Art of British Comic Artists

Leo Baxendale
'To people who have only seen printed comics, original artwork is a revelation.'

"If you are lucky enough to possess 1957 and 1958 Beano comics, it is worth buying a hand lens. All the Beano work was drawn 'twice up' (four times the area of the printed page). To people who have only seen printed comics, original artwork is a revelation.

A hand lens will double your enjoyment of these comics. It is not quite the same thing as having the drawings - the printing process always loses the beauty of the original ink line but the lens will let you really see the imbecilic facial expressions and the tiny comic details." [1]

- Leo Baxendale, 1977

- o -

"Pages for the D.C. Thomson comics were normally drawn twice up which meant four times the area of the printed job. This was a lot of acreage to cover. Early in 1962 I tried drawing some sets 'half up' - twice the area of the printed page. I found that this cut working time without loss of quality.

In the summer of 1962 (I think it must have been May or early June) we were spending a week in Lancashire. I decided to take the time-saving technique a step further. I drew a Bash Street and a Banana Bunch 25% up (i.e. just over 1 1/2 times the area of the printed jobs) and posted them off to the Beano and Beezer with covering notes (I will digress here to mention that during the fourteen years since I left D.C. Thomson, I have drawn hundreds of pages 'half up' and 'twice up'. I vary the size according to the nature of the set I am drawing)." [2]

- Leo Baxendale, 1977



Leo Baxendale

Leo Baxendale (born 27 October 1930 in Preston, Lancashire) is legendary as being the British comic artist who created 'The Bash Street Kids' (1953) and 'Minnie The Minx' (1953) for The Beano. He also created 'Little Plum' (1953), 'The Three Bears' (1959) for The Beano, and 'The Banana Bunch' (1956) for The Beezer. After leaving publishers D.C. Thomsom in 1962 he went on to create most of the characters for Odham's legendary WHAM! comic (1964-68) including 'George's Germs', 'Eagle-Eye Junior Spy', 'The Barmy Army', and 'The Tiddlers' (of Canal Road School). When Smash! comic was launched in 1966, the mischievous 'Bad Penny' was introduced, along with 'Grimly Feendish','The Man from BUNGLE' and 'The Nervs'.

Credit should go to David Law for leading Leo Baxendale into the world of children's comics. Impressed by Davey Law's strip, 'Dennis the Menace', Leo submitted an idea for a character of his own, loosely based on 'Dennis the Menace', a relatively cute but cunning American Indian boy.The Beano liked the idea and ran it as 'Little Plum - Your Redskin Chum'. When a female version of 'Dennis the Menace' was asked for, Leo came up with the irrepressible 'Minnie the Minx'. However, it was a Giles cartoon, printed in the Daily Express newspaper, which inspired his most important creation, the 'Bash Street Kids'.  In fact both Giles and Baxendale seem to have been great fans of Billy Baggs and his gang whose comical adventures were given free rein in the busy one-pagers of 'Casey Court' which ran in Illustrated Chips for about fifty years.

>>> Link to Leo Baxendale's website http://www.reaper.co.uk/

>>> Links to related websites:-

Interview with Leo Baxendale, published in Big Issue (1999) 

Leo Baxendale interviewed during making of BBC4's 2007 documentary 'Comics Britannia'


Artworks by Leo Baxendale are difficult to come by, but those created during his time at D C Thomson are particularly scarce - why, even Leo has had trouble getting hold of those!! Apparently, whilst he was attempting to settle a long-running dispute with his former employers, D C Thomson, he was minded to try and get some of his artworks back from them. Here is a part of Leo Baxendale's account, given in his book Hobgoblin Wars:-

