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.
Sorry to hear it Steve, but glad to know more about Baxendale. Would you place him on your Mt. Rushmore of British comics artists?
He's certainly up there. For my part, he really falls into a different era of comic book artists. When I was young (younger than 9) I read the Beano. when I was 9 and older I read US comics, once someone introduced me to the LSH at school. I read US comics till I was 14 and discovered girls. But Leo's drawings certainly played a big part in my early comic-reading life.
There is an article celebrating Mr Baxendale's work here.
I'd heard of him, but I never saw his work until I was an adult. Certainly a very distinctive style, and a very different style of humor from American comics.
It was 40% of a million back in '53, but by 1958 Leo had lifted circulation to 2 million a week! 2 million in a country whose population numbered slightly less than 50 million. When I was young, every kid I know bought the Beano.
My father used to bring me back British comics from his trips to Canada (late 1960s - early 1970s) included Lion, Tiger, Eagle and Valiant, but never any Beano.
Where I grew up, "beano" was an alternate name for the game 'bingo". It's also the name of a brand of anti-gas medicine.
I was born near London but had my fourth birthday in Los Angeles. The only British comic I had was a small hardback of Rupert the Bear. From the look of the artwork I would have loved Beano if I had seen it.
Hardbacks of Rupert the Bear are worth big money now if they're old, in good condition and haven't had the price clipped out. does it date from the 60s?
Rupert's creator was Mary Tourtel. Her successor was Alfred Bestall, whose work was much-loved.
I think the strips appeared in B&W in the newspaper and the annuals reprinted stories in colour. Rupert was always coloured white inside, but for many years he was brown on the painted covers.
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