Thursday, 9 November 2017

WHAM! - THE FIRST AND THE LAST - AND LEO BAXENDALE'S PLACE IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS...



The late and legendary LEO BAXENDALE was once a figure who loomed large in British comics.  Of course, in a sense, he still looms large, given that some of the characters he created or co-created back in the 1950s still appear in comics and Annuals today.  They're 'ghosted' in an approximation of whatever style he was using at the time, but today's kids most likely wouldn't know his name from Adam.  He left comics in the mid-'70s, unhappy that old strips he'd drawn were being reprinted without any financial remuneration to him, and as far as comic-strip content went, he faded from view after producing his three WILLY The KID hardbound books in the latter part of the '70s.  True, he did have a strip in The GUARDIAN newspaper, but most children would've been unaware of it (not that it was aimed at them anyway).

Given the enormous enjoyment he gave many readers over the years, it may seem unfair to use the word 'failure' to describe any of Leo's projects after he left D.C. THOMSON, but when the actual achievements of these projects are measured against their original expectations, they fall quite a bit short.  Take WHAM! (above) for example.  Conceived as a sort of 'SUPER BEANO', it was intended to knock spots off DCT's star attraction and leave it writhing in the dust, but it didn't even land a glove.  Lasting for 187 issues, it must've come as a bitter disappointment to Leo when the title was merged with POW! at the beginning of 1968, a scant three and a half years after its debut.

His next big original endeavour was the Willy The Kid books, which Leo (perhaps hyperbolically) claimed were going to be published every year forever!  (Or at least as long as he could write and draw them.)  After three books, publisher GERALD DUCKWORTH pulled the plug, and although the titanic trio of 'Annuals' are probably the finest examples of Leo's humour at its funniest, they failed to achieve the longevity (or the sales) that Leo had hoped for.  That placed him in the almost unique position of continuing to be a prominent name amongst his peers even as his career (in the public eye at least) went into decline.  However, I'm not suggesting that Leo himself was a failure;  he continued to earn a living and provide for his family, but as far as ambitious, high-profile projects were concerned, his newer efforts never made quite the same impact that his earlier work had done.

Today, even his drawing style is not immediately recognised as his by the newer breed of reader, being more associated with 'imitators' like TOM PATERSON and others, who quickly stepped into the gap left by Leo when he departed comics in the mid-'70s.  This was a repeat of what had occurred in the early '60s when Leo left DCT to go to ODHAMS.  Other artists continued his strips in his style (or as close an approximation as they could get to it), and it's perhaps debatable whether readers of the time (apart from die-hard fans) even noticed his departure.  When Leo passed away earlier this year, many former Beano readers (particularly of the Annuals) from the mid-'60s, '70s, and '80s who claimed to remember his work from their youth, were surprised to learn that it was the work of 'ghost' artists they recalled, not that of Leo himself.

It's a shame when you think about it.  For a cartoonist who made such an impact on British comics in his heyday, the fact that the general public don't instantly recognise his name means that Leo is denied the fame and respect which is his due.  Sure, older comic fans of a certain age know who he is, but we're a dying breed ourselves, and when we're gone our memories of the man may well go with us.  Perhaps that's the way of things and 'creations' should always be bigger than their creators, but I can't help but wonder whether Leo ever regretted leaving the world of comics behind to follow new trails that, in light of their intended destinations, ultimately led to nowhere.

What do you think?  While you ponder your response, enjoy these images from the first and last issues of Wham!  (Incidentally, The TIDDLERS strip isn't drawn by Leo, and is included only because it's on the covers of the final ish of Bax's brainchild.)               




14 comments:

-3- said...

I like the weird covers for Willy The Kid, especially the first issue. I had no clue about the history of the books, or the ambitious hopes behind them. I remember the mental image upon first hearing the title... most rude. And, yet - the cartoon in my head sometimes still wants to be drawn.

Is it weird that i want to see a George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley album cover drawn by Leo Baxendale?

Kid said...

