Born: Established: 30 Nov 1924 Kogarah Arncliffe - Bexley - Rockdale area Rockdale - Kogarah area Sydney Southern Suburbs Sydney New South Wales ; Died: Ceased: 22 Oct 1992 New South Wales
Keith Chatto, educated at Canterbury High and Sydney Grammar Schools, took up drawing as an adolescent while convalescing from illness. His father, an accountant with Smith's Weekly newspaper, showed his son's work to staff artist James ('Jim') Newton Russell (q.v.), who encouraged Chatto to attend art classes held in the newspaper's attic studio.
Upon leaving school, Chatto joined the art department of Greater Union Theatres, and produced instructional artwork, including aircraft recognition charts, while serving with the Air Training Corps. Chatto enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 14 December 1943, serving as a trainee telegraphist and draftsman.
Shortly after being discharged from the RAAF, Chatto sold his first comic strip, 'Destiny Scott', about an Australian soldier of fortune, to the Sydney Morning Herald, where it debuted in the 'Playtime' supplement on 26 June 1946.
Chatto was hired as staff artist on The Australian Sunbather (Australasian Sunbathing Assoc., Sydney, NSW) in 1947. Aside from producing cover illustrations, calendars and 'nude studies' for the publishers, Chatto wrote and drew two comics for the magazine, 'John and Mary Moore' and 'Pages from a Naturist's Diary', thus demonstrating Chatto's early fondness for voluptuous female characters.
The period 1947-1949 proved especially busy for Chatto, who found work with several publishers at the peak of Australia's post-war comic book 'boom'. He created 'The Glamour Girl', a soap opera-styled strip about a cinema usherette who becomes a fashion model, for Coo-ee Comics (Fatty Finn Publications, Sydney, NSW, ca.1949). Chatto produced another comic book heroine, 'Bunny Allen', a buxom country girl, for Tex Morton's Wild West Comic (Allied Authors and Artists, Sydney, NSW, ca.1947-1950). It was the first Australian comic book feature to be drawn in a half-tone technique designed to achieve a photo-realistic quality.
For publisher and cartoonist Syd Nicholls (q.v.), Chatto drew two adventure serials, 'Captain Midnight', set in colonial New South Wales, for Fatty Finn's Comic (Fatty Finn Publications, Sydney, NSW, ca.1947-1948), and a modern-day seafaring drama, 'The Buccaneer', for Middy Malone's Magazine (Fatty Finn Publications, Sydney, NSW, ca.1947-1948). Chatto's first full-colour comic book story, 'The Lost Island', appeared as a supporting feature in the American superhero title, Captain Triumph (No. 3, ca. June 1947), reprinted under licence by K. G. Murray.
In June 1949, Atlas Publications commissioned Chatto to create a new comic book western feature, The Lone Wolf. This was Chatto's first opportunity to write and illustrate a full-length comic book series, although Chatto alternated with another artist, Yaroslav ('Larry') Horak (q.v.), towards the end of the series throughout 1955-1956.
During 1949-1950, Chatto began producing magazine illustrations for Associated General Publications, forerunner of Horwitz Publications, the firm that would dominate Australian paperback fiction publishing throughout the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, Chatto branched out into designing record cover sleeves, as well as painting covers for 'pocket book' (pulp) novels issued by H. J. Edwards Pty Ltd (See: Appointment with a Stranger).
In 1954, Melbourne publisher Larry S. Cleland approved production of a full-length comic book, based on a concept submitted by Chatto. Steven Carlisle Illustrated Adventures (Approved Publications, Melbourne,Victoria, ca.1954-1955) starred a successful mystery novelist, who solved real-life crimes disguised as a masked detective known as the 'Ace of Spades'. Chatto threw himself into the project, recording each issue's script with voice actors, using life models to pose for central characters and writing documentary-styled articles focusing on factual elements depicted in each issue's storyline. The comic's 'adult' themes and suggestive artwork ran afoul of internal censorship policies with the distributor, Gordon and Gotch, which feared the magazine would be banned in conservative state markets, especially Queensland. Cleland and Chatto jointly agreed to cancel the series after the distributor requested alterations to the script and artwork for the final two issues.
