A part of our childhoods has died with the news that Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash St Kids and Minnie The Minx, has completed the last panel of his life.
The news was broken by Beano artist Kev Sutherland on Facebook:
You might not know Baxendale's name, but if you ever read British comics, you know his work. In addition to the Bash St Kids and Minnie, he created Little Plum and The Three Bears for the Beano, the characters Willy The Kid, Clever Dick and Sweeny Toddler, and co-created the Wham! and Beezer comics.
If you're surprised to hear that the person who created Minnie was still with us – she debuted back in 1953 – he had a good run. Baxendale was 86, and first discovered comics in the 1930s when "an older boy rushed up to me and shoved the first issue of the Beano into my hands." Little did that older boy know the history he was making in that moment.
Image: Charles Dyer via Flickr CC
In Minnie the Minx, Baxendale provided a role model to generations of mischievous girls, me included. I drew comics for years as a kid because I was so inspired by her, and her fearless commitment to being a total pain in the bum. Baxendale describes how she came to be in an interview with the Guardian back in '03:
"Eventually, I persuaded the editor, George Mooney, to let me draw for the comic - but he wanted a female version of Dennis, which had already been done: she was called Beryl the Peril. Instead, I made Minnie the Minx into a kind of Amazonian warrior.
Unlike a lot of the comics at the time, she didn't have special powers, or superhuman strength - she was just a sturdy 12-year-old girl. She had will and ambition."
She was badass.
If you're less of an oldster than me, you might remember Minnie – real name Hermione Makepeace – from the animated 'toons. But personally I never got on board with them, because the Peppa Pig-like voice is all wrong for those of us who grew up voicing her speech bubbles in our own heads.
The Bash St Kids got animated too, and their capers actually suited a moving medium better than the page in some ways:
The way Baxendale tells it, the Beano was like a fifties version of a tech startup in terms of zany working practices:
"I didn't work in the office, but I visited a couple of times a week. We came up with ideas through weekly games of keepy uppy - I would take a drawing in, they would push the office furniture back, and while the ball was flying, destroying the furniture, ideas would be flying too - we would pass the ideas around with the ball.
Once we had a full idea for a Bash Street episode, the chief sub-editor would run for a piece of paper and scribble it down."
And working practices, too:
"The problem, for the Beano artists, was that there was never any rest. It became clear that a small number of us were drawing the "selling pages" - a trade phrase I hadn't met before - and for those in that position, the pressure is intense.
As a freelance, you have an illusion of freedom - but my weekly output was a full page of the Minx, a full page Bash Street, a full page Little Plum and a full page Three Bears, for 52 weeks of the year, plus work for The Beezer, and the annuals.
Eventually, I realised I was doing without sleep, which wasn't a long-term solution. There was, always, a weekly collision between the intensity of what went into the drawing - you got an intensity of passion in response from the fans - and the scale of the output required.
In 1962, I just blew up like an old boiler, and walked out. (Later, I left the industry, and moved to books instead.)"
And even in terms of morality:
"I don't remember any pressure, in the company or from the public at large, to make sure the stories we told in the Beano had edifying morals. The furore in the 1950s was directed at American horror comics, and like modern video games, they were a world away from what we created."
There was certainly no political correctness in the Beano comics of old, but we suspect a lot of the storylines – and mostly-white characters – wouldn't fly today. Little Plum's slogan was "Your Redskin chum," for instance.
Sample strip from Little Plum, via the British Comic Awards
And Minnie often got 'whacked' by her Dad's slipper:
Sample strip from Minnie The Minx, via the British Comic Awards
Though she did a lot of whacking herself, too: her first strip involved her receiving a scrap book for her mum, and using it to beat her rivals. She thanks her mum for the scrap book, because she's 'won nine scraps with it.'
When Minnie was introduced, she was in black and white – but she proved so popular that her 6-panel B&W strips quickly became full-page colour jobs, which introduced her famous red hair.
Minnie even has a statue in Dundee, where she was created:
Image: Karen Bryan via Flickr CC
Baxendale, meanwhile, has received his share of recognition too. He was the second ever inductee to the British Comics Hall Of Fame in 2013, at the age of 83. His books, which he used to sell by mail order from his home, have become collector's items – though he still kindly put the full content of Hobgoblin Wars – Dispatches From The Front online, to save you the £120 price. It's well worth a read, both for his brilliant turn of phrase and some of the less-repeated details of his life in comics. Plus, of course, the inimitable panels:
His publishing company was called Reaper Books ("as in grim reaper," to quote him) because he realised that if he died during his court battle with the Beano to get the rights to his work, the case would be over. The dispute was settled out of court in 1987 – the same year he founded Reaper Books – and he kept on truckin' for another 30 years.
We might have reached the back cover of Leo Baxendale's life, but his stories will live on in the minds of kids – and big kids – forever.
So long, Leo, and thanks for all the belly laughs.
Main image: Sarah Joy via Flickr CC