Dermot Walshe — Motorcycle Illustrator

Here’s a column that first appeared on the pages of Cycle Canada about four years ago — still one of my favourites. It’s a reminder that motorcycles, and the passion for them, transcends the metal. Dermot Walshe continues to draw, mostly kids cartoons, but he has plans for a motorcycle feature in the future. Enjoy!

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Image courtesy of Dermot Walshe.

 

With a stroke of his pen Dermot Walshe dramatically moves a motorcycle from the road or the racetrack to the printed page.

Walshe, of Oakville, Ontario is a man of talent. Armed with a pencil, pen and ink, and a computer he creates amazing images. Just have a look at the accompanying panel drawn by Walshe of Stanley Woods on a Cotton motorcycle circa 1922 racing in his first Isle of Man TT. It’s perfect.

Born in 1962 in Toronto, Walshe vividly remembers the first time he ever saw a motorcycle. He grew up on the outskirts of the city, and from a small stand at the side of the highway he would sell rhubarb to passing motorists. One afternoon, Walshe heard thunder. He looked up to the sky, and there wasn’t a cloud. Then, a big Harley-Davidson roared by, and another, followed by a B.S.A., and more – likely all big American v-twins and British iron. To young Walshe, the procession seemed to last half an hour. In all likelihood, it was less than a minute or two. But the sight of that passing gang was seared in his memory.

Not long after Walshe determined he would get some money together and buy a bike. But that didn’t happen until his first year of university, when he dropped out of landscape architecture and bought a used Yamaha SR185. Walshe said he bummed around Toronto on this single-cylinder machine with push-button starting, and he crashed it quite a few times before he needed a replacement.

From that point, Walshe’s motorcycling career has been nothing short of interesting. Between 1989 and 1995 he raced vintage machines including a Yamaha SRX600 and a Honda CB350, and said some fast laps at Mosport and drafting at Daytona were among the highlights. He’s traveled by scooter around Indonesia, and by his count has bought, sold, ridden – or destroyed – more than 50 motorcycles such as a Norton 850 Commando, a Ducati 860 GT and a 1950 B.S.A. Gold Star. Aesthetically, pre-War motorcycles with a rigid frame and a girder fork are his favourites, although he just bought himself a 1977 Yamaha XS650.

As for art, Walshe was always handy with a pencil and paper. He’d sketch and doodle and draw comic strips, and planned to do something creative with his life. Landscape architecture wasn’t it. While in that program, however, he met another student who commented on his drawing talent, and told him he should be in animation. Animation? He got a big shock when he learned what that was.

“That’s when I had my first inkling that animated cartoons were actually manufactured,” Walshe said. “I never really thought that you didn’t take a camera to cartoon land. I was kind of naive that way.” He attended an animation program at Sheridan College but never finished. Eventually, Walshe put his not insignificant talents to commercial use as a storyboard artist –someone who must quickly and accurately draw out the scenes of a movie, television show or commercial. He’s worked for the likes of Disney on films such as Mulan, Return to Neverland and Little Mermaid 2. For most of the last decade he’s worked on a freelance basis (click here to see samples).

During periods of downtime Walshe likes to dabble with projects that are of interest to him. Such a project is the tale of 17-year old Irishman Stanley Woods, who struggled in 1922 against factory teams and experienced riders to finish in fifth place aboard a Cotton motorcycle during his first Isle of Man TT race.

“Stanley Woods inspires me,” Walshe said. “He had a lot of audacity and he refused to give up. He was a gentleman racer who played fair but took advantage of everything he could.” Woods, in fact, had raced his father’s Harley-Davidson before deciding he could take on the TT. He wrote to most major British motorcycle manufacturers, requesting a ride, and it was Cotton who took on the youngster. His creative requests helped him land the Cotton, but nothing was going to come easily. During his 1922 outing on the 350cc Cotton, just about everything that could go wrong, did. He botched the start, having to stop to retrieve some fallen spark plugs. The machine caught fire in the pits. Not long after putting out the flames and back on the circuit, Woods had to stop and wrestle with the valves thanks to a broken push rod.

Recently, Walshe drew up eight pages of Woods’ story, keeping his eye on the clock to determine how long it might take him to produce a 100-plus page graphic novel, or even an animated film. For now, it’s simply an idea that’s percolating. Walshe ideally needs someone to write a cheque before he could spend a year on such a project, but it’s one that’s dear to him.

