The Bash Street Kids, by Leo Baxendale

Leo Baxendale was one of the most important and influential British artists of humor comics. Together with David Law and Ken Reid he innovated the genre in the 1950s. Baxendale is best remembered for his work at DC Thomson's The Beano, for whom he created two of their longest-running and most beloved series: 'Minnie the Minx' (1953-   ) and 'The Bash Street Kids' (1954-   ). Both centered around misbehaving little children. While this wasn't a new concept in comics Baxendale's work had an anarchic streak which delighted his target audience. His child protagonists frequently rebel against authority, but aren't always punished for it. Baxendale's drawings were wild, wacky and chock-full with goofy characters and numerous background gags. While he only worked less than a decade for The Beano, he laid the foundations for their house style. Several of his series are re-run and continued to this day. At the same time, Baxendale also brought the magazine before the court in a widely published case. This makes him historically important as one of the few comic artists to ever sue their former employers and win back the rights and profits to their own characters. The only others who managed to do this were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Baxendale was also co-founder of the British comic magazines WHAM! (1964-1968) and POW! (1967-1968), which later merged into SMASH! (1966-1971). WHAM! was the first British comic magazine over which one artist had complete creative control. Baxendale worked for several smaller magazines as well. Of his later series, 'Eagle Eye, Junior Spy' (1964-1968) – with its memorable villain Grimley Fiendish – and 'Sweeney Toddler' (1973-2000) had the most staying power. Later in his career Baxendale reinvented himself as a more adult cartoonist. He remains in memory as one of comics' most headstrong and freespirited cartoonists, whose style still resonates in the drawings of countless humorous British comics and cartoons.

'Minnie the Minx'.

Early life
Leo Baxendale was born in 1930 in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire, as the son of two weavers. After the local mill closed down, his parents moved to Preston, where his father worked as a jack-of-all-trades to keep bread on the table. Despite being completely self-taught, young Baxendale settled upon an artistic career. His first job was designing paint labels for the Leyland Paint and Vamish Company. Between 1949 and 1950 he fulfilled his national service in the R.A.F. and afterwards became a cartoonist and advertisement illustrator for The Lancashire Evening Post. Among his main graphic influences were Carl Giles, Julius Stafford Baker's 'Casey Court', Tom Browne, George Wakefield, Dudley Watkins, David Law and the manic energy of the Looney Tunes cartoons by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Bob McKimson, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. Another inspiration were the novels of Richmal Crompton ('Just William') and British radio comedians like Max Wall, Tony Hancock and the Goon Show, whose dry and surreal sense of comedy had a great impact on his own sense of humor.

The Beano 
When Baxendale was 22 he happened to read a copy of The Beano, published by DC Thomson & Co in Dundee, Scotland. He was familiar with the magazine, but felt most of the content was extremely old-fashioned. One series, however, caught his attention: David Law's 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher' (1951). This comic featured a bratty spiky-haired boy and his equally mean dog who frequently pulled pranks on their environment. Moral guardians were concerned, but young readers reacted with enthusiasm to this misbehaving kid. Dennis sparked Baxendale's imagination. If a comic like this was possible in The Beano, then he would be glad to join in. He started out as a freelance artist, creating short-lived gag comics like 'Oscar Krank, Mad Inventor', the Charlie Chan parody 'Charlie Choo, the Chinese Detective with his sons Ah Choo and Choo Choo' and 'Jamie the Gamie'.

Kat and Kanary
His first series to earn a longer livespan was 'Kat and Kanary' (1952-1958), which he drew in collaboration with scriptwriter Charles Grigg. The comic strip featured the never-ending rivalry between a black-and-white cat and a little canary, obviously inspired by Friz Freleng's animated cartoon series 'Tweety & Sylvester' and Hanna-Barbera's 'Tom & Jerry'. He drew it until 1956, after which it was picked up again by Albert Holroyd, then continued by Gordon Bell until 1958.