"The High Court action I carried through from May 1980 to May 1987 was a copyright action.
Right at the beginning, my barrister told me I could not hope to get back any of my drawings as well.
Nevertheless, at the end, during the intense negotiations with the Defendant determining the terms of the out-of-court, pre-trial settlement they had offered; though the drawings were at a tangent from the heart of the copyrights case, I pressed the Defendant to return to me some of my drawings. I asked for fifty. They refused, and agreed to give me back thirty.
During my 22 years creating and drawing for the three major firms of the comics industry, I had drawn between five-and-a-half thousand and six thousand pages. Of these, I now had thirty.
Thirty isn’t much in the scale of things, but that thirty, all drawn for The Beano, was crucial." [3]
- Leo Baxendale


 
Beezertitle
The Banana Bunch
The Banana Bunch set
 
'The Banana Bunch' artwork - 'Canary's Pet Ambition' - The Beezer  issue 29, 4th August 1956

"I remember this drawing well, with its delightful denouement.
After I'd finished inking the Beezer and Beano drawings, I would use a pencil to scribble in the speech balloons, which were then lettered by specialist letterers in the staff artists' room. Some pieces of lettering were stuck onto my drawings using Cow Gum, a petroleum-based adhesive that allowed re-positioning. 
With the passage of time, some of these pieces tended to drop off, and you can see this had happened in frames 3, 6 and 16 of the drawing you have."
[4]
- Leo Baxendale, November 2010

Banana Bunch - Beezer 29 - 4th August 1956
The Banana Bunch - The Beezer issue 29, 4th August 1956

In the published comic (Beezer issue 29 of 4th August 1956), the captions in frames 3, 5, 6 & 16 are presented as white lettering on a black background which was probably achieved photographically simply by 'reversing' standard black lettering. So, the captions would have been printed on photographic paper, a different paper from that used for the speech bubbles, which might offer a clue as to why the captions were the first materials to go adrift from this artwork.

"The way my drawings were dealt with using Letterpress [printing presses] were as follows:  When I had finished pencilling and then inking one of my drawings and handed it in at The Beano room, it was taken to be photographed in its black-and-white state.  Then the drawing was taken next to the staff artists room.  The drawing was then painted by a staff artist in full colour; but this was not for reproduction, but was simply a visual guide for the reproduction technicians to refer to when applying the Ben Day tints.  The Ben Day tints (of dots and lines and patterns - there were a great number of different ones) had been invented by a New Jersey printer, Benjamin Day, late in the 19th. Century. There were only two colours used on the Letterpress blocks, red and black, printed separately of course, but by using varied patterns of Ben Day tints, some with red and black separately, but in others with red and black patterns superimposed, it was possible to produce great depth and atmosphere in the printed pages."
[5]
- Leo Baxendale

"When the Banana Bunch was drawn in strip format, most of the scripts were written by Walter Thorburn, a prolific scriptwriter on the Beezer staff, and they moved even further from reality. The Bunch appeared to live in a hut in a field - they even slept in beds in a hut all night. Did they actually have any parents? Were they orphans? What was going on? I never figured it out myself. But this ambivalence never seemed to diminish their popularity. Perhaps readers liked the idea of living in a hut with their pals, without any adults to tell them what to do." [6]
- Leo Baxendale

The Banana Bunch - early beatnik?
Panels from artwork of 'The Banana Bunch' strip (1956) - Is this an early beatnik?






Minnie the Minx original artwork
Minnie the Minx - Leo Baxendale's original artworkfor the 1960 Beano Annual, p110


'Minnie the Minx' - page 110 Beano annual 1960

 






Details of 'Minnie the Minx' artwork for 1960 Beano annual
(note colour applied by the Beano art dept. as guide to printers)
photos courtesy James Skinner

When a 'Minnie the Minx' artwork came up for sale in February 2011, Leo was contacted and he responded saying:- "It's funny enough, but not one of my vintage sets."