Very weird. In fact, it's utterly perverse. Interestingly, Leo wrote a story he never got around to drawing, called something like Willy The Kid meets God. He said it was the funniest thing he'd ever written and that someone else should draw it some day. Either Tom Paterson or Leo's son Martin would make ideal choices.

-3- said...

Really? Was the script ever made public? I'm guessing not, by the phrasing of your comment.

Kid said...

Not that I know of, but obviously Leo meant to have someone else draw it while he was still alive.

Phil S said...

It’s absolutely true, his style was what defined British comics for a generation. They should re release his material. It’s timeless.

Kid said...

I'd like to see an Omnibus edition of Willy The Kid. I already have all three books, but I'd still buy an Omnibus.

Lionel Hancock said...

I saw No1 with its toy gun listed on ebay the other day for near on 800E

Kid said...

I've seen sellers ask for around £700 or £800 for the free gifts from Smash! and Pow! (separately) on eBay, LH. I've never seen one sell, but it only takes one person with loads of dosh to buy one, and suddenly all sellers think that's what they're worth.

Lionel Hancock said...

Yes the greedy comic dealers. Smash 27 was listed last year for $74us by an American seller with postage of $24us..It never sold and I sure as hell wasnt paying that much for it.. Yet they still over price them .As you said the guy with all the dosh.

Kid said...

About 5 years ago, an eBay seller in America was asking for £432.87 (and £23.53 p&p) for the British Marvel Annual for 1974. Mile High Comics are currently asking £368.07 (and £10.59 p&p) - I bought one in almost mint condition (to replace one not quite as good) a few weeks ago for £12.99 inclusive of p&p. I think Mile High was the seller in the first instance, so they've obviously reduced their price, but it's still ludicrously high for a reprint book with some clumsy alterations. There are also another 5 on sale at the moment, at a variety of prices - none of which I'd say reflect its true worth.

Dave S said...

I don't know a lot about Baxendale, but it strikes me looking at some of his stuff how familiar it seems to me - doubtless, as you say Kid, because he pretty much set the style for British humour comics that I read growing up in the 80s.

As for unrealistic eBay prices, some of them are ludicrous. I was looking at an old book about UFOs which there was only one copy of for sale at the unbelievable price of £89.99. Ebay then emailed me to tell me that another copy had been listed - I dashed over to eBay to find that the seller had indeed listed it at a cheaper price...£89.75. I don't want to read it that badly.

Kid said...

I suppose it's swings and roundabouts, DS. You can get some great bargains on eBay, but there are some pure chancers on it as well. Back in the '90s, Burger King issued some Yogi Bear toys with their kids meals (no apostrophe, because they're meals FOR kids, not made or owned BY them), all of which I happened to get at the time. One comes in two parts (in the one bag), and there are (or was) three of them on eBay just a few days back.

One was selling at £4.99 with free postage, another was selling at the same price, plus £3.50 for postage, and a third was selling at £9.99, with something like nearly £3 or £4 for postage. Thing is, the dearer one was only one half of the toy, with absolutely no mention of this fact in the listing - despite me previously contacting the seller months ago to tell him. (It had been listed for ages.)

A few days ago, after spotting the toy again, I contacted the seller and said that by not revising his listing to incorporate the new information I'd supplied (which I suspect he knew anyway as the toy was obviously incomplete), he was clearly chancing his arm by asking nearly twice as much for half a toy than others were asking for the complete version. The ad came down shortly after, but it'll be interesting to see how it's worded if or when it reappears.

Dave S said...

You can get bargains on eBay sometimes by looking for mis-spelled listings - I got a hard-to-find CD of Rory Gallagher very cheaply because the seller had listed it as Roy Gallacher.

I remember reading of someone who got a '70s Palitoy talking Dalek dirt cheap because they searched for 'darlek' just on the off-chance that anything would come up.

Kid said...

I must try that sometime and see what happens. Thing is though, if memory serves, even misspelt items seem to pop up in the correct categories these days. I've seen Darleks and Dalecks listed alongside correctly spelt versions.

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