Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Dandy

When I was young I would buy The Beano every week. I don’t have many memories of the content but I remember enjoying the comic and many of the characters. I would receive The Beano Annual every Christmas and skim through it reading the stories involving characters I liked.

Dennis the Menace was a favourite, partly thanks to Gnasher. I was less interested in Minnie the Minx, whose particular brand of anarchic tomfoolery seemed identical to Dennis’s. I branded her a rip-off and avoided her.

I was never a regular reader of The Dandy. I owned some annuals picked up from car boot sales and passed down to me second hand, but I found the characters less appealing than those appearing in The Beano. It didn’t really appeal to me. I distinctly remember thinking that it wasn’t as funny.

On Tuesday 14th August The Dandy was trending on Twitter for a while, as was #saveTheDandy. It had been revealed that there was a very real possibility of The Dandy ceasing publication because its readership has become so poor in recent years.

I had a look through some of the comments that were being made and quickly realised one of The Dandy’s key problems: it’s priced at £1.99. It also became apparent that the same cast of characters were being trotted out as when I would read annuals as a child, which struck me as odd as well. I had expected a few names that I didn’t recognise to appear.

I decided that it would be unfair to write the title off without actually looking at it though, so I decided to buy the latest issue to read through. This revealed another problem the publication is facing: I visited nine shops before I found somewhere that had it in stock. If it’s hard to track down it’s going to be hard to buy.

As it’s essentially an anthology The Dandy is a mixed bag in terms of quality. I was surprised to find that Desperate Dan, the title’s most recognisable character, appeared in only one strip on the back cover. Meanwhile Korky the Cat, a similarly recognisable face, was reduced to a brief appearance on a page encouraging readers to submit jokes.

While I fall a little outside of the target age range I still found things to enjoy. In addition to Desperate Dan I enjoyed the two Grrrls! strips, My Dad’s a Doofus, Bananaman, Olympikids, and Mega-Lo Maniacs. Anyone familiar with The Dandy will possibly have noticed that three of those strips are by one man: Jamie Smart. His thick line work and expressive faces were a wonderful discovery. He’s someone I’d like to see more work from in the future.

Being a former Beano reader it was also a joy to see the artwork of Nigel Parkinson again. His one page Banana Bunch strip featured some of the most detailed art of the entire issue, each panel packed with movement and personality. Even something as simple as a panel drawn in silhouette stood out, simply because I hadn’t expected to find that level of quality given to a children’s magazine.

Sadly, and predictably, there was some pretty ropey material too. The Bogies (featuring Bogie Won) was a barely veiled Star Wars pastiche starring lumps of green snot and a golden robot. I appreciate it’s a kids title but that doesn’t necessitate the inclusion of disgusting subject matter. And surely there must be something more recent that could be homaged ahead of a franchise that first saw life in 1977.

Professor Cheese’s Olympic Wheezes, Spotted Dick and Silly Moo were all fairly humdrum and unimaginative, while a three panel strip featuring Wolverine (yes, that Wolverine) performing magic was just confusing.

While I did find enjoyment in issue 3594 of The Dandy I don’t believe there was enough to warrant the relatively high price tag. If The Dandy is to remain aimed primarily at children then a lot of work needs to be done to compete with the dozens of TV channels and hundreds of computer games available to them.

Children of today have so much choice that spending two pounds on something that will only last them an hour is unappealing. Right now The Dandy either needs to be reinvented with fresh characters relevant to today’s kids. Lazy gags about mobile phones don’t cut it in 2012 because most kids are unaware that they used to be carried in briefcases.

My suggestion would be keeping the same tone but trying to attract a greater range of aspiring comic book writers and-or authors in an attempt to see if a new character catches on or the title can gain a reputation for being somewhere young talent can be seen (which would make it more appealing to adult comic fans). It’s a lofty goal but there’s no reason The Dandy couldn’t strive to be a U rated 2000 AD.

It would be sad to see such a well-established title cease publication but having read an issue I’d understand if it did.

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