Obituary: James Petrie, artist, teacher and illustrator

Born: 2 June, 1932 in Kirriemuir. Died: 25 August, 2014, in Dundee, aged 82.

James Petrie: Minnie the Minx artist who brought the Beano, Dandy, Beezer and Topper comics to life for 40 years

Jim Petrie’s family once thought he would be better off employing his artistic skills as a painter and decorator. Fortunately for countless thousands of comic fans, an art college disagreed.

Instead of honing his brush work on walls and ceilings, he was accepted onto a fine art course and subsequently, via a spell as an art teacher, spent 40 years crafting the mischievous antics of Minnie the Minx in The Beano.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A freelance artist who lived his whole life in clashing colour, he also drew for The Dandy, The Beezer and The Topper as well as exhibiting and selling his own vibrant works, including one for Frankie Goes to Hollywood star Holly Johnson’s collection, although Petrie was blissfully unaware of who he was.

The son of a Kirriemuir lorry driver, James Petrie and his wife Christina, he excelled academically at the town’s Webster’s Seminary where his artistic talents were already evident. Thanks to one teacher who spotted his potential and persistently encouraged him to go to college, he applied to Dundee Technical College and School of Art.

There he was introduced to a range of mediums and enjoyed the opportunity to experiment and share ideas. After graduating with a diploma in fine art in the early 1950s, he studied for a further year at teacher training college before taking up his first post in Lanarkshire. He subsequently moved to Kirkton High School in Dundee where, in 1961, he was offered the chance to fill in part-time on the Minnie the Minx strip.

He ghosted the style of Minnie’s original artist, Leo Baxendale, and his work so impressed both the editorial team and the readers that, when Leo left the following year, he was asked to draw the strip full time. From then until 2001, barring a few weeks’ illness, his work would appear in The Beano every week.

His characters also included Minnie’s chum, Chester the cat and Minnie’s nemesis Fatty Fudge. In addition to his work on The Dandy, Beezer and Topper comics, he drew the Sparky People strip in the 1970s which looked behind the scenes on The Sparky comic.

By the time he bowed out in 2001 he had illustrated 2000 weekly instalments, 400 annual stories, 35 summer specials and seven libraries, all of which he said “kept me porridge all these years”.

All emerged the same way: a cartoon script would arrive and he would divide the blank page into the blocks of the strip, working first in pencil to create Minnie and her surroundings, before drawing the finished work in Indian ink. Sometimes his creations were accompanied with an expletive if the unforgiving ink resulted in an error – and the whole strip having to be re-drawn.

Petrie, who retired from drawing comic strips for DC Thomson in 2001, was persuaded to return to the pages of The Beano in 2011 to draw a one-off Fatty Fudge adventure The Tummy Returns.

His work on Minnie had allowed him the financial freedom to pursue his own art, based from his studio at home where he would rather work clad in a sheepskin coat than allow heating to ruin his paint.

He was a gifted water colourist and often exhibited his work, which evoked complex, ambiguous and profound emotions, in various galleries. On one occasion Petrie, who was inspired by all things Spanish and admired Dali and Picasso, submitted two works to Dundee’s McManus Galleries. They were a pair representing birth and death and, though the curators were apparently willing to take the depiction of death, the birth was declared too graphic. Petrie, who was in his 30s at the time, withdrew both paintings in protest.

A distinctive figure with long hair, a moustache and an individual dress sense, he favoured bright colours, loud ties and red trousers, a bucket hat and Scholl sandals. Yet for all his love of vibrancy, when he finally acquired a television in the 1980s, it was a black and white set.

Always involved in the Dundee art scene, he was a member of Dundee Arts Society and took an interest in any creative ventures.

He also enjoyed photography, wrote and read poetry and was particularly inspired by Dylan Thomas. He had travelled to Morocco, Provence and Tuscany and the art and culture of Europe were often reflected in his work.

Latterly he had become involved in Angus Gliding Club and was immensely inspired by the tranquillity of the skies, the floating sensation and the image of landscape and horizon merging. That aspect translated into his watercolour dreamscapes which featured objects on against a backdrop with no horizon.

A complicated character who was both warm and witty, reserved and charming, he was also an avid follower of politics and current affairs – still reading the New Statesman until recently – and not afraid to stand up for his own beliefs.

He had taken part in demonstrations against the Iraq war and stood outside Timex in Dundee during the bitter strike of 1993.

A long-time supporter of Scottish independence, he had applied for a postal vote but it arrived a day too late for him.

He is survived by his children Derek, Margo, Carol, John and Steven, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and sister Muriel.