Little Plum by Leo Baxendale

Little Plum
Baxendale's first real classic series was 'Little Plum, your Redskin Chum' (1953-1986). The gag comic was set in a Native American village and centered around Little Plum, a kid who always tried to impress his friends and grown-ups by showing off his bravery, strength or hunting skills, but usually utterly failed. The setting was inspired by the Disney character 'Hiawatha', down to the design of Plum and his Indian chief father. Another thing both series had in common was their stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans. Baxendale always remained fond of 'Little Plum', because he saw the character as less one-note than some of his others. Plum wasn't overly nice, nor mean and not particularly smart or stupid. The series also saw the first examples of elements that would become Baxendale's trademarks. He had a lot of fun thinking up puns, like the names of the tribes: Smellyfoot and Puttyfoot. The only thing that always bothered him was the printers' decision to leave Plum's nose white instead of pink: "It made him look as if he had gangrene in his nose." 'Little Plum' was Baxendale's first genuine hit. He drew it from 10 October 1953 until 1962, after which Robert Nixon briefly took it over before Ron Spencer continued it until 1986. In 1998 'Little Plum' briefly returned under the pen of Tom Paterson. The character made his official comeback in 2002, when scriptwriter Claire Bartlett and Hunt Emerson revived him. A four-panel gag comic starring Plum in the Funsize Funnies series has run since 2012 and was drawn by Laura Howell and sometimes Andy Fanton.

Debut of 'Minnie the Minx' (1953).

Minnie the Minx
Up to that point, most of Baxendale's comics had been typical children's comics of that era. Even Little Plum, who frequently caused trouble, never did this on purpose but always by accident. Baxendale finally got his chance to put more bite in his work when his editor commissioned him with a new series: 'Minnie the Minx' (1953). The comic starred a young mischievous trickster, deliberately created as a female copy of Dennis. Even her design was similar. She wore the same red-and-black striped jersey, while her black beret reminded of Dennis' black locks. Her counterpart to Gnasher the dog was a cat named Chester. Some readers have pointed at police officer PC Thyme in 'Minnie the Minx' as yet another concept stolen from 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher', but in reality Thyme made his debut as Minnie's foil long before Sergeant Slipper first appeared in 'Dennis the Menace'. Readers first met Minnie on 19 December 1953. Naturally it didn't take long before Dennis and Minnie appeared in a crossover. Only a month to be precise! Several episodes paired them together, either as friends or as rivals. Later crossovers also pitted Minnie with and/or against Barrie Appleby's 'Roger the Dodger' or Baxendale's own 'Bash Street Kids'.

Minnie the Minx was quite a remarkable character at the time. While most female characters in comics at the time - particularly young girls - were well-behaved, Minnie is an utter brat. She takes delight in playing pranks on other people or, as she calls it: "minxing". In several episodes she rebels against authority. Her parents, teachers, pompous adults and police officer PC Thyme are frequent victims of her shenanigans. But she is equally merciless against other children, particularly snobby ones. In several gags she even beats up boys! In English comic history she only had two stylistic precedessors. The first were Ronald Searle's girls from 'St. Trinians' (1946-1952) . The second David Law's 'Beryl the Peril' (1953-2012), a similar misbehaving young girl created only half a year earlier for The Topper (which later became the Dandy). Originally Minnie only appeared in short black-and-white gags. Readers - particularly girls - liked her so much that she soon received a full page in colour. The character offered Baxendale a lot of creative possibilities, which helped him discover and build out his own style. He even upped the ante in terms of Minnie's mischievousness. While Dennis was an unmistakingly bad boy, editors still insisted that he was in some way punished for his deeds. Baxendale did the same with Minnie, but gradually let her get away with her crimes more and more. 'Minnie the Minx' became one of The Beano's signature characters. In 1962 Jim Petrie took over the series and continued it for nearly four decades. In 2001 he was succeeded by Tom Paterson, occasionally assisted by ghost artists Steve Horrocks and Leslie Reavey. Since 2008 Ken Harrison is Minnie's main artist, though she is sometimes drawn by Laura Howell and Nigel Parkinson too.

