Friday, 4 April 2014


Here's a book that everyone should read, although lovers
of comics fortunate enough to have grown up any time during the
'50s, '60s & '70s will be particularly able to relate to it.  To those too
young to have experienced the times first-hand, this engrossing tome
will still manage to conjure up images of a long-vanished era when
there were more weekly periodicals for children on sale in British
newsagents than you could shake a stick at.

It tells of LEO BAXENDALE's humble beginnings as an
aspiring cartoonist, and his ultimate triumph as one of Britain's
pre-eminent contributors to the U.K. comics scene - arguably 'the'
pre-eminent contributor.  He shone at D.C. THOMSON's (where
perhaps the only strip artist held in greater esteem was DUDLEY D.
WATKINS) and then led the charge against his erstwhile employers
by creating a 'Super BEANO' for ODHAMS, although, sadly,
the comic (WHAM!) managed to survive for only three
and a half too-short years.

From The Beano, dated 21st June 1958

Next was IPC/FLEETWAY, where once again he stood
almost atop the heap - until he decided to quit comics because of
his dissatisfaction over not being paid for reprints of his work.  What
should have happened next is an unending line of hilarious WILLY
The KID Annuals, but alas, 'twas not to be;  after only three books,
his contract with DUCKWORTH's was not renewed and, as far as
mainstream comics were concerned, he languished in limbo, only
known through occasional reprints of his earlier comics work
and other artists emulating his style.

Simply put, this is a great book and, as I said, if you were
a youngster in the times Baxendale re-creates in startling clarity
through his rigorously-recalled reminiscences, this is a 'must-read'
for you.  I got my copy back in 1978 in GRANT'S Bookshop in
Glasgow, but one thing I regret doing at the time is purchasing the
softcover edition instead of the hardcover volume.  (I should
really have bought both!)

Nevertheless, if you're a comics fan of yesteryear, or an
admirer of the man who helped change the face of traditional
British comics forever, then you should get straight onto
eBay and see if you can track down a copy.


Paul McScotty -Muir said...

I keep hearing people mentioning this book and saying how good it is, for some reason I always thought it was going to be a "dry" read, but seeing it here it look nicely produced and worth a read . So as a Leo fan I really need to add this to must read list (thats the John Byrne FF reprints, Cor 1972 annual - for the Jasper reprints- and now this, I may never get to retire at this rate, stop showing so many great book!!). Didn't LEO do a newspaper strip called "Baby Basil" for a few years in the Guardian (or similar)?

Kid said...

He did indeed, McScotty. And I believe there were some Willy strips for a foreign newspaper as well. One thing I didn't mention (but should have) is that the book contains lots of great artwork, a fair slice reproduced from the actual art. You should take a look at Leo's site, the link to which is in my blog list.

Mr Straightman said...

I bought his 'On Comedy' book back in the nineties - subtitled 'the Beano and Ideology' - now that IS a 'dry' read. Perhaps the worst aspect of that book is that it convinced me I really didn't like Mr Baxendale very much, however highly I regard his work and his position as one of the true pioneers of British comics.
He has a disproportionately large bee in his bonnet over the well-made BBC documentary about the Beano and Dandy which aired in 1987 (if memory serves), because some of his strips were used to illustrate the recurring comic trope of a 'feed' (i.e. huge pile of mash with sausages jutting out) as a reward - and that the concept had never once turned up in any of his strips. This doesn't strike me as that big of a deal, but our man clearly lost some sleep over it.

Kid said...

I've got that book as well, Lee, and Bax was kind enough to autograph it for me. I'm a huge fan of the man's work and I'm sure he's a decent bloke (as testified to by him replying to a few letters from me over the years when he clearly didn't have to), but I do think that he tends to over-analyse things retroactively and, ironically, he comes across as quite a dour, humourless chap on any TV interviews I've ever seen him in. I think he just wrote what seemed funny at the time, and all the rationalisation he now applies to why he wrote what he did is 'after the fact'. I also think he was on a sticky-wicket with his lawsuit against D.C. Thomson because he knew the deal with them going in, so carping about it afterwards just seems like a case of sour grapes to me. Funny how he never went the same route with IPC, eh? However, that said, the best of luck to him - it's just a shame that, nowadays, most people recognise his style from clones and not from the man himself.

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