I got to know Mike Noble in his later years through a mutual friend; we took a few dozen original artwork pages (on loan for an exhibition) from his run on ‘Fireball XL5’ down to his bungalow in Balcombe for him to look at. It was the first time he’d seen them since he had sent them by train to London to be published in TV21 in the mid-1960s. We spent hours poring over the stunning artwork, and even though he was always by far my favourite artist in TV21, it wasn’t really until we spent so much time looking so closely at the originals that I started to fully appreciate what a wonderful artist he really was.
Such attention to detail as well as the obvious dynamics he brought to figure work and craft alike. The assassination of the Kaplan, for instance, has a crowd scene I’ve never seen bettered anywhere, beautifully rendered in the most exquisite line and wash.
This started a repeated scenario every time I spoke to him, with me telling him that he was a brilliant artist and a genius of the comics world, him blushing self-effacingly and gently pushing aside my genuine praise. There is a kind of curse for those who have gained some proficiency in any field: when people compliment you on the quality of your work, there is always the nagging internal voice that says ‘yes, but that’s because you can’t see all the faults’. Whatever skills you have are never quite adequate enough to achieve the results you’re after, and you can always see others getting better results. I think this was true of Mike, and I was very keen to impress upon him how widely admired he really was, especially among artists who had grown up reading his strips, many of whom feel as I do that he was sometimes overlooked in comparison with the other two Greats of that period, Frank Bellamy and Ron Embleton. Mike himself said he was always chasing them and learning from what he saw them doing, but such diverse styles aren’t easily comparable anyway, and his sheer quality shines through in every piece of work he produced. Characters and craft appear to be in motion even when standing still, and when they are moving they dance across the page.
His quest for improvement and experimentation was still evident in his eighties; when we talked about my own move to digital art, he was extremely interested in the process, and he asked if it would be possible to perhaps combine some of his own ‘longhand’ art with some digital art of mine? I assured him we could indeed do that – all the time boggling at the prospect of working with him and at my own cheek in thinking I could live up to his standards. This resulted in our joint ‘Zero-X’ art print, which proved popular with Anderson fans, and led to our subsequent collaborations on two recent Captain Scarlet projects: the box art for the forthcoming Big Chief Studios Captain Scarlet 12” figure and a poster for the Network Blu-ray release of Scarlet. Both referenced his famous TV21 cover ‘Scarlet Deathfall’; the poster was produced in his eighty-seventh year in the nick of time, just before his health took a turn for the worse and artworking became much harder for him. I’m so pleased those commercial commissions came along, it showed how much his work was still valued, and being part of them was one of the proudest moments in my own career.
Although he had not been in great health for the last year and was being looked after at a care residence near to his home in Balcombe, he remained cheerful and was working till the end, illustrating characters from Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’. It was a pleasure to have known him; he was kind, supremely talented and a true gentleman. We’re the poorer for his loss, yet the richer for the body of work he leaves behind.