When the bell rings by Leo Baxendale

The Bash Street Kids
Baxendale's second most famous comic series is 'The Bash Street Kids' (1954). When it first appeared in print on 13 February 1954 it carried the title 'When the Bell Rings', but it changed to its current name on 11 November 1956. Baxendale was inspired by a 1953 cartoon by Carl Giles which featured a group of pupils storming away. The Bash Street Kids consist of ten pupils who go to Bash Street School in Beanotown. They frequently try to undermine their headmaster's authority or skip school. Originally Baxendale used an entire class of nameless pupils as his protagonists, but eventually he realized it would be better to reduce them to a mere ten. That way he could give each one a name and personality so readers could individualize them. Danny - who wears a red cap and skull T-shirt - is the gang's leader and creative brain. Second in command is Toots, the only girl in the gang and twin sister of Sidney, who is the trickster of the group. Spotty (renamed 'Scotty' in 2021) is a loud-mouthed boy with spots all over his face. He never misses an opportunity to make a sarcastic remark in class. Smiffy is dim-witted, Fatty (renamed 'Freddy' in 2021) obese and gluttonous and Wilfred so shy that he rarely talks and just pulls his green jumper up to his nose. The buck-toothed and dumbo-eared Plug is the most recognizable gang member due to his height. He is even as tall as an adult. The only outcasts within the gang are 'Erbert and Cuthbert. 'Erbert is a nerd who wears glasses, but still frequently bumps into things because he is so short-sighted. Cuthbert is bright, well-behaved and basically the teacher's pet. Both are generally nice boys who try to fit in with the other kids, but are only accepted up to a certain level. One thing that stuck out about the Bash Street Kids was that they are distinctively working class, while most school-themed British comics until that time featured pupils in school uniforms to avoid such notable class differences.

Bash Street Kids by Leo Baxendale

Just like 'Minnie the Minx' the Bash Street Kids are playful troublemakers who sometimes get punished, but often get away with their schemes too. The format allowed Baxendale to draw huge crowds of children doing all kinds of mayhem. Its over-the-top slapstick pleases the mind of everyone who suffered at school. The Bash Street Kids do everything to disrupt classes, including bring a tank to school and blow the building up! Yet Baxendale didn't simply make the children the heroes. "Teacher" - whose real name is Algernon - is an equally fun and even mischievous character. He seems to accept and even enjoy his pupils' misbehaviour as part of his job. It allows him to think up creative ways to punish them back. This makes 'The Bash Street Kids' arguably Baxendale's most entertaining and versatile creation. Readers can enjoy the interaction between the school's guardians and the pupils. Both camps see it as a challenge to taunt the other and commit revenge. David Sutherland continued the franchise from 1962 until 1998, and again from 2000 until 2023. In the 1970s the comic was frequently ghosted by Gordon Bell and John Sherwood, while one decade later Kevin Reynolds also drew some episodes anonymously. Other ghost artists in later decades were Tom Paterson, Mike Pearse, Kev F. Sutherland, Nigel Parkinson and Shannon Gallant. As one of The Beano's most enduring series, 'The Bash Street Kids' spawned several spin-offs, including about individual gang members, 'Says Smiffy' (1971-1972) by Jim Petrie, 'Simply Smiffy' (1985) and 'Winston' (2012-2013) by Paul Palmer and even one about the children's dogs: 'Pup Parade' (1967-1988, 2003-2011, 2012-….) by Nigel Auchterlounie. 'Singled Out' (2004-2009) by Mike Pearse, Tom Paterson and David Sutherland was a comic series which centered on one individual member of the gang each week. 'At Home with the Bash Street Kids!' (2011) by David Sutherland offered a look at the children's domestic settings. 'The Bash Street Squelchies' (2015) by Les Stannage teamed the kids up with 'Calamity James' (originally created by Tom Paterson).

Between 1977 and 1979 The Beano even launched a separate magazine around the character Plug. In 2007 the kids briefly received an eleventh member, Wayne, as part of a competition organized by the British children's TV show 'Blue Peter', but he only stayed for one year. 'The Bash Street Kids' were so popular that the format was frequently imitated by other artists, such as Gordon Bell's 'The Belles of St. Lemons' in The Beano, which was basically a female version. Rival magazines also ran their own rip-offs, such as 'Whacko!' (1971-1984) by Ron Spencer and 'P5' (1998-2000) by Jimmy Hansen in The Dandy.

'The Three Bears'.

