He was born in the third quarter of 1852 to John and Ann Brown (both Scots) at Alnwick, Northumberland. John Brown was a talented wood carver who led a team of wood carvers for the remodelling of the Duke of Northumberland's Alnwick Castle. He also taught drawing in Alnwick. James and his elder brother John Robert were educated in the Duke's School where their artistry was also noted.
The two brothers travelled to London in the early 1870's where they landed employment with two seminal publications - John Robert with the Graphic and James with Judy. John Robert Brown concentrated on architectural, historical and social commentary drawings (all signed 'J.R. Brown'). The two brothers also set up as successful designers - for events and the decoration of public buildings.
James is specifically credited with 'the conception and execution' of McNab in Ally Sloper's Half Holiday.
James Brown died tragically young on 1st November 1897 in Highgate London. He and his Scottish wife Agnes had only one child, Cuthbert Ian Brown, born late in their marriage in 1895 in Alnwick. Agnes moved back to Alnwick to run a guest house after James' death.
In John Brown's 1899 obituary, it reports that John Robert Brown took over drawing duties on McNab after his brother's death.
- Alan Clark, Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors, The British Library, 1998, p. 29
- 'Death of a Scottish Artist', Aberdeen Journal, Thursday 11 November 1897, p6 c6
- 'Death of Mr. John Brown of Alnwick', Morpeth Herald, Saturday 4 February 1899, p5 c5
- 'Mr Paul Brown dies: a loss to journalism', Alnwick Mercury, Friday 10 March 1950, p7 c1