Friday, 4 April 2014

LEO BAXENDALE'S 'A VERY FUNNY BUSINESS'...



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. THOM-SON'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 reminis-cences, 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 really should've 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.
    

4 comments:

Unknown 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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