Wham! issue 77 - 4th December 1965 
WHAM! comic - issue 77, 4th December 1965, front cover


'Tiddlers' artwork - 'Paper Chase' -
WHAM! issue 77, 4th December 1965
Original drawing signed by Leo Baxendale


Leo Baxendale would pop hidden images into his strips

 

"I remember very clearly drawing this Tiddlers set. This was later on in the Wham! saga, and I had realised by then that with the rackety Odhams arrangement, the comic wasn't going to last; so I had given up on the absurdity of working desperately through the nights, and instead just focused on spending ample time on the drawings, and the satisfaction that came from making good drawings.

With this drawing, you could see Odhams cutting costs; earlier, front-and-back covers were painted by me in full colour alike, but by the time I was drawing this set, Odams had cut printing costs by having me do the front cover page in full colour, while I drew the back cover page in monochrome, as you can see.

To go off at a tangent, I wrote all my own scripts for my Wham! work. I could lie down on my bed, close my eyes while the sounds of a working day filtered in from the outside world, while I structured a plot in my head, until I had it ready for drawing. I was paid separately (and very well) by Odhams for producing the scripts for my drawings, and could have made an easier, stress-free income if that was all I did, but of course, I was an artist, so was expected to draw the sets as well as write them. C'est la vie." [7]

- Leo Baxendale, October 2010



Giles 9th October 1955  
Giles cartoon, 9th October 1955                                       > Farmer from the Tiddlers set, 1965

The strong influence of cartoonist Carl Giles (1916-1995) on Leo Baxendale is very clearly illustrated in this 'Tiddlers' artwork, by the presence of a farmer who appears to have walked right out of one of Giles's mid-1950's cartoons! (see above illustration of Giles cartoon on 9th October 1955). In fact, the bull and the shed resemble ones found in an earlier cartoon -  Giles cartoon of 25th July 1954 - why even the pigs on the front page of Smash! issue 77 could live on Giles' farm - see Giles cartoon 3rd April 1956.
Giles cartoon 25th July 1954
Giles cartoon 25th July 1954


'Tiddlers' artwork - 'Paper Chase' - WHAM! issue 77, 4th December 1965
Original drawing signed by Leo Baxendale


"I long ago gave away my Giles books to our offspring, but your observations don't surprise me.  My drawing didn't travel along a natural progression, but was on a ricketty roller-coaster with  ridiculous highs and lows of metabolism.
My turning back to try to refresh myself at the Giles well was a recurrent desperate feature of the low points."
[9]
- Leo Baxendale, January 2011

But of course, it was a 1953 Giles cartoon, of kids tumbling out of school and 'lamming each other', that inspired Leo to draw The Bash Street Kids in the first place. The kids first appeared in The Beano on 13th February 1954 in a set entitled 'When the Bell Rings', however, in November 1956, the title was dropped and swapped for the now familiar title of 'Bash Street Kids'. 

Giles cartoon 13th January 1953 - inspiration for Bash Street Kids
Giles cartoon of 13th January 1953 - the inspiration for the Beano's 'Bash Street Kids'
- for greater detail see image of original Giles 'back to school' artwork

Giles gives a vivid description of life at Barnsbury Park School (Higher Grade School) in Islington, London, where he was taught by 'Chalky' - William James Chalk MA :-

     BACK TO SCHOOL WEEK -
                                                            
by     BRITAIN'S MOST FAMOUS CARTOONIST

if i WeИt BACK to ƧchooL.
KИOWiИG WhAt i ИO ИOW
         by GiLeƧ  



"Back to
School" for me would not mean back to one of your modern rest homes for unretired infants where the children run the teachers.

It would be back to one of the old-fashioned schools
that I went to where the teachers ran the children.

Or thought they did.

Back to one of
those grey brick boxes on asphalt, where the only useful thing you learned was the art of self-defence during short periods between lessons misnamed "playtime."


Playtime" took place twice a day. Bang went a bell and out poured hundreds of small boys like a stream of black treacle, the bigger ones lamming into the smaller ones and the smaller ones lamming into the very small ones.