The Three Bears
Baxendale's final classic series for The Beano was 'The Three Bears' (1959), a spin-off of 'Little Plum'. First published on 6 June 1959, it starred a grizzly bear family - Pa, Ma and Little Teddie - obviously inspired by the fairy tale 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' by Joseph Jacobs. Many episodes centered around the family's never-ending search for food. They always tried to outwit shopkeeper Hank, a local sheriff and two rival bears, Grizzly Gus and his son Gus's Grizzly. When Baxendale's workload became to heavy, 'The Three Bears' was the first series he dropped, passing it on to Bob McGrath, who drew for several decades. In 1985 the comic was briefly discontinued, but it returned on irregular intervals drawn by Tom Lavery, Bob Dewar, David Parkins and Robert Nixon. Between 1999 and 2007 it made its definitive comeback in The Beano's pages, drawn by Mike Pearse until he passed the pencil to Chris McGhie in 2002. The bear family returned one final time between 2010 and 2011, drawn by McGhie, David Parkins and Ken Harrison. Apart from The Beano, Baxendale was also co-founder of DC Thomson's comic magazine Beezer in 1956, for whom he created 'The Banana Bunch' (1956-1993) and 'The Gobbles' (1962-1964). 'The Banana Bunch' was basically another version of 'The Bash Street Kids', and scripted by Walter Thorburn. 'The Gobbles' was a gag comic about a family of goofy vultures.

The Gobbles by Leo Baxendale
'The Gobbles'.

Baxendale was an enrichment for both The Beano as well as Beezer. Sales of both magazines skyrocketed during this period, which had much to do with his creations. A typical Baxendale drawing has an inviting look, full of fun and energy. As he told in a 1999  interview with Janet Scott for The Big Issue: "I wanted to create something with the most comic possibilities (...) I never based my drawings on real life - I did things that can only happen in a drawing. Things occurred by chance, or cause and effect - disaster was visited on characters, though they were gormlessly oblivious of where their actions would leave them." Though his comics were somewhat formulaic Baxendale explained this repetiveness the following way: "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." Still, Baxendale had clever ways to make his storylines interesting. He was a master in creating panels that vibrated with movement and crammed in dozens of little gags, both visual and verbal. Every illustration had something funny going on both in the foreground as well as the background. Several signs, book titles and written commentary by the author hid puns and literal visualisations of word play. For instance, a character would be eating rice pudding, which was literally written out on his plate. Baxendale also enjoyed putting his readers on the wrong track. In the aforementioned interview with Janet Scott he remarked: "A particular feature of my drawings was leaving off at a point where something else was about to happen." The final panel of some of his comics often reveals a different punchline hidden underneath the official punchline. When it appears the teacher has won, for instance, there might still lurk one pupil in the back with an extra trick up his sleeve - or vice versa. Extras like these made it worthwhile to re-read his comics over and over and spot jokes one had missed the first time.

The Banana Bunch by Leo Baxendale

Baxendale spent so much time on each comic that he frequently missed his deadlines. But this had a plus side as well. By the time his pages finally arrived at the office his editors usually had no time or interest to check every detail of his immensly busy panels. Since the drawings were already overtime they just went ahead and published them immediately. As such Baxendale could avoid censorship and became the only comic artist at the Beano and Beezer who had more creative freedom than the others. Still, the overall workload remained exhausting. As sales increased, so did the demand for his work. He didn't just whip out several weekly features for two separate magazines: he had to create material for their annual specials as well and occasionally ghostwrite - and draw - for some of his colleagues. Baxendale hardly found the time and energy to keep up his personal quality levels. To release the pressure he dropped 'The Three Bears'. Then his editors took the decision to pass 'Little Plum' over to Robert Nixon, without informing Baxendale about this matter. Since the comic was his personal favorite, Baxendale took this event very seriously and left the magazine in 1962. While Baxendale's time with the Beano only lasted less than a decade, his style and influence were so huge that his successors at the magazine all tried to copy his designs, style and comedy. To this day he is still held in high esteem by them.

From a 'Whodunnit' strip for the Beano Book of 1960.

