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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Jim Petrie (1932-2014)

Nigel Parkinson has reported the death of Jim Petrie, who died at Roxburghe House, Dundee, in the early hours of Monday, 25 August 2014, aged 82.

Encouraged to draw by his grandmother as a child, Petrie made his name as the artist of "Minnie the Minx", the stripey-topped tomboy who first appeared in The Beano in 1953. Originally drawn by Leo Baxendale, Petrie filled in for the artist with his first strip on 6 June 1961—in which Minnie destroys her mum's feather duster to make an Indian headdress—and took over full time from April 1962.

Missing only a few weeks due to illness, Petrie drew the anarchic exploits of Minnie every week for the next four decades, clocking up 2,000 episodes in the weekly comic, 400 annual stories, 35 summer specials and 7 Beano Librarys—a total of 2,082 stories,. "Little Minnie has been very good to me," Petrie later said. "She has kept me in porridge all these years." He wrote only ten of his own scripts.

The mischievous minx was intended to be a female Dennis the Menace, who had debuted two years earlier, but soon established her own brand of mayhem. A barely-contained explosion, Minnie was not afraid to tackle a gang of boys and the action would disappear into a cloud of swinging fists and boots.

Whether it was pestering him for something or pelting him with something (tomatoes, snow, dung...), her long-suffering dad was the target of most of her energy; it fell to him to administer any punishments that needed to be meted out at the end of the strip. Later, when punishments became less acceptable in the real world, Minnie's pranks were a little more subdued, although in a 2001 interview, Petrie could recall only one instance where he received an editorial admonishment:

"One day I drew her playing a trick on a church Minister. I got a message back from The Beano, 'We don't attack vicars'. So they drew a tie over his dog-collar... Someone might complain that Minnie has stepped on her cat's tail four times in six months and the word would come through, 'Lay off Chester'. Sometimes I think adults take it a bit too seriously. You are creating a fantasy world after all, and kids love anarchy more than anything."

The son of a lorry driver, James B. Petrie was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland, on 2 June 1932, and was educated at Webster's Seminary, primary and secondary, until the age of 18 before heading to Dundee in 1950, where he took a diploma in fine art at Dundee Technical College and School of Fine Art.

He did his National Service with the Army despite being classed Grade 4 due to "a bit of trouble with my chest" (he has suffered from meningitis at the age of 7) before returning to Dundee to go to teacher training college—although missing the entrance date meant delaying his start by a year, during which time he was variously employed screenprinting and working at D. M. Brown's as a printer and artist for their window displays.

Graduating in 1956, he took a post teaching art at a junior secondary in Lanarkshire, later returning to Dundee to teach at Kirkton High School.

Petrie's first Minnie was published after meeting Bob McGrath, who had found post-Art School success drawing "Wonder Boy" for The Beano in 1960, and visiting Dave Sutherland, Gordon Bell and Tom Bannister in their studio. He turned freelance in 1968.

Under Petrie's hand, the strip went from a single page to a double page weekly spread and, in 1988, she graduated to full colour. Her occasional nemesis, Fatty Fudge, also earned his own spin-off strip in 1989. The latter spoofed popular novels and films and ran under titles like "Fatman of the Apes" and "2001—A Space Obesity".

Petrie's other strips included "The Sparky People" (Sparky, Topper, 1969-79), "Says Smiffy"—which involved the Bash Street's famously thick schoolboy trying out daft inventions suggested by readers—(Beano, 1971-72), "Freddie Stare" (Topper, 1979-80) and "The Incredible Sulk" for rivals IPC (Jackpot, 1979-82).

The artist had his revenge on Minnie in his final strip, which appeared in The Beano 3052 (13 January 2001): Minnie meets Petrie who draws her with blond curls replacing her usual ginger hair and a candy pink party dress. Minnie, of course, has the last laugh when she upends a paint pot over her tormenter.

At the time of his retirement from drawing Minnie, Petrie was living in a small, cluttered Dundee flat, surrounded by coffee cups and paint tubes. Journalist Colin Wills described him thus: "He is 68 with flyaway grey hair and looks a bit like a cross between Bob Dylan and Doctor Who." His musical preference whilst working was Mahler.

An active member of Roseangle Art Society, Petrie continued to paint in acrylics and occasionally in oil following his retirement from the strip and his work was shown at a number of exhibitions. He favoured "dreamscapes"—described as "figures of angels and other objects on a background with no horizon." These, he said, were inspired by the sensation of floating, the artist having taken up gliding some years earlier. He was persuaded to return to The Beano on occasions, the last time in 2011 with a Fatty Fudge story "The Tummy Returns".

Petrie is survived by two daughters and three sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Tributes to Petrie can be found at Lew Stringer's Blimey! (27 August 2014), and John Freeman's Down the Tubes (27 August 2014). Michael Stirling, the editor-in-chief of The Beano, said "Jim wasn't only a brilliant artist, he was also a lovely gentleman." The Beano website has also paid tribute to the artist, saying: "As well as being a massively talented artist, and a warm and witty friend and colleague, Jim had one other very unique claim to fame... so here's to Jim Petrie—the only teacher ever who got to tell Minnie the Minx what to do!"

His work was exhibited at the University of Dundee's Lamb Gallery between July and September 2015.

(* artwork © D. C. Thomson)


James Spiring said...

Minnie debuted in 1953, not 1959.

Steve said...

D'oh. Thanks, James. Error now fixed.

Andy Boal said...

And the 2011 return was a one-off Fatty Fudge strip, written as all of the Fatty Fudge film spoofs were by Craig Ferguson.

Steve said...

So (now) noted. Cheers, Andy.