Another bang of the bell announced "playtime" over, and back you all poured into the grey brick box where everybody except the very, very good ones got lammed by the teachers.

When the teachers grew tired of lamming they used the very, very good ones as examples for showing the bad ones up.

COLLABORATORS

We never seemed able to lay hands on these very, very good ones during playtime because they were always missing.

It has occurred to me since that those who were not creeping about the grey brick box collaborating with the teachers as monitors and prefects were probably using the far corner of the playground as a


safety-zone, where they stayed hidden until the end-of-playtime bell gave them the all-clear.

If I went back to school now I should pay more attention to these fifth columnists.

As far as the so-called lessons were concerned, in a class of 50-odd fellow-candidates for delinquency, I expect I should still come out somewhere near the bottom of the exam sheet.

Lessons were instilled into you both ends - by whacking your ear or caning the part you sit down with. They included things like history, geography, singing, sums, and most of the accumulated nonsense of the past, with very little reference to the future.
You were reminded every morning about the importance of punctuality by two on each for being late. It was so nice when I left school not to be caned for being late I have been late ever since.

THOSE DATES !

History meant remembering the dates of battles of the last two thousand years. As I still can't remember the dates of battles for the last two weeks I should still flop at History.

Geography was the names of rivers and volcanoes. I know no more now about (a) rivers and (b) volcanoes than I knew then, except (a) the river that starts at the bottom of my garden and (b) Lord Beaverbrook.

Art. Now there was a subject on which my teachers really used to let themselves go. They gave us a unique variety of things to draw, a cone, a cube, or the eternal green vase which stood next to the tadpole tank on the window sill of every classroom.


None of this "Draw what you like" business. The first thing I should organise if I went back to school would be a campaign against green vases.

Sums. My accountant will tell you that they couldn't have taught me very much about sums. I would still call mental arithmetic brain fever.

Singing. If I thought I should have to suffer another dose of our singing lessons I wouldn't go back.


'IF MR. GILES . . .'

The only information we got about the future was to be told how bad it was going to be if we got our name in the punishment book many more times.

But I could go back now armed with the knowledge that they were misinforming us on this count, for I have discovered since that nothing they forecast turned out to be anything like as bad as it is.

Perhaps the only sensible thing they tried to teach us was that it is wrong to smoke.

At 3s. 7d. for 20 they were dead right.

I could tell them they were quite wrong in chastising us for occasionally tarring and feathering the weaker fellow pupil, such things being looked upon nowadays as "self-expression."

Having read enough Hemingway and Dr. Kinsey to know most of the answers, I should know how to come back at that sarcastic old tyrant who lorded it over us for a couple of terms.

When he addressed me with his "If Mr. Giles would kindly come to the front of the class, place the gob-stopper he is sucking in the wastepaper basket, and hand me that intriguing piece of literature he is composing under his desk, I shall be delighted to read it aloud to the rest of the class while he goes upstairs and fetches the cane and book."

Knowing what I know now, I should just sit back and wait for the roar of laughter from my associate scholars to subside and then reply in the modern fashion, without removing my gob-stopper:-

"And if my clever substitute for a teacher doesn't watch his step he will leave me no option but to report him to the education committee and have him flung out on his ear."

It would be interesting to see how the old tyrant reacted to this treatment. I've a pretty good idea.

My sympathy

But, apart from the fact that I know I could make it a lot hotter for them now, I don't want to go back.

And lest the teachers of today should think me a trifle biased on the side of the pupils, I hasten to say they all have my deepest sympathy.

Strange as their methods were for passing on the wisdom of the universe, I wouldn't have fancied their chances of coping with the scholars in my part of the world had they not been armed by the authorities with canes, T-squares, bits of chalk to throw at us, and an ability to detect and stamp out any sign of originality before it got serious.

Next: I'm coming over to join the enemy by presenting on the following pages an Alphabetical Guide for Teachers. You needn't buy the paper unless you want to."