In 1964 Odhams Press offered Baxendale the opportunity to found his own comic magazine: WHAM!. Launched on 20 June 1964, WHAM! gave Baxendale the creative freedom he yearned for. He started writing more wacky storylines and experimented with lay-out and colour, living up to the magazine's promise of being "wilder, dafter and more unpredictable" than all other comic magazines. Still, some series in WHAM! were basically rip-offs of work Baxendale made earlier for The Beano. 'The Tiddlers' once again dealt with a group of rebellious school kids and 'Bad Penny' featured a mischievous girl with even the same black beret. More original series were, for instance, 'General Nitt and his Barmy Army', about a pompous general and his incompetent privates. Terry Willers also assisted on this series. 'Danny Dare' centered around a young boy who looked up to comic book aviator 'Dan Dare' by Frank Hampson, but whose own attempts to imitate Dan's heroism usually lead to disaster. One thing that was interesting about this particular comic was that Baxendale actually tried to mimick the realistic drawing style of 'Dan Dare' and later received assistance from real-life 'Dan Dare' assistants Bruce Cornwell and Don Harley.

Bad Penny by Leo Baxendale

Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy
With 'Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy' (1964-1968) and 'The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E.' (1966) - which spoofed the TV series 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.', Baxendale ventured into spy parodies. Of these two, 'Eagle Eye, Junior Spy' had the most staying power. Eagle Eye was notable for being one of the few comics by Baxendale built around longer adventures, told in serialized episodes. Secret agent Eagle Eye travelled the entire world while trying to prevent evil schemes. His arch enemy was a pale, bald headed creep, Grimly Feendish, who resembled Uncle Fester from Charles Addams' comic 'The Addams Family', and made his debut on 11 July 1964.. Grimly lived in a dark castle where he was assisted by numerous little monsters. The colourful villain quickly became a readers' favorite and between 1966 and 1969 and again from 1973 on received his own spin-off comic in SMASH! magazine. In 1985 punk band The Damned even named one of their songs 'Grimly Fiendish', deliberately misspelled to avoid copyright issues. 'Eagle Eye, Junior Spy' also received a foreign translation. It ran as 'Archibald Razmott, Mini-Barbouze de Choc' in the French Disney magazine Le Journal de Mickey, where Eagle-Eye was named Archibald Razmott and Grimly 'Sinistroteur'. Other comics by Baxendale translated in French were 'Petsy la Peste' ('Bad Penny'), 'Larry Tournel' ('The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E.') and 'La Bande à Zozo' ('The Tiddlers'), which appeared in the bi-monthly Akim.

'Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy'.

Baxendale got a lot of personal joy and creative fulfillment out of WHAM! but already left in 1966 to join Fleetway Publications, who published the comic magazines Buster, Valiant and Lion. While he officially worked for Fleetway now, Baxendale still secretly drew a lot of comics as a ghost artist for Odham, because their pay was simply higher. Aided by Irene Rooum, wife of cartoonist Donald Rooum, Baxendale set up Hampstead Studio, where he secretly made his preliminary sketches and inked them, after which he sent them to Odham. Sometimes he just offered the drawings, while Mike Brown did the inking afterwards. To avoid anybody noticing Baxendale worked in a different, more sparse style with minimal backgrounds. He actually enjoyed this privilege, because now he could earn considerable sums without having to overwork himself.

'The Tiddlers'.

Most of his official titles appeared in Buster. Between 1962 and 1968 he scripted 'Buster's Diary', which featured the diary entries of the magazine's mascot Buster Capp, drawn by Angel Nadal. The feature was revived by Reg Parlett between 1974 and 1985. 'The Pirates' (1966-1968) was a short-lived gag comic about three kids who pretended to be buccaneers. 'The Cave Kids' (1967-1968) followed another group of young brats during the Stone Age. 'Big Chief Pow Wow' (1968-1970) was cut from the same mold as 'Little Plum' and centered around a not-too-bright Native American chief and his often suffering tribesmen. 'Pest of the West' (1970-1972) was also set in the Wild West. Apart from Baxendale himself, Brian Lewis also frequently provided pencil work. Another historical gag comic was 'The Nits of the Round Table' (1973-1974), which followed the exploits of three Arthurian knights and their nemesis Big Bad Bonkers. It was later reprinted in Tiger as well. The shortest-lived of all of Baxendale's comics in Buster was 'Mervyn's Monsters' (1968) about a little bespectacled boy named Mervyn and his monster friends. His four most popular and longest-running comics in Buster were 'Clever Dick' (1970-1979), 'Nellyphant' (1972-1976), 'Bluebottle and Basher' (1973-1976) and 'Snooper' (1974-1977). 'Clever Dick' centered around a young boy with genius I.Q. who made amazing inventions which never worked according to plan. It also ran in Whizzer and Chips and was later ghosted by Steve Maher and Baxendale's son, Martin Baxendale. 'Nellyphant' was a gag comic about a goofy elephant and his zoo keeper, scripted by Derek Skinn, while 'Bluebottle and Basher' featured a bumbling bobby and an obese convict on the loose who constantly tried to outwit one another. 'Snooper' followed the incurably curious Snooper who could never mind his own business and therefore always paid the price for it. After one year it was continued by Martin Baxendale.

