Monday 19 March 2018

Terry Willers

The famous Irish cartoonist is a great loss to the art, writes Tom Mathews

Terry Willers, 76, one of Ireland's best known cartoonists, has died at his home in Rathdrum Co Wicklow.

Although born in Britain, Terry spent most of his life living and working in Ireland and had lived in Rathdrum for over 40 years.

Nobody who encountered Terry in full flight in his persona as Rathdrum's cartoon ambassador to the world is likely to forget him. He was a human factory, a creative powerhouse, a cartoonist in the broad humorous tradition of Disney (for whose studios he briefly worked) and Leo Baxendale (creator of The Bash Street Kids cartoon strip). His gentle surrealism seemed to be everywhere from the pages of this newspaper, for which he drew cartoons back in the early Eighties, to the Evening Herald, to the world of advertising, to RTE where his own pictorial inventiveness did so much to enliven Hall's Pictorial Weekly. Once seen, his pint-swilling rustics and bemused cows were never erasable from the national landscape. A master craftsman, his fine watercolours were much sought after.

Terry once said that he wanted Rathdrum to become 'Toontown' and for many a glorious International Cartoon Festival, it was. A stylish and dapper dresser, Terry was never seen without a shirt and tie and the sort of pastel blazer favoured by the gameshow host that he so resembled in his anxiety that his guests in Rathdrum (who included many of the world's most famous cartoonists over the years) had the best possible time. Oh, and they did. Terry literally put the town on the map when he drew a cartoon map of fantastic complexity featuring every house (and probably blade of grass) in the town.

Terry must have had three hands because despite having a cigarette in one and a glass in the other, he was always drawing on any surface that held still -- even the walls of his beloved Cartoon Inn in Rathdrum village where so many of his exuberant productions are still proudly displayed. John Updike said that he loved artists because they take so little out of the world and leave it so much. Terry Willers combined all that was best of The Beano and The Dandy. What a loss to our art, but what a legacy of joy he leaves.

He is survived by his wife Valerie, son Steven, daughter Julie and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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