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Farewell to a Great Storyteller

September 29th, 2014

Minnie-the-Minx-blogAs far as I’m aware, British children’s comics are unique in the world. Without the glitz of their American counterparts, the depth of French Bandes Dessinés or the complexity of Japanese Manga, they’re a bit like Bread and Butter Pudding or ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats – you just don’t find them anywhere else. From their pages have come characters like Desperate Dan, Beryl the Peril, and the Bash Street Kids. And where some of these have been going since the 1930s (with a few achieving world-wide fame) generally the artists and writers who made them have remained anonymous – unnamed and unknown.

But one of them passed away last week and, it seems, he wasn’t unknown. As well as in the specialist comic industry publications, obituaries for Jim Petrie have featured on BBC Radio, in The Daily Telegraph and The Scotsman. By all accounts he was well-liked, well-respected, and considered an influential artist both within his own field, and beyond.

The son of a lorry driver, Jim Petrie was born in 1932 in Kirriemur, near Forfar, Scotland. After leaving school he did a diploma in Fine Art at Dundee Technical College, then worked as an art teacher in Lanarkshire before returning to Dundee for a job at Kirkton High School. Here, some ten years later, he was asked by the publisher D C Thomson to ‘fill in’ as artist on a comic strip called ‘Minnie the Minx.’

Now, Minnie the Minx had been running in The Beano since 1953. She was created by Leo Baxendale as a female counterpart to Dennis the Menace – an anarchic tomboy with a wild mop of red hair who regularly beat-up little boys. Kids loved her right from the start. But in 1961, Leo Baxendale left the Beano, and Petrie took his place. He then went on to produce a Minnie the Minx comic strip every week for the next forty years – 2000 in total, his last appearing in January 2001.

Jim-Petrie-blogOver those years Minnie got a lot of attention. The 1960s in Britain was a time of militant feminism, and she became the subject of several ‘learned’ dissertations. Later it was claimed that she had inspired the ‘ladette’ culture of the late 1990s with her disrespect and riotous behaviour.

But Jim Petrie wasn’t a riotous man. Moving into comics full-time in 1962, he went on to work for The Dandy, The Beezer, Topper and Sparky, as well as producing nearly 450 extra Minnie the Minx strips for annuals and summer specials. A prolific artist and storyteller, he did most (if not all) his work in a studio at home in Kirriemur, and as he worked he liked listening to the music of Gustav Mahler, because it helped him concentrate.

So, staying at home, listening to beautiful music and making up stories to entertain the children – what a lucky man. And what a great way to live.

Wish I could draw …


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