Badtime Bedtime Stories

Writer / Artist
Badtime Bedtime Stories
Badtime Bedtime Stories review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Rebellion Treasury of British Comics - 978-1-78618-531-0
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781786185310
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: All-Ages, Humour

Such was Leo Baxendale’s reputation as the peak of children’s comic creation in 1975 that when Monster Fun launched he was given four pages to fill as he saw fit. He came up with The Badtime Bedtime Storybook, an insert over the four middle pages that could be removed, trimmed to size and reconstituted as a smaller eight page ‘book’. In keeping with the comic’s theme, this book was a comically morbid retelling of a well known story, later spreading into TV or historical parodies. Baxendale didn’t produce them all, but this collection restricts itself to his work, although the feeling is that he produced more than the eleven stories supplied here.

Baxendale poured his heart and soul into the earliest stories, which fuse his traditional chaos of childhood with the surreal sense of humour trickling down from the then recent Monty Python TV show. The plot of whatever’s theoretically being adapted is merely a peg for Baxendale to hang his own absurdism onto in the manner of John Coltrane improvising on a theme. The pages are packed, and hilarious as Baxendale creates the impression of anarchy by including a stream of visual asides and comments along with subverting the traditional puzzle pages found in children’s comics. Plainly put, he cheats in the name of humour, riffing on dadaist jokes, but also supplies plenty of groan-inducing puns to be repeated in the school playgrounds of 1975 forevermore. This density isn’t maintained throughout, but who could be expected to keep up that level of intensity?

Parodies of ads regularly found in comics also appear, and Baxendale invites letters to fictional editor Leonard Rottingsocks. In some cases he’s on familiar territory, but Baxendale still innovates. In intent there’s little difference between Little Bo Creep here and his Minnie the Minx of the 1950s, but the stroke of genius is having it drawn as if by a child, Jack the Nipper, pre-empting the 21st century boom in children’s books written and drawn as if by children. An extra layer of wit is Baxendale knowingly producing tidier and more restrained art than his usual explosion of anarchy.

Memorable lines and ridiculous explanations abound. “You don’t expect me to eat raw people, do you?” responds a dragon when asked why it blows flames. So many single panel illustrations are just designed to crack you up. Nigel Parkinson, a man who knows all about rib-tickling, highlights a cow riding a bicycle in his introduction, but how about the ridiculous Dr. Jackal on the sample art, the Crockery-dile juggling cups and plates or a burglar on a ladder robbing a doll’s house? There are dozens of laugh out loud pictures.

Over the years we’ve perhaps forgotten how great Baxendale was, and it’s a joy to receive a reminder like this. It’s magnificent.