AN ESTEEMED comic artist who created characters such as Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids for The Beano has passed away yesterday aged 86 from cancer.

Eastcombe resident Leo Baxendale, whose son Martin is a Stroud District Councillor, was renowned in the comic community for his decades of dedication to the craft.

This began in 1952 as a freelance artist aged 22 for comic goliath The Beano where he worked for ten years.

Leo, who moved to Eastcombe in 1967, was born in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire on October 27 1920, and practised his craft at Preston Catholic College before designing paint labels for the Leyland Paint and Varnish Company.

Following service in the RAF he secured a job at the Lancashire Evening Post drawing adverts and sports cartoons, but it was when his younger brother brought a copy of The Beano home that his career kicked into gear.

Speaking to the SNJ in 2004, Leo said: "The Beano was still very fresh in 1930, in the 1950s people wanted something new.

"At one point, The Beano editor showed me a letter from an adult reader saying that the artist doing the Bash Street Kids was near-genius.

"I think he expected me to be pleased but I was annoyed, actually, by the word 'near'.

"I was full of myself then. Now I'm only three quarters full of myself."

The pressure of a producing full-page drawings for his original characters Minnie the Minx, Little Plum, The Bash Street Kids and The Three Bears, alongside work for The Beezer each week became too much for Leo in 1962, which was drawing him away from his love for the craft.

His debut hit with The Beano, which secured his freelance position was Little Plum, described as the ‘Red Indian Dennis the Menace by Baxendale in 1978.

This was followed by other original characters The Three Bears – Pa, Ma and Teddie – in 1959 and the female counterpart to Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, in 1960.

Minnie is currently the third longest-running Beano character, still in publication to this day.

Stroud News and Journal: Minnie the Minx (c) DC Thomson & Co Ltd 2017

Minnie the Minx, copyright DC Thomson & Co Ltd 2017

Leo's son Martin shared a heartfelt tribute with the SNJ: "As a cartoonist myself, I have to say that Leo was an impossible act to follow.

"His drawings were always both very, very funny and sublimely well drawn - Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling to my greetings card and gift book scribbles.

"He cast a long shadow which will be greatly missed now it's gone.

"The humour in Leo's work for children's comics and his later newspaper cartoons and books was always anarchic, anti the established order and pro fairness and justice in a generally unfair and unjust world, championing the underdog against the forces of oppression; a reflection of his strongly held left-wing, progressive political views.

"In his comic's pages he saw the child characters he created (most famously The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Little Plum) as the underdogs long controlled and oppressed by the adult world around them and he gave them a voice and actions with which to fight back in hilariously anarchic fashion, allowed them to step into the limelight and control their own destinies.

"Children of the time responded to that, writing fan letters of glee and appreciation that truly delighted him.

"The fan letters also came from grown up children, reading his pages with as much enjoyment as their offspring.

"He crammed his drawings with masses of tiny comic details that the readers could pour over and come back to time and time again.

"He believed that children had "super-powerful eyeballs" with which they looked for that kind of tiny comic detail to become absorbed in, and he always wanted to give them more and more, pages that they could become lost in as they studied the detail.

"He never wanted to disappoint his fans.

"In recent years it wasn't the cancer that he fought for so long that really got him down, so much as the constant march ever more to the right in British politics - a depressing political march away from the principles of fairness, justice and standing up for the underdog that underpinned his life and his cartoons, towards a world built around fear, hatred and division.

"To the end he believed, despite all the evidence, that he could beat his illness and I'm sure he also believed that the forces of progressive politics could also still win, no matter how long a shadow their opponents might cast.

"I will always be grateful that Leo taught me how to draw well enough to make a living from it.

"I’m equally grateful that his strongly progressive political views and activism rubbed off on me and my brothers and sisters (I vividly remember as a small child being taken on wet and cold CND marches as well as on exciting visits to The Beano offices in Dundee) and so helped to shape the adults we became.

"It’s good to know that he also touched and in some small way perhaps influenced the lives of so many others of our generation brought up on his comic pages."

A High Court case started against the owners of the Beano in 1980 over the rights to Baxendale’s original characters including another hit success The Banana Bunch, this ended with a settlement in 1987.

Stroud News and Journal:

Leo told the SNJ: “I realised I had created structure of comedy that would last for decades so I had expected other artists to take them over.

“The bad bit was - the part where I was naive - was with the copyright. It turned out I had lost control and I was going to lose out financially.

“Oddly the court case became addictive in a very similar way to drawing for the comics - when I was drawing for the Beano I could hardly bear to wait until morning to carry on with the drawing.”

With this money, Leo went on to set up his own publishing house called Reaper Books where he printed books like The Beano Room and Other Places, The Worst of Willy the Kid and The Hobgoblin Wars: Dispatches from the Front.

In 2003 Leo Baxendale was the recipient of the Cartoon Art Trust Lifetime Achievement Award and was also inducted into the British Comics Awards Hall of Fame.

Stroud News and Journal:

Bash Street Kids (Originally titled When The Bell Rings) copyright DC Thomson & Co Ltd 2017

Mike Stirling, head of Beano Studios Scotland, told the SNJ:"It’s very sad news and everyone at Beano and DC Thomson would like to share our deepest condolences.

"I had the pleasure of speaking to Mr Baxendale while we were writing the History of The Beano, something he was obviously a massive part of.

"I was thrilled when he kindly sent an incredible personalised illustration wishing Beano a happy 75th birthday in 2013.

"I’m really sad he won’t be here in person to celebrate our 80th with us next year, but his legacy will be.

"We’ll proudly continue to share his creative brilliance as an inspiration for everyone."

Leo is survived by his wife Peggy, five children Martin, Carol, Stephen, Heather and Mark; ten grandchildren Rosie, Jacob, Zuza, Jo, Misho, Eloise, Joel, Jake, Owen, Tamsin; and three great grandchildren Rupert, Barney and Zoe.

In a post on Facebook The Cartoon Museum stated: "It is with great sadness that we inform of the passing of Leo Baxendale, one of the greatest, most prolific, funny and revolutionary comic artist in the UK."

To pay tribute to Leo email ebi@stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk or call 01453 769423.