Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Sign of the times

This week sees the last ever dead tree version of one of the best loved comics of the last seventy odd years.  For generations of children Wednesday meant one thing, comic day and during the 1960's for children too young for the war inspired world of 'Commando' there were two main competitors for your attention: The Beano and The Dandy. Both are/were published by D.C Thomson & Co, although I don't recall anybody suggesting referring their domination of comics to the Monopolies commission, probably because there was Bunty for the girls and Whizzer and Chips for readers for whom Dennis The Meance or Desperate Dan appeared too threatening!

The Dandy had 'Desperate Dan' and 'Korky The Kat' but The Beano seemed to have the more iconic characters, ones like Dennis The Menace, Roger The Dodger, Minnie The Minx, The Bash Street Kids, Biffo The Bear and Lord Snooty.  The Beano had a far greater influence on my young mind than The Dandy, although once Shoot! and Goal! both appeared in the late sixties both of those took a backseat.

Dennis The Meance and his nemesis Walter (the pasty faced, non-sporting type who suffered all sorts of abuse but often 'won' their confrontations) and Lord Snooty probably helped formulate my views on the structure of modern society, Dennis representing the skiving proles and Lord S representing the equally workshy toffs. My real hero though was Roger The Dodger, a boy who lived in a house that had a library whose contents apparently consisted entirely of 'books of dodges', I tried to write my own once but couldn't  get beyond page one, Roger had volumes of the buggers. I actually joined the Dennis The Menace fan club at one point and the really freaky thing was that the Gnasher badge, complete with moving eyes, had hair that actually grew if it was left on a window in full sunlight.

The other two comic book characters who had such an impact on my childhood were Alf Tupper (Victor), an amateur athlete whose sole source of food was fish and chips wrapped up in newspapers and Billy Dane (Billy's Boots in Scorcher), a footballer with magical boots - again both characters were essentially working class who were often tricked or abused by members of a higher social class - and to think people moan about the BBC manipulating young minds!

Desperate Dan was I suppose the British equivalent to Popeye, a man who was defined by his brute strength as much as any intellect and of course Dan was the product of an age where meat and meat based products ruled, veggies, vegans or freegans were, in the words of Dennis The Menace, 'softies'.

As with all things the end of The Dandy (at least in printed form) has been greeted with an outpouring of pockets and wallets that hadn't been seen during the last thirty years of its dead tree existence. There had, according to its publishers DC Thomson and Co Ltd, been ''unexpected demand'' for its final issue, number 3610. Sir Paul McCartney was finally granted a lifetime ambition to appear alongside Desperate Dan, 53 years after he had mentioned in a pre-Beatle interview that his ambition was to appear in The Dandy.

I heard an item on Radio 4 where the publishers claimed that one newsagent group had ordered 50,000 copies, this for a comic whose weekly readership was below 8,000. Even as I write this there are sellers on eBay asking up to £100 for the final edition. I have to be honest and say that when I heard of the comics closure, before it goes tablet and online, I called into W.H Smith and had a look at the 2012 version and wasn't impressed at all. I guess that unlike a lot of things in life comics don't get better with age, graphic novels though that's another story.



Span Ows said...

I cannot recall ever buying a Beano or Dandy (or any other comic...I am sure I must have lived a sheltered childhood even though I did a paper round etc (God that seems so YOUNG!) and seem to remember I was always out and about all over until God knows when...

pretty sure my first weekly purchase was Angling Times but I'm eternally grateful to Dandy et al for inspiring Viz. :-)

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