British comics great – perhaps the GREATEST British comics great – Leo Baxendale has passed away at the age of 86. Baxendale was to Beano what Jack Davis was to Mad – the essential stylist. As creators of Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids, he influenced generations of Brit kids and other cartonists with his blocky, energetic style.
It’s hard to overstate how influential Baxendale was to British comics. Here’s the GUardian obit, which quotes comics historian Denis Gifford as saying Baxendale was “the most influential and most imitated comics artist of modern times.”
“It’s no understatement to say that I literally wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Leo,” Fanton said. “His influence runs beyond that though. I became aware of his work as a kid when I got my hands on older Beano books and read some of those early strips – his anarchic, riotous style was so distinctive and had so often been emulated or adapted by others who came after him that it still felt completely fresh … Legendary is a word bandied about quite liberally these days, but Leo definitely was legendary, and long may his legacy last!”
Cartoonist Lew Stringer remembers Baxendale here:
I still clearly remember the day I first saw a Leo Baxendale strip. I was six years old and shopping in town with my mum. I was allowed to choose a comic myself from a newsagent’s counter, and picked up Wham! No.77 (dated 4th December 1965). I’d never seen this bright, dynamic comic before. Leo’s Tiddlers cover strip immediately grabbed my attention and I remember, even now, walking around the nearby department stall, totally engrossed in that cover strip. Most comics were fun but this was funny. From that day onwards, Leo Baxendale became my favourite humour artist. I started having Wham! regularly and began creating my own comics not too long after that, thanks directly to how much Leo’s work engaged me.
I know this is a loss is going to hit a lot of my friends hard, especially those who know or worked with him, such as Tony Bennett at Knockabout, or Joe Gordon at Forbidden Planet International, with whom he corresponded. Many comic creators, too, such as The Guardian‘s Steve Bell, cite Leo as a powerful influence on their life and work. My sympathies to them all at this time, and especially Leo’s family who, out of respect to them, we delayed publishing this tribute until now. It also comes as the Lakes International Comic Art Festival was preparing to celebrate his life and work with a permanent exhibit of one of his artworks at Kendal Town Hall, which will be on display in time for this year’s Festival weekend.
While those of us Stateside may not feel the protean influence of Baxendale, the appeal of his manic energy and imagination-engaging landscapes and inventions are evident to anyone who loves comics and art.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.