The UK’s King of the Comics has died.
Prolific, unparalleled and much imitated British comic creator Leo Baxendale has passed away, aged 86. He was the mind behind an army of characters such as The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Little Plum, Grimly Fiendish, Wear ‘em Out Wilf, Bad Penny, The Group, and (my personal favourite) Willy the Kid.
Baxendale’s death was reported by comic artist Lew Stringer on his comics blog Blimey. Tributes have followed from other UK comic creators and the likes of Billy Bragg and Gyles Brandreth.
Growing up in the UK it is hard not to have been exposed to Baxendale or others intimating his anarchic style of cartooning.
Born in Lancashire in 1930, Baxendale served in the RAF before becoming an artist for the Lancashire Evening Post where he drew adverts and cartoons. Inspired by David Law’s Dennis the Menace he began submitting work north of the border to DC Thomson’s The Beano comic.
Over the next decade, he created the likes of Minnie the Minx, The Three Bears, The Bash Street Kids (originally When The Bell Tolls) and Little Plum. Apart from his work on The Beano, he also helped launch The Beezer, which would hold its tabloid format into the Eighties.
In the early Sixties, he was lured by Odhams to create Wham! a glossy humour weekly that bought us the likes of Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy, George’s Germs (think Inside Out only less hygienic) and others.
There were also spin-offs, Grimly Fiendish, the arch nemesis of Eagle-Eye, got his own strip in Wham!’s sister title Smash! (Coincidentally Wham! gave birth to the Power Comics line which allowed Marvel an early step into the wider UK market. But that’s another story).
Baxendale went on to create a range of characters for Fleetway (IPC) but also ventured out into independent territory with three hardbacked volumes of Willy the Kid. It is a surreal amalgam of everything that came before. Baby Basil setting off to “Shoot a wabbit in the bum!” is still guaranteed to induce giggles in my brothers. That’s not a rabbit though, Basil.
Willy and Basil would feature in later work for The Guardian, and Baxendale also produced Thrrp! for Knockabout (who lately have brought us The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Nemo).
Rest in peace.