featured in the annuals
I visited him at his home many times and Mrs. Awdry provided us with some excellent lunches. His house was called “Sodor” after his fictional island – as you would guess. I took photos of him and his layouts and he told me many fascinating stories of his lifelong activities, religious and railways, the latter with a distinct twinkle in his eye!
Did you also illustrate the activity games in the Thomas annuals?
Yes, I did illustrate the Activity games and colouring pages. My Style was based on, probably, an amalgam of all the previous artists to myself, sometimes the more simple pictures of Reginald Dalby and John Kenney and then the more technical work of Gunvor and Peter Edwards would come through.
For the amount of artistic detail included in the Thomas Annuals, how long did it take you to complete them?
Difficult to say how long the Annual drawings took, you pressed on as hard as you could as an employee, having Printers deadlines and also exhibitions to consider.
Were you provided with any guidance or reference materials (railway photos etc) to inspire your illustrations for the stories and articles?
Yes I did have some reference provided, but mainly, once a subject was chosen for a feature or strip then the Rev. would let me research it, and then he and I would go through it together.
Would you recall if there was a Thomas the Tank Engine Annual in the works for 1981? (After the 1980 Annual, there were no further annuals until 1985!)
I don’t think that any Thomas the Tank Engine annuals were published, at least not by World Distributors after the 1980 one. I left the company at that time having become satiated by the years at the drawing board. In 1980 I went to Italy for a spell on my own with no knowledge of the country, but with the thought that some adventures awaited me out there which had to be different to life in Manchester. The thought became a reality and I had some wonderful months there doing a lot of sketching and learning a lot from the making of many friendships. My home has many of the sketches framed on the walls and I look at them with fond memories.
As an artist, did you have a choice with World Distributors for the types of projects to work on?
Yes, I did have a choice in subjects illustrated at World. The studio manager and I had been great friends for years – Mr Ron Smethurst – was a brilliant illustrator in his own right, so his knowledge of myself and of course the other artists told him who would enjoy which subject or character the most and therefore give of their best.
Can you tell us about your other artistic contributions?
Other annuals were titled “Dad’s Army”, “The Bobbsey Twins”, “Daktari”, “Tarzan”, “Mork and Mindy”, “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo”, “Postman Pat”, “Buck Rogers”, “Metal Mickey”, “All Creatures Great and Small”, “Barbie”, “Kojak”, “Space 1999”, “Charlies Angels”, “Man from Uncle”, “Star Trek”, “Mission Impossible”, “The Wombles”, “Doctor Who”… Oh, and heaps of others.
Full Annuals or sometimes just a couple of stories included with other artists’ work.
A few of the UK Annuals featuring Edgar Hodge's artwork
Images courtesy Edgar Hodges to SiF
In between the annuals there were colouring books, activity books and sticker fun books etc., plus jigsaws. Not forgetting pocket books which we did many cover designs for, then there were the cartoon characters e.g. Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny etc., being either Warners or MGM characters and countless scores of others.
I have also attached some photos I took of boxed jigsaws that I did in the 1970's, they were published by Whitman except for the two smaller ones which were published by a Stockport Manchester company for whom I did many other pieces of work - too many to remember.
A few lovely examples of Edgar's railway artwork featured in jigsaw puzzles.
Images courtesy Edgar Hodges to SiF
I wonder where your original artwork ended up for those. They would all make beautiful framed prints. Would you be able to tell me a little more about painting them?
Regarding the artwork used for the Steam Train Jigsaws which I did for Whitmans. These were done when I was with World Distributors, therefore the original artwork belonged to them and alas as does very often happen, somebody in management says "I can imagine that on my wall - thank you very much" and so it disappears!
The subjects I chose for the paintings where those which would have most impact and interest for people who would like trains as a subject for their jigsaws. The only railway artwork I possess is a painting I did (22.5"x30") of a freight train leaving Oxenholme Cumbria for stations north. In the past it has been on exhibition but no purchasers appeared!! Who knows, this was 35 years ago and somebody out there might like it on their wall now!!
Painted by Edgar Hodges, No. 43005 heading north from Oxenholme, Cumbria
Ohoto courtesy Edgar Hodges to SiF
I know of several Dr. Who fans who would like to hear about your contributions to the early Dr. Who annuals!
