Friday, 15 April 2011

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING WILLY...


Willy sets out on his maiden voyage

I was wandering through my local JOHN MENZIES (now WH SMITH'S) one Winter's day back in 1976, when I spied a big square table laden with a selection of annuals.  Prominent among them was one I hadn't seen before, although the art style was familiar to me.  "Only £1?", thought me - "I'm having that!"  And thus was I introduced to legendary British cartoonist LEO BAXENDALE's latest comic creation - WILLY The KID.

The book was laugh-out-loud funny - and an absolute steal at a measly quid.  I couldn't have been the only one suddenly wishing their life away 'til next year's annual.  So impressed was I with the madcap masterpiece, I bought copies for friends - who also loved the lunatic antics of the turnip-headed Willy.  And that's no mere hyperbole:  "...when I created the first Willy book... my inspiration in drawing Willy was a turnip."  (Leo Baxendale, 1995.)

Ooer!  He's not even out of the harbour yet

According to the 1st annual, there was going to be a new one every year, and each book would be kept in print forever.  When the 2nd annual came out in 1977, I snapped it up and gleefully looked forward to the next one in what was going to be a yearly succession of Willy the Kid publications for all eternity.  I was deliriously happy.  Experience has long-since taught me that nothing is ever that easy and that the fates often conspire against us, but back then I was still an optimist.

In 1978 I bought Leo's autobiography, A VERY FUNNY BUSINESS, but, apart from a picture on the back cover, I simply couldn't find a copy of the 3rd annual anywhere.  (Many years later, a dealer told me not to waste my time looking for it as it had never been printed.  That would certainly explain why I couldn't find a copy at the time.)  I never saw a Willy the Kid Annual again - he had simply vanished from the face of the earth without even saying goodbye.

A lovely colouring job from Leo

Sometime later, in the mid-'90s, I ordered some books from Leo and took the opportunity to ask him about the annual, and he generously took the time to reply and explain what had happened with it.  Here's Leo in his own words from his November '95 response:  "Yes, the third... book was published, in September1978, simultaneously with... 'A Very Funny Business'.  But because writing the auto-biography took 4 months of my time in the summer of 1977, I was that much late in starting... the third Willy the Kid book, and as a result... it missed the annual distribution set-up, and was published as a 'posh' book with a wrap-around loose cover, at £2.50 (by contrast with the first and second Willy books, which were £1 each)

" - what's more, the print orders for Willy Books 1 and 2 were in both cases circa around 150,000, and they were sold along with the other annuals (Beano annual and whatnot), but the print order for the third Willy book, being a 'posh' book, had a print order of 10,000, and was tucked away in bookshops, instead of being sold alongside annuals."

At least it's not under his bed

So there you have it from Leo himself - the book was published - and don't let any dealer ever tell you different.  Bax then went on to say the following:  "So, alas, alas... lots of dedicated readers couldn't find it, and in many cases have spent the rest of their lives looking for it (funnily enough, the day before I received your order, I'd had an order for prints and books from a young man in Catford in London, with a covering letter telling me jubilantly that only the previous week, he had finally found a copy of the elusive Willy the Kid Book 3 in a junk shop in Wales.)  So never give up hope."

I eventually managed to track down a copy of the book on the Internet in 2009.  It may have taken me 31 years, but I can now finally boast a complete set of 1970s Willy the Kid Annuals.  They're well-worth having, although the third book has fewer pages than its two predecessors.  Incidentally, the 'ripples' in the accompanying photographs of Book 3 are on the protective clear sleeve, not the dustjacket itself.  I wasn't going to risk damaging it by removing it to scan.

Never printed?  Well, what's this then?

If you're wondering why the annuals didn't continue, the matter is touched on in Leo's book, The BEANO ROOM & Other Places, doubtless available from ebay and second-hand booksellers.  Why not track down a copy today?

Incidentally, several letters and notes which Leo sent to me over the years appear on various posts on the blog, so if you want to see into the mind of the great man, use the search box to locate them, by simply typing in Leo Baxendale.   

Nope, it's not for sale - don't ask

26 comments:

Ant K said...

I have the first two books which I bought as a kid in Australia. I too waited in vain for any more books to appear. Your website is the first time I ever saw the third book. I kind of feel like I'm the only kid in Australia who ever heard of the books, judging from my friends recollections. I was lucky to stumble upon them I guess.

