David Sutherland's early career is shrouded in mystery (to me, anyway). By 1963 he was presumably well thought of at Thomson's, as he was chosen for the important job of taking over the Bash Street Kids from the departing Leo Baxendale. The join was almost seamless, with Sutherland not only being able to reproduce the same standard of artwork, but also capturing the full range of humorous details the strip was noted for.
In 1967 Sutherland created the well-liked adventure strip Billy the Cat (ist April, issue 1289). In 1969, he took over Biffo the Bear, following the death of Dudley D Watkins.
By now Sutherland clearly had a reputation for being able to work in a variety of styles; in 1970, after a few weeks of trying various artists, he was chosen as a permanent replacement for David Law on Dennis the Menace. He managed to keep Law's simple style of framing and movement, but improved the draughtsmanship. In 1974, Dennis finally replaced Biffo on the comic's cover, a move which would probably not have been possible during Law's tenure.
At the end of the seventies Sutherland relinquished the increasingly unpopular Biffo. In 1980, the first Bash Street Kids book was published. Reprinting strips from the late sixties, it showed up the toll that drawing such a detailed strip week in, week out over such a period can take. The detail was by now not as great, and some of the strip's energy had dissipated.
As the eighties progressed, where once Dennis the Menace and The Bash Street Kids had looked like the work of two completely different artists, the two were now coming closer together, in many ways to the detriment of both. Dennis's traditionally flat world had taken on an uncomfortable three-dimensional aspect, in which he could speed about more naturalistically. Bash Street, on the other hand, was less sharply defined than before, and seemed to have taken on some of Law's looseness of form and function.
In 1998, Sutherland retired from Dennis, after 27 years - seven more than his creator, Law. He continued to draw the occasional strip for the comic, as well as drawing most of Dennis' adventures for the annuals and summer specials. He also began to draw the Bash Street Kids less regularly, allowing newcomer Nigel Parkinson to deputise.
An unexpected twist came in 1999 when Sutherland took over Korky the Cat in the Dandy, which he draws in a less refined version of his old Biffo style.
Whether David Sutherland ever had a distinctive style of his own I may never know. Perhaps it was his very 'blandness' which made him such a great fill-in for absent geniuses. His self-originated strips of the eighties, such as The Germs, just seem like a hybrid of his other work.