Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Born in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire, on 27 October 1930, Baxendale had a grammar school education; as an artist he was self-taught, his first job being to design paint labels for the Leyland Paint and Varnish Company. Between 1949 and 1950 he served with the catering corps. of the R.A.F., after which he worked as a staff artist for the Lancashire Evening Post, drawing sports cartoons, editorial illustrations, adverts and his own series of self-written articles.
Inspired by David Law’s "Dennis the Menace", he submitted work to D.C. Thomson's The Beano, a comic he had read as a child, and was immediately accepted, his first original character appearing in 1953, "Little Plum your Redskin Chum", followed shortly afterwards by "Minnie me Minx", intended as a female counterpart to the popular Dennis. His third Beano set was the single panel "When the Bell Rings", later to become a full-page strip under the title "The Bash Street Kids", Baxendale's first strip to introduce a team of characters. The atmosphere of total mayhem that Baxendale was developing was certainly at odds with the traditional humour strip, particularly those of the Amalgamated Press, Thomson's main rivals. A contemporary of Baxendale's, Ken Reid, was similarly minded, and The Beano was unrivalled for humour at that time. Baxendale also drew "The Banana Bunch" for Beezer from its first issue, and would later create "The Three Bears" for Beano in 1959.
Ten years of tremendous output for relatively little reward left Baxendale suffering from exhaustion and depression, and after contracting pneumonia he left the firm following an invitation from Odhams Press to create a new humour title; this Baxendale did, and Wham! appeared in 1964 with a whole army of new Baxendale creations from "General Nit and his Barmy Army", "Georgie's Germs" and "The Tiddlers" to "Biff" and the full-colour double-page "Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy". Most of the strips were passed on to other artists to continue after the first issue, and Baxendale even succeeded in tempting Ken Reid from Thomson's. Such was the success of the title that Smash! was created as a follow up for which Baxendale created "Bad Penny", "The Nerves", "The Swots and the Blots" and "Grimly Feendish".
Baxendale's interest in politics inspired him to publish a weekly two-page newsletter, Strategic Commentary, written by radical strategist Terence Heelas, which he published for two-and-a-half years (1965-67).
When Odhams was absorbed by lPC Magazines, Baxendale continued to draw, taking on some of the strips he had created full-time (e.g. "The Swots and the Blots" for Smash! and later Valiant when those titles were amalgamated), and many new creations, chief amongst them "The Pirates" and "Mervyn's Monsters" for Buster, "Bluebottle and Basher" for Valiant, "The Lion Lot" for Lion, "Clever Dick" for Buster and "Sweeny Toddler" for Whoopee!.
Baxendale left l.P.C. in 1975, writing three books featuring Willy the Kid for Duckworth, who also published his autobiography, A Very Funny Business in 1978. Baxendale drew for Eppo in Holland whilst preparing a case against Thomson's for recognition as creator of his many Beano characters which had continued under various different artists. The case finally came to a mutually agreeable but undisclosed settlement in 1987 after seven years. Baxendale celebrated the result with the release of Thrrp! from Knockabout, his first work in the UK for 12 years. In 1990 he returned to the comic strip with "I Love You Baby Basil", a weekly strip for the Guardian newspaper, which he continued to draw until March 1992.
Baxendale has written a series of books - The Encroachment, On Comedy: The Beano and Ideology, Pictures in the Mind, The Beano Room and Hobgoblin Wars: Dispatches from the Front - published through his own Reaper Books imprint. Most are autobiographical with an emphasis on Baxendale's views of comedy.
Examples of Leo Baxendale's artwork can be found for sale at the Illustration Art Gallery.