Do you know, I can’t remember just how much I was involved in Dr Who – I don’t think very much, I’d have to look at a drawing and decide if I’d done it or not. For each artist knows their own work.
Edgar Hodges is credited with drawing, inking and colouring two comic strip stories from the 1975 Dr. Who Annual: Dead on Arrival (panel seen above) and After the Revolution.
Another good friend, Mr Walter Howarth, who also worked IAS and very much for World Distributors, probably did more Dr Who work than I did. He and I were lifelong friends, born within 13 days of each other, lived close by and went to the same schools, passed the same scholarships and spent a lifetime drawing and painting nearby. Alas! He has died just recently and I can verify the amount of people living today that enjoyed his work and can’t believe he is no longer with us.
I also noticed that you illustrated several covers of the Wombles books. Can you tell us the background story for those projects?
Yes, I did work on “The Wombles” and with great pleasure too! They became like old friends and I must have done hundreds of illustrations of them in their burrows. The Authoress – Elizabeth Berisford and I became good friends.
A few of the Wombles books illustrated by Edgar in the early 1990s. Cover art above used with permission to SiF by Tara Stockford. Visit Tara's wonderful Tidy Bag - The Online Wombles Museum website to see many more of Edgar's contributions.
Working as an Artist with an Author you can gel with, is a great privilege and does impart extra value to the drawings. It was such a pleasure being together, discussing the detail of my pictures over some years for I did Womble pictures for many different companies.
Can you tell us of how a typical project or assignment was carried out to completion? What artist medium did you use (e.g. watercolors, artists board etc.)
I use whatever medium is suitable for the subject. Watercolour is a favourite for book illustrations, but that could include crayon, pen or ink. Bigger subjects such as large steam trains, used for Jigsaws would be executed in Acrylics. Marine work would be in oils.
You also mentioned your earlier work illustrating greeting cards...
Many years ago the companies Valentines of Dundee and Sharpes Greeting Cards asked me to submit works to them for the possibility of them commissioning me. The end result was, that I worked for them for many years and then subsequently the company was taken over by Hallmark of America and my greetings card work continued with them. I enjoyed the work because it gave me a greater variety of illustrative materiels.
As Joan describes: "These as you can imagine are just a small sample of the hundreds of Greetings Cards Edgar has painted through the years for various companies."
Photos courtesy of Edgar Hodges and Joan McCarthy.
It's not lost upon me how the quality of your artwork was high throughout all of the extremely varied subject matter you'd contributed to. Would you be able to share your secret of how you were able to maintain a high standard for yourself?
Quality of Artwork – that’s probably judged by others, if you are failing in your work then it would be soon pointed out to you. So does fear of not getting another commission, which tends to keep you on your toes!
In all of your career as a professional freelance artist, do you have a particular favorite motif or subject?
The answer to this question – “Do I have a particular motif or subject”? Well no, not really, I’ve had such variations of work during my life time; I can only say that whatever subject you are illustrating, then that is what you enjoy most – at the time.
When each picture is completed, you prop it against the wall, study it and possibly say you’re pleased with it (or not) and on to the next which could be in complete contrast to what you’ve just done! So possibly, favourites don’t enter into it – no, that’s not quite right! …
As my years are becoming somewhat advanced, I find I like painting Marine subjects the most. I’ve just completed some Naval ship paintings recently which have given me the privilege of going aboard some of these vessels. That, I do like, so that’s my favourite – for now!
Your work as a marine-theme scale modeller is also very impressive. I get the impression that you really love the subject.
Marine Modelling gives me a lot of pleasure and keeps me happy researching along any strip of water with ships on it.
Edgar Hodges visiting the Isle of Man, June 2008
Photo courtesy to SiF by Edgar Hodges & Joan McCarthy
Lastly, is there any special message that you'd like to send to all of the fans of your work?
If there is a message I’d like to send to any fans I have, I’d first like to say – I couldn’t enjoy my work if I hadn’t my best pal Joan McCarthy and my sister Molly which means if there are people out there extra to them, then it is a bonus and I feel very lucky!