Giles continued to entertain the nation with his 'family', and there were some wonderful cartoons - a personal favourite being one published on 2nd December 1955 by the Daily Express, on the topic of woodwork in schools - see image of original Giles 'woodwork' artwork (use the 'Zoom on' control and slider below the image to get close detail, which takes a moment or two to come into focus).

In 1978, Leo Baxendale wrote a letter to Carl Giles to acknowledge his 'heavy debt' to him and to present him with a copy of his recently written autobiography. In this letter Leo states his desire to write Giles' biography, and to that end asks to meet with him. Apparently, Giles declined his offer but thanked him for his kind and encouraging comments. 

Comparing these two gifted artists, Giles and Leo, it seems that for the most part, they were both presenting their kids as freewheeling anarchic nutters with no respect for authority! One wonders how much the likes of 
Giles' 'family', David Law's Dennis the Menace, and Leo Baxendale's Bash Street Kids and Minnie the Minx, opened up the minds of a younger generation to the possibilities of breaking out? In a way, it seems these artists helped usher in the 1960's youth rebellion in Britain, resulting in a whole bunch of anti-establishment behaviour. Popstars such as The Beatles, The Who and the The Rolling Stones must surely have been influenced by the comics they enjoyed as children. 


John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
featuring Eric Clapton & The Beano

A former guitarist of The Yardbirds, 21-year-old Eric Clapton, was famously pictured reading a comic on the record cover of a John Mayall's Bluesbreakers LP (the comic wasThe Beano,  issue No. 1242, published 7th May 1966).






Grimly Feendish
'Grimly Feendish' - Smash! issue 7 page 26 - 19th March 1966
Original drawing signed by Leo Baxendale

On 5th February 1966 Odhams launched a sister comic to Wham! called Smash!. Of the new strips to feature in the first issue of Smash! was 'Grimly Feendish', a character already familiar to readers of the 'Eagle-Eye Junior Spy' strip in Wham!.



Bluebottle and Basher title

Bluebottle & Basher 1

'Bluebottle and Basher' artwork - 'Trolly' - Valiant  20th July 1968




Bluebottle and Basher title

Bluebottle & Basher 2

'Bluebottle and Basher' artwork - 'Baby' - Valiant  3rd August 1968



'Fat Fraud'!  Basher seems to be a not-too-distant relative of Billy Bunter, The Fattest Schoolboy on Earth!', the famous fictional character drawn by Frank Minnitt, who turned the foolish greedy Bunter into a cartoon character soon after taking over the strip from Magnet artist Charles Chapman in 1939.  Of interest is the letter sent to the artist by Bunter's creator, Frank Richards. Bunter's popularity meant that Minnitt would keep on drawing the Billy Bunter strip for Knock-Out Comic until shortly before his death in 1958. Frank Minnett was succeeded by Reg Parlett and so the regular episodes of Bunter foolery continued, even after Knockout merged with Valiant in 1963.

"I created Bluebottle and Basher for Valiant at the beginning of 1968. This was the most 'cartoony' page I ever drew. A huge fat burglar, Basher, was locked in weekly conflict with a tiny policeman - Bluebottle. I enjoyed writing the scripts, because I found I could work a vein of zany humour from the weekly ding-dong battle. I enjoyed drawing it too. Basher's big bladder shape gave a bold look to the page." 

"When I was drawing all these features for Fleetway comics, I was also producing a massive amount of 'undercover' work for Oldhams. My last 'official' work for Odhams was the Eagle Eye episode in Wham no. 96 for 16 April 1966 (a lovely drawing)." [10]





* A Bad Penny Always Turns Up! *
- a saying thought to date back to the 15th century when counterfeit coins abounded




'Bad Penny' turned up in February 1966, in the first issue of Smash!.
'Pages 6 and 7 featured the first appearance of Bad Penny with artwork by Leo Baxendale. Penny was essentially Odhams' version of Minnie the Minx, even down to the black beret, but somehow I always preferred Bad Penny. Perhaps it was the Odhams house style of dafter and more unrestrained humour that appealed to me.'