Kid said...

As they only printed around 150,000 each of the first two books , it would be interesting to know exactly how many reached Australia. And, with only 10,000 of book 3 printed, whether any of them were ever sent 'down under'. Keep your two books safe - they're genuine collectors' items.

Mr Straightman said...

I've got a Willy the Kid badge!

Kid said...

I don't - but I've got the 3rd book. That's more than most people.

Anonymous said...

...i have all 3 the badge and the inserts !!!

Kid said...

I'm sending someone 'round to steal them from you.

Anonymous said...

Hi I've got only the Willy the kids first annual never new there was moreout there my children love reading it now it's one of those comic books that will never get out of date all childrenof all ages love it
Carl

Kid said...

Yup - it's a classic, sure enough.

George Shiers said...

I only have the second one, but I've read the first two!

Here's my review of the second book:

http://www.wackycomics.com/2012/06/willy-kid-book-2.html

Now, how about a look inside that third one, eh? :)

Unknown said...

I have all three too. And scanned them in carefully to PDF format. If you would like a copy feel free to email me
@ themadfiles7@hotmail.co.uk

Kid said...

Thanks for the kind offer, SM, but as I have the books, I don't really need a PDF. Perhaps other Criv-ites might take you up on your offer. thanks again.

Unknown said...

I have a mint copy , i was a bit too young in 78/79 to get humour , I am possibly looking to sell it if anyone would be interested , it has dust sleeve intact

Kid said...

How much are you asking for it, AD? If no Criv-ites are interested (this post is an old one and perhaps not many people will see your comment), the best thing to do would be to sell it on eBay.

Unknown said...

I had it on ebay 4/5 months ago and bids went to 300 mid auction , I panicked and cancelled auction early , i have just been recently sacked after 10 years , and looking to use funds to start up my own comic/geeky stuff store on ebay . Any advice would be great , I am from Beano town and had family working at DC thompsons

Unknown said...

I have no idea what it is worth , i have images i can let you see , Not much info on internet as to its possible value

Kid said...

I paid around £30 for mine a few years back, but the value will vary according to condition and how much someone wants it. It's doubtless sold for less than I paid for mine, and also more than that. I'd say put it back on eBay at a starting price of £25 to £30. Hope that helps.

Unknown said...

From the few things i've seen on internet people have paid 3 figure sums for it kid

Kid said...

Like I said, "it's doubtless sold for less than I paid for mine, and also MORE than that". I've just checked eBay and noticed you currently have it on sale at £300. However, there's another on sale at £84.44. Much as I like Leo Baxendale's work, I'd be surprised if either of them sell at those asking prices. Yours is the highest by a wide margin that I've ever seen anyone ask for it, but you may strike it lucky if someone is desperate enough for it.

Edit: Just spotted another two, one at £125, the other at £169.02. It's worth remembering that just because some sellers are asking high prices for the book, it doesn't necessarily reflect its actual worth or mean that people will buy them at those prices.

Simon said...

I've owned two of the first annual as a kid, it made such an impression on me and of course I dont have either and have been looking for it again to no avail.

Kid said...

Keep checking eBay, S - they come up on regular occasions.

Karen Walsh said...

My friend won a competition at school to create a monster which would appear in a Willy the Kid book.
She never saw it in print and has always wondered about it. She vaguely remembers it being called BearyElephanto, or something like that. Does that ring any bells with you?

Kid said...

Entry details of the competition were printed in the first Willy book in 1976, and was also open to members of ABC and EMI Cinemas junior clubs. Perhaps some schools were also included. There were 50 winners who got £2 each for their drawing, ten of which were printed in the back of the second Willy book issued in 1977. Your pal's idea doesn't appear to have been included, nor were the other 39 winning entries.

Karen Walsh said...

OK. Thanks very much for your help anyway. At least she can stop wondering now.

Kid said...

No bother, glad if I helped.

Louis said...

Loved willie the kid when I was well "a kid" had no2 for years until local kids burned my flat down while I was at work as lost front door key and they decided to have an early bonfire in my living room and that was the last time I saw it.

Kid said...

Yeah, the books were very funny. Leo Baxendale published a 'best of' volume (called 'The Worst Of...' if I recall correctly) several years back when he was still with us, but I wish someone would publish an Omnibus volume containing all three books. Rebellion would be ideal if they could acquire the rights.

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