Thursday, April 27, 2017

Leo Baxendale 1930 - 2017

On Monday, myself and others in the comics industry were given the very sad news that the great Leo Baxendale had passed away on Sunday 23rd April, at the age of 86. His family asked us to hold back on mentioning it on social media until the rest of Leo's relatives had been informed, so naturally we respected their wishes. We now have permission to post our tributes and several will be appearing online from today.

An absolute giant in the world of British comics, Leo Baxendale created such enduring characters as Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, and The Bash Street Kids for The Beano in the 1950s and memorable strips such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, Bad PennyGrimly Feendish, Clever Dick, and Sweeny Toddler for various other comics in the 1960s/70s. 
It all began in the early 1950s. Filled with enthusiasm when he saw Davy Law's first energetic Dennis the Menace strips in The Beano, Leo submitted work to the editor, which led to him creating Little Plum, When The Bell Rings (later known as The Bash Street Kids) and Minnie the Minx. The characters struck a chord with the readers and the impact and influence of Leo's style on British humour comics from the 1950s onwards was immeasurable. Along with Davy Law (Dennis the Menace) and Ken Reid (Roger the Dodger), Leo revitalised The Beano and his art style became the one that other artists were encouraged to emulate. He also drew for The Beezer at that time, creating marvellous full page illustrations for The Banana Bunch

In an interview for Cotswold Life in 2010, Leo said:
"When I was creating my characters for The Beano, I made them part of an uncertain world, and there were two strands to this world. One was the medieval concept of disasters happening out of a blue sky for no reason whatever. And the second one was the more modern idea of cause-and-effect. Very often, the ambitions that made my characters set events in train led to disaster; but the thing was, they were absolutely unaware of this so they made the same errors again and again."
The Beano, 1958.

Banana Bunch in The Beezer.
Leo's work revolutionised British comics. Even though he left The Beano in 1962, and quit mainstream comics altogether in 1975 to pursue independent publishing, other artists were still required to follow his style, particularly on The Beano. The Bash Street Kids still bears Leo's influence to this day, even though the current artist, David Sutherland, has been drawing it for over 50 years.
The Beano. 1960.
I still clearly remember the day I first saw a Leo Baxendale strip. I was six years old and shopping in town with my mum. I was allowed to choose a comic myself from a newsagent's counter, and picked up Wham! No.77 (dated 4th December 1965). I'd never seen this bright, dynamic comic before. Leo's Tiddlers cover strip immediately grabbed my attention and I remember, even now, walking around the nearby department stall, totally engrossed in that cover strip. Most comics were fun but this was funny. From that day onwards, Leo Baxendale became my favourite humour artist. I started having Wham! regularly and began creating my own comics not too long after that, thanks directly to how much Leo's work engaged me.

Wham!, published by Odhams, had been created in 1964 specifically to woo Leo over from The Beano to originate strips for a rival comic. It didn't exactly turn out to be the "Super Beano" that Leo had hoped for but Wham! still had a modern and anarchic vitality to its strips (many created by Leo) that excited its readership and is still remembered with fondness today. The editors allowed artists to sign their work if they wished to, (a rarity back then) so it was evident which pages Leo had drawn. The same applied to Smash!, a companion comic that began in 1966. Leo's Bad Penny and Grimly Feendish strips were a joy to read.

First Grimly Feendish strip from SMASH! No.1, 1966.
Leo didn't stay with Odhams for too long, and began freelancing for the Fleetway comics instead in 1966, with others taking over his Odhams strips, drawing in his style. I wasn't aware of his Fleetway work until years later, but he was producing some cracking stuff such as The Pirates for Buster
Buster, 1967.
When Fleetway / Odhams evolved into IPC Magazines, Leo took over The Swots and the Blots strip in Smash! in 1969, providing wild and genuinely funny stories. He also originated Clever Dick for Buster, and other strips such as the Badtime Bedtime Story Books (pull outs) in Monster Fun Comic

Smash! 1969.
Eventually, Leo quit mainstream comics in the mid seventies, frustrated by the practices of UK publishers (such as the reprinting of old pages without payment, and his lack of creative control). Ahead of his time, he set to work on producing hardback comic albums featuring his new creation Willy the Kid, published by Duckworth. A bold move, considering Willy was a completely untested character. Books in strip format featuring one character were a common format in Europe but not so much in the UK then as they are now.

