I realise you’re not generally big followers of British comics, but I need to flag up a notification I received last week of the sad death of Leo Baxendale.
Leo Baxendale was a very important artist who was intimately involved in the changes that happened to the best selling British comic in the 50s. That comic was, of course, the Beano. When Baxendale joined the team in 1953, The Beano was selling a very respectable 400,000 copies per week (most British comics for children were weekly). Leo introduced three new characters to the comic - Minnie The Minx, The Bash Street Kids, and Little Plum. Prior to his arrival, Beano was still running tired pre-war characters who were dated, unfashionable and class-ridden – characters like Lord Snooty and Pansy Potter.
Leo’s additions went down a storm with the children who read comics and within five years he had grown the circulation to just over 2 million – per week!
His characters were unruly, untameable, violent, anarchic and regularly refused to give in to adult laws. They were, in a word, irrepressible. Kids loved them.
Up until joining the Beano, Baxendale was a poorly paid artist, taking self-employed work wherever he could find it, and he had made it a point of honour that he wouldn’t join unless DC Thompson (publishers of The Beano) were prepared to offer him 30 shillings a page. In fact they agreed to pay him ten pounds per page, so he rushed home and became a full-time comic artist.
He produced five or six pages of work every week for nine years which was an incredible amount of output, and finally retired from DC Thompson in 1962, having made The Beano the best selling comic in the UK. Other artists continued, using his characters, and Leo fought a (sadly unsuccessful) battle in the 70s to gain copyright for his inventions (shades of Neal Adams!). Although he never succeeded in gaining copyright, he at least won the right to be legally identified as the author for Minnie, Bash St Kids and Little Plum.
He died on 23rd April (St George’s Day), 2017, at the age of 86. Thanks Leo, for the laughs you gave me when I was a boy.