The Swots and The Blots by Leo Baxendale
'The Swots and The Blots'.

Meanwhile, WHAM! outlived Baxendale for only two years before it merged with the magazine POW (IPC) and in 1968 changed its title into SMASH!. Baxendale drew a horror-themed humor comic for this particular magazine named 'Sam's Spook' (1970-1971), which dealt with a little boy, Sam, and his ghost friend, Spooky, who frequently helped him out whenever he was in trouble. In 1969 he also continued a humor comic about a group of rebellious children named 'The Swots and The Blots', originally created in 1966 by Ron Spencer and Mike Lacey who were obviously trying to copy Baxendale's own 'Bash Street Kids'. Since the series was already so similar to his own style Baxendale had no trouble taking it over and putting it to his own hand. Some episodes were ghost-drawn by Les Barton and Terry Bave, but the majority was quintessential Baxendale. In 1971 SMASH! merged with Vailant, where 'The Swots and The Blots' continued for another couple of years. For the weekly comic magazine Lion, Baxendale created the comic 'Lion Lot', which was later reprinted in Shiver and Shake. Just like the previous children's magazines he worked for this was yet another series about a group of rebellious children.

'Sweeny Toddler'.

Sweeny Toddler
In 1973 Baxendale created 'Sweeny Toddler' (1973-2000) for Shiver & Shake, starring a little toddler who caused chaos wherever he went and was often seen in the presence of his little dog Henry. The comic debuted in the first issue of Shiver and Shake, but was soon taken over by Tom Paterson, who continued it for several decades, with Graham Exton as writer and later Jimmy Hansen as his graphic assistant. In 1974 the series appeared in Whoopee! where it stayed for nine years until the magazine merged with Whizzer and Chips in 1985. By that point Paterson had already left the comic in the good hands of Graham Exton who also took over the illustration work. In 1990 Whizzer and Chips merged a final time with Buster, where Jack Edward Oliver continued it until that magazine's eventual demise in 2000.

Bad Time Bed Time Book
In 1975, despite being already 45 years old at the time, Baxendale made an unexpected career move. He started making more alternative comics for a more mature audience. His first comic in this direction was 'Bad Time Bed Time Book', originally published in the middle pages of Monster Fun magazine. These four center pages could be pulled out of the magazine and folded in order to make a little book. Every week each one of these books presented a different storyline and characters, usually a media parody. Children could read this at night underneath the sheets with the aid of a flashlight. Baxendale only made these fold-in books for about a year, before other artists like Mike Brown and Artie Jackson continued the idea. Once Monster Fun merged with Buster in 1976, the 'Bad Time Bed Time Books' ended.

Willy the Kid
His next idea was 'Willy the Kid' (1976-1978), a comic story about a little boy and his thrilling adventures. Contrary to all his previous work it wasn't serialized in a magazine, but straight ahead in book format by Duckworths. Baxendale even made a couple of episodes directly for the Dutch magazine Eppo, where it was published as 'Willie de Kid' between 1979 and 1980. Another alternative comic, 'THRRP!' (1987) was published by Knockabout and meant for youngsters rather than children. As to mark his change in content both comics were also drawn in a different, more loose and almost unrecognizable style. 'THHRP' was done as a a pantomime comic and starred a character originally created for Rip Off Comix named Spotted Dick and his adventures on the planet Url. One of Baxendale's final comics was 'I Love You Baby Basil' (1990-1991), which ran in The Guardian. An eyestrain eventually forced him into retirement, but he remained active as a writer and spokesperson for British comics. In 1978 Baxendale published a semi-autobiography named 'A Very Funny Business. 40 Years of Comics' (1978). To pay tribute to his main idol, Baxendale wrote a letter to Carl Giles to acknowledge his heavy debt to him and offer him a copy of this book. Baxendale also wrote a page of Bryan Talbot's graphic novel 'Alice in Sunderland' (2007), starring both him and Talbot as characters.