It was also around this time that Leo's autobiography A Very Funny Business was published, which was a fantastic revelation about the inner workings of life for a freelancer in the British comics industry. A real eye-opener for those of us who were looking for a career in comics.
In the 1980s, Leo engaged in a long legal battle with D.C. Thomson over ownership of his characters. He was the first UK comics artist to stand up to a publisher over creator's rights in this way. The case was settled out of court. 

In 1987, Knockabout Books published Thrrp! a bizarre, brand new work by Leo for adults. 
Later, he created Baby Basil for a strip in The Guardian and began to self publish books under his Reaper Books imprint. These included a hardback called I Love You Baby Basil (collecting his 1990-91 strips rom The Guardian), and the softback Down the Plughole in 1995.
(http://www.reaper.co.uk/main.htm)



I only met Leo once, at a small informal event in Preston in 1993 celebrating the 40th anniversary of his Beano creations. A small group of us went out for dinner later and Leo was excellent company. We exchanged letters for a while but dropped out of touch over the years. I'm very pleased that I did get a chance to meet my hero though and I valued his encouragement.

It's been very saddening writing this tribute. I knew Leo as an acquaintance but not as a close friend, but his work was such a massive influence on me and brought me so much joy as a kid. It's a cliché to say that comics would have been poorer without him but they genuinely would. Leo's artwork impacted on the look of British humour comics from the early 1960s onwards, establishing a style that so many artists emulated. Leo demonstrably helped modernise the industry in the 1950s when the Roy Wilson style of artwork was falling out of favour, and its arguable that the traditional humour weekly wouldn't have survived for so long as it did without his significant input. 
Eagle Eye, Wham!, 1964.
My sincere condolences to Leo's family and friends for their loss, and I hope that the knowledge of the happiness his work brought to so many of us will bring them some comfort at this sad time.
Beezer Book, published 1963.

1976 interview by Denis Gifford for Ally Sloper comic.

More tributes to Leo Baxendale...

from Joe Gordon:

from John Freeman:

from Nigel Parkinson:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Inking Woman exhibition opens today


Now at London's Cartoon Museum is The Inking Woman, a new exhibition highlighting the work of women cartoonists from the last 250 years. It runs from today until the 23rd July and you'll find out the full details at this link:
http://www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/future-exhibitions/50193-the-inking-woman

Digital Rasher

The Beano website now has a couple of my old Rasher mini-strips online. Click on the links to read them:

https://www.beano.com/posts/rasher-ant-pig

https://www.beano.com/posts/rasher-pigswill-sandwich

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Promoting VALIANT in 1962

Here's how the first issue of Valiant was advertised to readers, in a full page ad in Knockout dated 6th October 1962. This was definitely a case of Fleetway bringing in new comics to replace the old, as Knockout merged into Valiant the following year. 

Valiant enjoyed a long, healthy run, absorbing Smash!, TV21, and Lion along the way until it eventually merged into Battle in 1976. By then, the "NEW, EXCTING, DIFFERENT" Valiant had itself become old fashioned (despite a valiant attempt at a revamp, pardon the pun) and it was time for the grittier new comics such as Action and 2000AD to take over.

Related blog posts:
https://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/captain-hurricane-arrives.html

https://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/this-week-in-1976-final-valant.html




Monday, April 24, 2017

Phoenix collector covers!

Children's weekly comic The Phoenix has recently started a four-week series of "Epic Lorenzo Collector Covers" featuring the work of top artist Lorenzo Etherington. These are the regular covers as seen in the shops. They're not rare variants you'd have to pay premium for or anything like that.

As you can see from the two already published, these are fantastic pieces of dynamic comic art. Better still, each issue features its cover as a pull-out A3 poster too! 

The Phoenix is a real success story of modern British comics. Independently published, it's now on its 277th issue, features quality work by contemporary creators and no paid ads.  

Contributors to current issues include Jamie Smart, Neill Cameron, Faz Choudhury, The Etherington Brothers, and more. It has proven to engage young readers who eagerly look forward to every weekly issue. 

To find out more about it, check out The Phoenix website here:
https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk
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