Born at Invergordon in Scotland, he was the youngest of three children.
His mother died when he was just two, so his father took the children to live in Stirling, to be closer to their family. From there they moved to Kirkintilloch, where David grew up.
After leaving school he joined Rex Studios where he learned art and illustration, and he also took evening art classes at Glasow School of Art.
He did his two-years National Service, based in Egypt.
In 1959, David entered a drawing competition organised by D.C.Thomson of Dundee, the creator of comics.
He didn’t win, in fact came third. Nevertheless, D.C Thomson contacted him and asked him to become a substitute artist, drawing comic strips when their main artists were unavailable.
For ‘The Beano’ he worked on ‘Biffo the Bear’, ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘The Bash Street Kids’, and ‘Korky the Cat’ for The Dandy.
He was allowed to produce his own strips and drew ‘Danny on a Dolphin’ and ‘The Great Flood of London’.
But D.C.Thomson quickly realised how talented he was and he was promoted.
Meanwhile he had married Margaret. They moved to Broughty Ferry in Dundee to be close to his work. They had two daughters.
In 1962, he was given ‘The Bash Street Kids’, replacing Leo Baxendale its original creator.
The Bash Street Kids is about a group of 9-year-old children who torment their teacher. Originally created in 1954 and known as ‘When the Bell Rings’, it changed name in 1954. It was so popular that it was largely responsible for the Beano’s circulation rising from 400,000 per week in 1954 to 2 million per week in 1958.
But the popularity rose even higher when David took over in 1962. It was given a double spread in the centre of the comic and was the first cartoon in the comic to be drawn in colour.
The kids were Danny the leader (with his skull and crossbones t-shirt), Toots (the only girl), Sidney, Fatty, Smiffy (“the densest boy in the world), Wilfred (with his oversized jumper), the bespectacled ‘Erbert, the “dermatologically challenged” Spotty and Plug (“the ugliest boy in the world”).
David was to draw them for 60 years.
In 1971, the class swot Cuthbert Cringeworthy was added, as was the school cook Olive (1980), whose “rancid recipes came from the gourmet cookbook she never wrote”.
The Bash Street Kids never aged past 9.
In 1969, the creator and illustrator of Biffo the Bear, Dudley D. Watkins, died, so David was asked to take over. Biffo was then on the front cover.
He also drew ‘Billy the Cat’.
In 1970, he took over Dennis the Menace, which was on the back cover. He was to draw this for 28 years, and soon it replaced Biffo on the front. He drew over 1,000 Dennis strips.
His particular favourite was Dennis’ loyal companion, Gnasher, the wire-haired Abyssinian tripe hound who was always at his side.
David drew Gnasher’s own strip, ‘Gnasher’s Tale’ (1977) and it’s replacement ‘Gnasher and Gripper’ (1986), as well as ‘Rasher the Pig’ (1984), another one of Dennis’ pets.
He had an impish sense of humour and occasionally drew himself into the cartoon strips.
In 1992 , along with ‘Jak’ (Dandy), and ‘The Germs’ and ‘Fred’s Bed’ (Beano), he gave up other stories so he could concentrate on Dennis the Menace and The Bash Street Kids.
In 2012, to celebrate 50 years of David drawing the Bash Street Kids, there was an exhibition of the artwork, held at the University of Dundee. One night David held a question and answer session.
The following year some of his artwork was put on permanent display in the newly opened V & A Design Museum in Dundee. Mike Strirling, the Creative Designer for The Beano said, “That was going right into high culture and David deserved that.”
The Bash Street Kids moved with the times. There was an outcry when the kids started playing computer games in 2004. In 2021 two British Asian children were introduced, named Harsha and Mandi. And Fatty changed his name to Freddy and Spotty to Scotty.
The Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg complained in Parliament calling it, “publicity seeking and comically woke.”
In December 2022, David was taken ill and announced his retirement. He had been drawing The Bash Street Kids for 60 years and had drawn over 2,000 stories. He did a month’s worth of the cartoon strip to give them time to find a replacement.
He was also awarded an OBE for his services to illustration in the 2023 New Year’s Honours List. He reflected, “When I entered the D.C.Thomson art competition more than 60 years ago, I couldn’t have guessed where it might lead. I’ve been so lucky to be able to do something I love for a living, and work with so many talented writers whose words have helped these characters to life.”
And then he died suddenly. His wife Margaret said, “He only put his pen down last month when he took ill. Drawing was his life – it made us forget the age he was. He was getting older, but we never noticed it.”
Tributes flooded in. Nigel Parkinson, who had replaced him in drawing Dennis said, “The nation and it’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have all loved David Sutherland’s joyous, happy, teeming-with-life, hilarious drawings nearly every single week in The Beano for 60 years -he has touched the heart, tickled the funny bone and amused the eyes of millions.”
The editor of The Beano, John Anderson said, “He came third in the art competition but became our most beloved artist ever…the single most important illustrator in our history. No one will ever repeat what David achieved over 60 years. He was one of a kind, a genuine legend. It is the end of an era.”
RIP – Rasher Illustrator (+) Plug