“Most motorcycle content (currently being drawn) is about booze and babes,” Walshe said. “But I think there’s more to the story of motorcycling than that.”

Cycle Canada, Amal Carbs and the artwork of Dermot Walshe

Writing the vintage column, New Old Stock, for Cycle Canada gives me an opportunity to delve into a number of different subjects.

My first piece ran in the January 2011 issue, and that was an introductory column. I simply offered up some background about myself, and how, at the age of nine, I got a Clinton-powered minibike. I have  been interested in motorcycles ever since.

But punk music (Husker Du, D.O.A. and SNFU) and skateboards took up much of my teenage years. Until I visited a fried who lived in Saskatoon. His dad had a garage full of machines, mostly Harley-Davidsons. I was drawn to the lone Triumph Bonneville, though, and this rekindled my interest in motorcycles. I had to have a British motorcycle. I schlepped dishes and earned enough to buy a 1971 Triumph TR6R, and used the machine to commute to work and to college. Since then, just about anything with two wheels and an engine has been of interest.

In the February 2011 issue of Cycle Canada I interviewed Mark Burnett of Burlen Fuel Systems in the UK, makers of SU and Amal carburetors. It’s encouraging to know that there’s enough of an old bike market out there for a company to reproduce classic instrument designs. Burnett said to me: “Given the current climate sales are encouraging. The market seems buoyant, however questions have to be raised as to the sustainability given the aging ownership. Our research shows a recent increase of younger owners/riders turning to classics – perhaps owning more modern machinery alongside. Globally, the classic bike market is still quite large and although fewer and fewer, old machines are still appearing in the back of dusty barns ripe for recomissioning. Who knows what is around the corner?”

And most recently, in the March 2011 issue I’ve interviewed vintage motorcycle illustrator Dermot Walshe. A fascinating creative talent is Walshe. We talked about the rapid pace of technology, and about speed. Walshe recommended reading The Vertigo Years by Phillip Blom. This book takes a detailed look at the years 1900 to 1914 and how quickly and severely society was shifting — from sexual mores to a fascination with speed. Good stuff.

Perhaps one of the most interesting/frightening sections in The Vertigo Years is Chapter 5: 1904 where Blom discusses Belgium’s King Leopold II and his systemic exploitation and mutilation of the Congo populace in his quest for rubber. And that thirst for rubber, according to Blom, was thanks to John Dunlop’s invention in 1884 of the pneumatic bicycle tire tube. Blom wrote: “Fitted with miraculously shock-absorbent rubber tyres, bicycles became a cultural phenomenon, a symbol for the young generation and its time, for speed, freedom and physical fitness.” Definitely a recommended read.

About himself and his own motorcycling career, Walshe said: “Certainly Vintage racing between 1989 and 1995 was a lot of fun…..some fast laps on Mosport and  drafting at Daytona in 1995 are high on the list……as well as touring Indonesia a bit on my scooter in 1993. The same year I was also loaned a bike in Japan on a job there and tried hard not to lose the view of my buddy’s helmet as he split lanes in  the congested turmoil of downtown Tokyo. I lost count of how many machines I bought, sold, rode or destroyed; probably over 50 including an 850 Norton commando , an 860GT Ducati….the 1950 Goldstar 500 and a BMW 1000 but the most fun to ride were the small ones. My SRX 600 was like a street Manx and was awesome around Mosport…..sliding 2 wheels and catching a freakishly good drive out of turn one and two on the CB 350 racer counts right up there too!
I love the vintage bikes for their sound and lively feedback……rode a GSXR1000 but the smooth hyperspace sensations don’t quite capture the romantic spirit of the iconic machine for me…….they’re more like 2-wheeled Jet-Skis but to each his/her own.
And, I don’t have any tattoos.
Best advice from a friend or mentor: Peter Sheppard ( North Bay ) ” you just have to ride your own race”.”

Pick up the March issue of Cycle Canada to read the column.

Walshe’s work featuring Stanley Woods in the 1922 Isle of Man TT.

And something else Walshe has drawn is an illustrated update on the old Tortoise and the Hare tale — this one featuring a frog who has all of the latest and greatest technology, including a racecar. He challenges Tortoise and Hare to a race, and the pair have to work together and learn to ride an outfit. Looks like fun reading.