- quoted from '45 year flashback: SMASH! No.1' - Lew Stringer, February 2011



'Bad Penny' drawing - Smash! issue 151 - 21st December 1968 - Odhams Press

 
Bad Penny Blues
'Bad Penny' drawing - Smash! issue 151 - 21st December 1968 - Odhams Press


Several months after the launch of Smash! Leo Baxendale left Odhams Press to join rival Fleetway Publications but apparently he still continued to supply a'massive amount of undercover material to Odhams.'[10]  Leo recalls the set-up; 

"I was now in full spate for Fleetway. But I was reluctant to give up the lucrative Odhams market. Their rates of pay were better than Fleetway's. I channelled large quantities of pages to Odham via Mike Brown, a cartoon-film animator. I pencilled the drawings and Mike inked them in. One series we did in this manner was the Eagle Eye adventure which ran from 30 July to 7 September 1966. We turned out large numbers of Grimly Feendish pages and Bad Penny sets in this way.
That was not all. With the help of Irene Rooum, wife of cartoonist Donald Rooum, I set up Hampstead Studio, through which I funnelled drawings to Odhams. I didn't  work with anybody else on these pages - I pencilled and inked them myself.

I was in a delightful situation.
Working under my own name, a lot was expected of me. Publishers expected me to cram my drawings with funny detail. Working undercover, I was able to reduce the layouts to the simplest terms. Backgrounds were minimal or non-existent - just a horizon line. And there was no ancillary comic detail - just the characters acting out the story line against an empty backdrop.
I was able to pick and choose the easiest sets to draw, avoiding the difficult ones. So I concentrated on Barmy Army and Bad Penny (both double-page features). Those Barmy Army sets were delightful. I drew them fast. But there was so little work in them that I was able to draw them very well. They sparkled. I drew the sets very large, to allow myself a free wrist movement
I also sold scripts to Odhams (for other artists to illustrate) via a friend in Edinburgh University, Sandy Hobbs.
I supplied this undercover work to Odhams, alongside my full production for Fleetway, from 1966 to 1969."
[11]  


Image of page 1 of 'Bad Penny' artwork
-
Smash! issue 151 - 21st December 1968 - Odhams Press



Image of page 2 of 'Bad Penny' artwork
-
Smash! issue 151 - 21st December 1968 - Odhams Press



References

[1]  A Very Funny Business - 40 Years of Comics, Leo Baxendale, Duckworth, 1978; p42
[2]  ibid., p70
[3]  Hobgoblin Wars, Leo Baxendale, Reaper Books, 2009 pp17-18
[4]  email from Leo Baxendale to Paul Mason, dated 15th November 2010
[5]  email from Leo Baxendale to Paul Mason, dated 14th February 2012
[6]  A Very Funny Business - 40 Years of Comics, Leo Baxendale, Duckworth, 1978; p32
[7]  email from Leo Baxendale to Paul Mason, dated 17th October 2010
[8]  email from Leo Baxendale to Paul Mason, dated 1st December 2010
[9]  email from Leo Baxendale to Paul Mason, dated 2nd January 2011
[10] A Very Funny Business - 40 Years of Comics, Leo Baxendale, Duckworth, 1978; p90
[11]  A Very Funny Business - 40 Years of Comics, Leo Baxendale, Duckworth, 1978; p90-91


List of other British comic artists currently featured on this website

(left-click below to select chosen artist)

George Drysdale

Herbert Foxwell


Mervyn Johnston


Bob MacGillivray

Alfredo Marculeta

Allan Morley

Vic Neill


Robert Rankin

Lew Stringer


If you have any vintage comic artwork to sell,
please email details, image & asking price to:-

buryanpaul@yahoo.com