Leo Bax­en­dale

Leah Moore’s me­mories of the late Beano cre­ator.

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

When they find out that you work in comics, the first thing Bri­tish peo­ple will say to you is, “Ooh like The Beano?” and then you say, “Yeah, sort of, but more like Bat­man,” and they say “Ooh, you write Bat­man?!” and then you say “No, no I don’t. I doubt I ever will. Oh god. Can we just for­get this ever hap­pened please?” or words to that ef­fect.

This has al­ways given me a pain, not just be­cause I will likely never write

Bat­man, but be­cause it feels dis­loyal to Bri­tish kids comics to dis­tance my­self from them at each such en­counter.

I ab­so­lutely lived for my comics when I was a child. My nan would buy me them and I would get them and a tube of Smar­ties on a Satur­day and sit and de­mol­ish them in one sit­ting. I read Twin­kle, and But­ton

and Beano and the Dandy, and Beezer,

Buster, Whizzer and Chips you name it, I de­voured them all.

My col­lec­tion grew and grew, and lived in a pile on the shelf di­rectly above my bed. At night, I would reach up and care­fully tease out an is­sue to read, and nine times out of ten I would then lay there read­ing my comic. Ev­ery tenth time, how­ever, my whole col­lec­tion would fall and en­gulf me.

Most of the comics I would have to dig my way out of con­tained the work of, or char­ac­ters cre­ated by the late, great Leo Bax­en­dale.

Leo Bax­en­dale was a ge­nius, and I use the word ad­vis­edly. His comics brimmed with hy­per­ac­tive ec­cen­tric­ity and ir­rev­er­ence. A Bax­en­dale draw­ing was an­ar­chy per­son­i­fied, from the nos­trils out­wards, you could tell his char­ac­ters didn’t give a fig for

“My col­lec­tion grew and grew, and lived in a pile on the shelf di­rectly above my bed”

au­thor­ity of any kind. The best thing that could hap­pen was a free for all, where a lo­ca­tion was over­run with fig­ures all busily en­gaged in mis­chief and may­hem, in­volv­ing com­plex Heath Robin­son style de­vices whereby a tin of paint or bag of mar­bles was in­ven­tively de­ployed to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. The chil­dren that he drew were all so be­liev­ably weird look­ing, with sticky out teeth and crossed eyes, jam jar glasses and knob­bly knees, they were un­kempt and in­sane.

As he moved from one com­pany to the next, his char­ac­ters would be drawn by new artists, but no­body could cap­ture the ma­nia of his char­ac­ter’s ex­pres­sions, the vi­tal­ity of his line, or the sheer in­ven­tive­ness of his work.

When I be­came a paid-up Pig Pack mem­ber, read­ing Oink, later on, the things I loved about it were the things Bax­en­dale had done all those years be­fore. I loved Jeremy Banx’s gross hero Burp the Alien and Ho­race by Tony Hus­band, and I re­ally loved Tom Thug and Pete And His Pim­ple by Lew Stringer. Lew has a clean bouncy line and all of the sight gags and back­ground de­tails a Bax­en­dale fan would recog­nise and love. He does some work for the Beano now, on Bax­en­dale’s char­ac­ters and see­ing the ob­vi­ous en­joy­ment that he gets from draw­ing in all the smelly socks, stick­ing plas­ters, mar­bles and ice cream cor­nets is a real treat.

On 23 April 2017 Leo Bax­en­dale died, aged 86. I met him only once, when I was lit­tle, and he was tall and funny and nice.

I don’t know if we will see his like again, but buy­ing our chil­dren all the comics we can lay hands on, sup­port­ing the peo­ple who make them, and en­cour­ag­ing our chil­dren to be weird and goofy and in­ven­tive and an­ar­chic, and eat big piles of bangers and mash seems like the best kind of trib­ute to the man.

About Leah

Leah Moore is a writer of comics, prose and jour­nal­ism, as well as the co-founder of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Elec­tri­comics. She has writ­ten for Al­bion, Wild Girls,

Tom Strong and more. Fol­low her on Twit­ter at @leah­moore.

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