A tribute to Bob Wakelin, Ocean's legendary cover artist
A quiet icon of the microcomputer generation.
In the days of the microcomputers here in the UK, computer games were available everywhere -- it's partly rose-tinted nostalgia to say that you could buy classics from your local corner shop for three quid, but it's still a true statement. As such, a lot of times a game would be an impulse buy -- you're in the shop with your mum or dad to buy something else, but then something catches your eye and you start tugging on your parents' pockets. And hey -- they're usually cheap enough that you eventually get what you want. In this world, the eye-catching cover was incredibly important, and Ocean Software always had some of the best covers, whether budget or full-price. And that was largely down to the work of one man: Bob Wakelin.
Bob Wakelin, who passed away on January 21st after a long battle with leukaemia, was one of the largely unseen driving forces behind Ocean Software's position at the very head of the games market in Europe. As much as Ocean's work is often derided these days, whether it's for their largely subpar console efforts or the incredible amount of movie tie-ins they released, one thing that cannot be denied is the incredible quality of Wakelin's cover art. After the announcement of his passing, many flocked to Twitter to share their favourite examples -- and all the images you see here belong to him. From arcade conversions and movie tie-ins to originals, his work was top level, and commanded respect. Like the Polish movie posters of the Cold War years, a Wakelin cover could make a game seem far greater than it actually was.
A part of Ocean Software since the very early days, Wakelin at first did not know all that much about the games industry, but was introduced to Ocean founders David Ward and Jon Woods by a fellow friend, starting a lengthy freelance relationship. His work with Ocean was often quite hectic, sometimes requiring the creation of three designs a week -- but Bob's story was one of classic, seat of your pants '80s freelancing, being young enough to handle the work thanks to a healthy supply of energy, alcohol, and marijuana. followed by beers with the folks at the company once all the art gets delivered. He would stay with Ocean until the company's final years, leaving after a dispute in 1995. Although Wakelin's body of work is extensive and detailed (from comics to album covers and much more), those hand-drawn game covers represent a major part of his legacy -- even if some of his best covers turned out to be for Ocean's worst games. When Ocean knew they had a stinker on their hands, they would often turn to Wakelin to create a dazzling cover that would still get the turkey off the shelves.
While Bob Wakelin never considered himself any more than a casual gamer, he embraced his legacy and was more than appreciative of the love that gamers had for his work. He could frequently be seen at gaming expos throughout the UK, where he would often sell high quality prints of his work that he would also sign if requested, and was always happy to talk to people about anything from the good old days to space exploration, and everything between. Bob Wakelin's utterly distinctive work will forever be remembered, and his jovial presence at conventions will sadly be missed -- a great loss to the UK retro gaming family.