For many children a comic book is one of the first pieces of literature they buy for themselves, and one of the starting blocks to encouraging a love of reading for pleasure. For British children, Leo Baxendale was the man who made much of this possible with his creations of The Beano, Minnie the Minx, Willy the Kid, and The Bash Street Kids (formerly “When The Bell Rings).
Sadly Leo passed away in April 2017, aged 86, but has left behind him a legacy of legendary characters still in comic book circulation today. I, personally, owe him a debt of gratitude for my first heroine of literature I looked up to: Minnie the Minx, a violent, rebel girl who hated snobby parents and boring kids.
Image credit to the BBC
Leo Baxendale was born in Lancashire, spent some time at a Catholic school, and served time in the RAF. His cartoonist career started in the local paper where he drew cartoons and images for adverts and in 1952, he began freelance work for the children’s comic publishers DC Thomson. There he created very popular comic strips for The Beano including Little Plum, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids.
Baxendale joined Odhams Press in 1964, working on the children’s comic Wham! and in 1966 worked with its sister comic Smash! Also in 1966 Baxendale created Clever Dick, and Sweeny Toddler for Fleetway.
In 1975, Baxendale created the Willy the Kid series, a favourite among the more mature-minded children, and comic-loving adults.
Leo Baxendale is seen as a pioneer in his field: “A lifetime of original, anarchic, hilarious and revolutionary comics” with an “incalculable” influence on children readers, and comic book artists. His work is celebrated all over the country for being “an integral and inseparable part of the history of British children’s comics.”
The BBC reported that Leo Baxendale was “one of Britain’s greatest and most influential cartoonists”, and British cartoonist Lew Stringer is quoted as saying that Leo was “quite simply the most influential artist in UK humour comics”.
So, thank you Leo Baxendale for all the decades of hard work and innovative comic creations you brought into the world. Who knows what the British comic book industry would have been without you? What would we have done with The Beezer, or The Beano, or Willy the Kid? Thank you for such an imaginative introduction into graphic novels, comic strips, and anarchic humour.
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