Air Hawk and the Flying Doctors was an Australian comic strip created by John Dixon. The strip began publication on 30 May 1959, premiering in the Saturday issue of Perth's Weekend Mail. It was subsequently published by other Australian Sunday newspapers, Sydney's The Sun-Herald (14 June 1959), Brisbane's The Sunday Mail and Adelaide's Sunday Mail.
In May 1963, Air Hawk also became a daily strip and unlike most US adventure strips, the Sunday and daily continuity on Air Hawk were separate stories with Dixon writing them both. By 1967 the strip was appearing not only in every Australian state, but also in Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, France, and both North and South America. Dixon continued the strip until 1986. Dixon was assisted over the years by Mike Tabrett, Hart Amos (March 1970 – June 1977), and Keith Chatto (1977-onwards). Chatto had previously ghosted the daily strip for a short period in 1972 before he took over drawing the Sunday version of the strip in the middle of 1977.
In 1962 a series of Air Hawk and the Flying Doctors comics were published by Howitz Publications, the series however only ran for three issues. This was followed by another series of comics by Page Publications, reprinting episodes of the strip, with covers by Chatto. The Page series debuted in 1966, also only running for three issues, began with issue #20, but the title was altered to The Hawk and the Flying Doctors on the third issue. Although Dixon ceased the strip in 1986, the strip continued to be reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald until the early 1990s.
The strip is set in the Australian outback, and follows the adventures of Jim Hawk, a former Royal Australian Air Force pilot flying and intelligent agent, who operates the Air Hawk Charter service from Alice Springs. The charter service worked in conjunction with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). Dr. Hal Mathews was a close friend of Jim Hawk who worked for the RFDS and Sister Janet Grant belonged to the Australian Inland Mission, whose medical clinic adjoined the air strip. In the mid-seventies, Jim Hawk was granted a franchise to supply a special Emergency Relief Unit. The Unit's function is to relieve any Flying Doctor base in need of assistance and to be available for special emergencies. Hal Mathews had been seconded to work with the Unit and Janet Grant was now his full-time assistant, with the change in responsibilities, the Doctors part of the title was reverted to the singular. Routine charter operations were continuously disrupted by Jim Hawk's involvement in conflict with local and international villains.
John Dixon (20 February 1929 - 7 May 2015) was born in Newcastle on 20 February 1929, the son of a school principal. After completing his education at Cook Hill Intermediate High he became a trainee window dresser at a softgoods company. He then became interested in art and obtained a position as an advertising agent with the same company. Dixon moved to Sydney in 1945. After doing various advertising jobs, Dixon was advised to turn to the comics profession. He heeded the advice and wrote and drew his first comic book story, called The Sky Pirates, and showed it to Sydney publisher Henry John Edwards. Edwards bought Dixon's story, which appeared in Edwards' flagship comic book, Action, and offered Dixon a full-time contract to produce comic books.
A lifelong aviation enthusiast, Dixon's first comic book was Tim Valour, whose title character was an adventure-seeking pilot, who got involved in science-fiction-styled adventures. Dixon subsequently changed direction, making Valour into an agent of the International Security Organisation, battling saboteurs and super-villains. During the Korean War Valour and his sidekick, Happy, were pressed into military service flying American Sabre jet fighters. Tim Valour was incredibly popular and appeared in three separate series (a total of 150 issues) for close to a decade. The first series ran for 38 issues, featured 6d and 8d cover prices and was published under the H. John Edwards imprint. The second series actually began with issue No. 10 and lasted 41 issues. Cover prices went from 8d to 9d and it was published under Edwards' Action Comics imprint. The final series, titled Tim Valour – Commander of the Flying Tigerhawks, began with issue No. 11 and featured 9d and 1/- (one shilling) cover prices. Two Tim Valour Specials were also published in the 1950s.
Dixon's next title was The Crimson Comet, loosely based on the US comic book superhero, Red Raven. One of Australia's few true superhero comics, The Crimson Comet was a private investigator, Ralph Rivers, who stripped off his trenchcoat to reveal his bright red costume and huge wings grafted to his back. First appearing in 1949, The Crimson Comet fought criminal masterminds and spies before Dixon passed the comic on to Albert de Vine, returning to the series in the early 1950s. The first Crimson Comet series ran for 73 issues, with cover prices ranging between 6d-9d, and was published under the H. John Edwards imprint. The second series, believed to begin with issue No. 14, ran for 18 issues and carried 9d and 1/- cover prices. This series was published under Edwards' Action Comics label.
Dixon also illustrated several issues of Biggles, the Australian-made comic book adaptation of Captain W.E. Johns' famed aviator. Published by Action Comics between 1953 and 1957, Dixon's work appeared in issues #61–75. Dixon was also in demand with other Australian publishers. Young's Merchandising commissioned him to create a science fiction superhero comic called Captain Strato in 1958, which lasted just three issues.
The following year, he created the wartime adventure series The Phantom Commando for Horwitz Publications. Dixon wrote and drew the first three issues, before he passed the title on to longtime Horwitz artist, Maurice Bramley.
Frew Publications held the license to publish locally drawn versions of the defunct American superhero, Catman. After an initial series, illustrated by Jeff Wilkinson, appeared in Super Yank Comics between 1951–52, Frew recruited Dixon to create a new solo Catman comic book. Dixon produced 12 issues of Catman between 1957 and 1959, which were later reprinted by Photo Type Press between 1960 and 1966.
He left comics to concentrate on his comic strip, Air Hawk and the Flying Doctor, which premiered in Perth's Weekend Mail on 30 May 1959 and was subsequently published by other Australian Sunday newspapers.
In 1985 and 1986 he won the Stanley Award, for 'Best Adventure/Illustrated Strip' for his Air Hawk strip, and again in 1992 for his US comics work.
In 1986 Dixon moved to Washington, D.C. in the United States, where he worked as art-director of a magazine, Defense and Foreign Affairs, for five years. When the magazine ceased production he moved to California, returning to comics for a short while, working on various titles (Bloodshot, Eternal Warrior, H.A.R.D. Corps, Shadowman and Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom) for US publisher Valiant Comics, then as an independent illustrator for New York's Voyager Communications and as a storyboard artist for film and videogames.
He drew sixteen stories of Agent Corrigan that were published in a Swedish comic book from 1997 to 2003.
In 2012 he was diagnosed as suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, a type of dementia closely associated with Parkinson's disease.
In 2014 he was honoured with a Platinum Ledger Award for Lifetime Achievement in Australian Comics.
On 18 April 2015 Dixon suffered a major stroke at his home in California and on 7 May he died, surrounded by family. He was survived by his wife Sue and children, Andrew and Jaydi, Cindy and Anne, and sister Sheila.