Ayton began his career in Eagle with Jack O'Lantern, the story of Jack Yorke, set in England in Napoleonic times. We first meet him in an orphanage, but he soon escapes, and meets his father, who he had though dead. To his shame, Father truns out to be a highwayman! But all is not as it seems : father has been duped of the family house and fortune by his wicked brother Humphrey, and is doing his utmost to clear his name. In the process Jack is befriended by the gypsies, and later, in the London scenes, by the underworld [who all have hearts of gold]. Ayton's drawing and George Beardmore's stories evoke London of the early nineteenth century, with Newgate Prison and public hangings mingled with the rich aristocracy, with great vividness.
Beardmore also wrote a separate novel, Jack O'Lantern and the Fighting Cock. Hulton made a fortune in the 50s with the spin-off merchandising and other publications, altho this would be small beer compared with the equivalent today.
Jack in the orphanage, at the start of the saga [4th February 1955]. Ayton finally bowed out in favour of C.L. Doughty, who mimiced Ayton's style very closely - at times it would be hard to tell them apart. But the stories fell off in quality, and Jack O'Lantern finally retired in the early 60s.
The wicked Uncle Humphrey threatening our hero ... [25th March 1955]
And the wicked uncle himself ... the "HE" being referred to is, of course, Jack. [23rd March 1956] Ayton also drew one of the back page biographies, that of Sir Walter Raleigh, but this was, to my mind, much less successful than the lively Jack O'Lantern.
A typical Robert Ayton picture of Jack fleeing from the law - a Bow Street Runner, who were the earliest London policemen - which also shows how Eagle artists put all variety of peripheral interest into their drawing. There was a pride in their work which disappeared in the more commercial atmosphere after the takeover in 1960. [Gummy was Jack's favourite expostulation! Picture from issue dated 19th August 1955]