I Love You Baby Basil

Death, legacy and influence
Leo Baxendale died on 23 April 2017 of cancer, at the age of 86. Yet he was already a legend during his lifetime. Countless British comic artists have been influenced by him, including Lew Stringer, David Sutherland, Mike Lacey, Graham Allen, Pat Mills, Dave Jones, Jonathan Edwards, Nigel Auchterlounie, Alan Moore, Savage Pencil, Tom Paterson, Bryan Talbot, Andy Fanton, Nigel Parkinson and Steve Bell. Outside the UK, one of his biggest fans is Zep! Some critics have made a connection between Baxendale's anarchic comics and the rebellious rock 'n' roll generation who emerged in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. While many of his young misbehavin' child characters are often punished for their mishaps, Baxendale was less concerned with giving his audience a decent moral than making them laugh. More than often the little tricksters get away with their ploys or take their punishment all in good humour. When asked by Janet Scott in 1999 whether he would consider himself an anarchist Baxendale replied: "No, I'm not, really. I'm more like water seeping into the woodwork and rotting it."

Rebellious reputation
Yet, in a way, the artist did have something in common with the anti-authoritarian rebel characters in his comics. Once he was invited to a garden party in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, but downright refused. When he heard that some of his admirers tried to recommend him for a MBE medal, he strongly objected. Between 1965 and 1967 Baxendale published a two-page activist newsletter named 'Strategic Commentary', which protested against the Vietnam War. He spent most of his own income to send hundreds of free copies to members of government in the Houses of Parliament. One of its first subscribers was famed linguist Noam Chomsky! Even as an artist Baxendale was an independent soul brave enough to protest against the way he was treated. Leaving the best-selling Beano and trying to create his own comic magazine, WHAM!, were one thing. Making a move from classic comics to alternative comics late in his career was another. But in 1980 he took the most audacious and widely admired step in his entire career. That year he sued The Beano. Baxendale felt the magazine profited from the sales of series and characters he had created, without him receiving any financial compensation. No other British comic artist had ever dared to bring their former publisher to court. The case was brought before the High Court and in 1987 Baxendale received the rights to his characters back, as well as thirty of his original artworks. Baxendale commented upon this verdict in his book 'Hobgoblin Wars' (2009): "During my 22 years creating and drawing for the three major firms of the comic industry, I had drawn between five-and-a-half thousand and six thousand pages. Of these, I now had thirty. Thirty isn't much in the scale of things, but that thirty, all drawn for The Beano, was crucial." He used the money to found his own publishing house Reaper Books, which brought out several of his own books: 'The Encroachment '(1988), 'On Comedy; The Beano and Ideology' (1989), 'Pictures in the Mind' (1998), 'The Beano Room' (2005) and 'Hobgoblin Wars' (2009). They all give great insight in his career, as well as his personal thoughts about cartooning.

Leo Baxendale

A testament to the enduring popularity of Baxendale's creations is that in 2001 both Dudley D. Watkins's 'Desperate Dan' as well as 'Minnie the Minx' received their own statues in Dundee, Scotland. They were created by Tony and Susie Morrow. Baxendale's work has often been exhibited, including - and fittingly - during the 2010 exhibition 'Rude Britannia' at the Tate Gallery in London, where three centuries worth of British caricatures and cartoons were put on display. In 2003 he received the Cartoon Art Trust Lifetime Achievement Award and ten years later he was inducted in the British Comics Awards Hall of Fame. That same year, on 26 February 2014, a street in Dundee was officially renamed 'Bash Street'. 

Baxendale presents his career overview.

Baxendale of Bash Street site
Leo Baxendale on the Bear Alley blog
Leo Baxendale on Lew Stringer's blog

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