Chatto was subsequently hired by the Cleveland Publishing Company to provide cover illustrations for their expanding line of western, crime and war 'pocket book' novels (See: Farewell to Peril). Chatto later estimated that, by the mid-1950s, he was painting six colour covers per week for various 'pulp fiction' publishers.
Keen to enter the comic book market, Cleveland Publishing Company chose Chatto to illustrate The Twilight Ranger (Apache Comics Pty Ltd, Sydney NSW, ca.1955-1956), based on the popular radio serial created by Michael Noonan (q.v.), who wrote the scripts for the comic book adaptation. High production costs, however, forced the series' cancellation after seven issues.
Chatto enjoyed greater success with El Lobo - The Man from Nowhere (Apache Comics Pty Ltd, Sydney NSW, ca.1957-1959), his next western comic book series for Cleveland Publishing Company. Chatto later claimed El Lobo to be amongst his best comic book work, alongside Steven Carlisle. Further episodes of 'El Lobo' were published in King Size Comic and Silhouette Western Library (Reigate Pty Ltd, Sydney, NSW). Chatto remained with Cleveland Publishing until the early 1960s, writing and illustrating novella-length comic book stories for the Silhouette War Picture Library and Silhouette Romance Library series.
As the Australian comic book market contracted with the advent of television broadcasting in 1956, and the readmission of imported American comics into Australia during 1959-1960, Chatto took up freelance photography, specialising in 'pin-up' model shots for local and overseas men's magazines. He also ventured into film and television production, working as a freelance cameraman and documentary producer. By the late 1960s, Chatto formed a production company to handle his numerous commercial art and filming assignments.
Nonetheless, Chatto retained an ongoing involvement in comic book publishing. In 1964, Page Publications commissioned Chatto to draw new covers for comic book compilations of American newspaper comic strips (e.g. Big Ben Bolt, Flash Gordon, Tim Tyler), syndicated locally by the firm's parent company, Yaffa Syndicate. Chatto's workload grew as Page Publications expanded its comic book line throughout the 1970s, requiring him to provide new cover artwork for its range of digest-sized war, horror, romance and western comics (e.g. Terror Story Library, Fighting Western Stories, Personal Romances, etc.).
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (Junior Readers Press/Rosnock Publications, Crows Nest, NSW, ca.1970-1971) was the first comic book adaptation of an Australian television series (Skippy). Chatto wrote and illustrated five editions, after undertaking extensive field research in the filming locations; the sixth and final issue was drawn by A. Cubi. While the comic's belated appearance failed to capitalise on the television programme's earlier peak of popularity, the Skippy comic book nonetheless continued to be reissued until the mid-1970s.
In 1972, Chatto created 'Flame and Ash', a comic strip about a 'swinging 70s couple', for the adult publication, Flame Magazine. A similarly bawdy comic, 'Randy and Cee Cee', was drawn by Chatto for a companion title, Fury Magazine. That same year, Chatto briefly worked as a 'ghost artist' for the daily edition of John Dixon's (q.v.) Air Hawk and the Flying Doctors newspaper comic strip. Chatto later followed Hart Amos (q.v.) as the illustrator on the Sunday newspaper version of Air Hawk in 1977.
Chatto's last major comic book project was working on the perennially popular Australian edition of The Phantom. Frew Publications issued this comic book from 1948, making it the world's longest-running Phantom series. Jim Shepherd, who joined Frew Publications in April 1987 (before eventually assuming control of the company), asked Chatto to illustrate the first Australian-drawn Phantom story. 'Rumble in the Jungle' (The Phantom No. 915A, 1990), written by Jim Shepherd, became one of Frew's best-selling issues in decades. Its success brought Shepherd and Chatto together for two further stories - 'Return of the Singh Brotherhood' (The Phantom No. 962, 1990) and 'The Kings Cross Connection' (The Phantom No. 1000, 1992). Chatto remained a frequent cover artist on The Phantom until his death in October 1992.