Leah Moore’s memories of the late Beano creator.
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.
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.