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Sunday, 5 August 2012

In Review: The Art and History of The Dandy

The Art and History of The Dandy
By Morris Heggie

Publisher: Waverley Books

Out: 6th August 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1849342414

The Book: A chronicle of 75 years of the world's longest-running comic, The Art and History of The Dandy is a beautiful gift book and treasury of everything that has made The Dandy so anarchic and special.

The Review: With such a rich history, documenting the story of the world's longest-running comic, even with access to DC Thomson's archives, must have been no easy task - but for me, a casual Dandy reader, former editor Morris Heggie pulls off this herculean task with aplomb.

The Dandy is a record breaker: in 1999 it became the world's longest running comic and this reasonably-priced hardback book comes packed with stories of how its characters -- Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat, Beryl the Peril, Keyhole Kate, Brassneck, Winker Watson and many more -- came to be, along with profiles of its numerous creators from its origins to its troubled present.

For those who don't know, The Dandy, DC Thomson's first weekly comic, hit the streets on 3rd December, 1937, six months before its sister comic The Beano. The intent - stymied by the Second World War, whose paper rationing could so easily have put paid to the comics and indeed, meant a fellow title, Magic Comic, was short-lived - was to create a 'Big Five' of humour titles. This would, original editor Alfred Barnes believed, echo the success of DC Thomson's 'Big Five' of adventure comics - Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

Ledgers of the comic's sales (which I've been lucky enough to have seen during one visit to the DC Thomson offices) document the title's early success, quickly out-selling adventure titles as Britain battled its way out of economic depression and prepared for War.

Telling the story of the comic chronlogically, breaking down its history into eight sections from its origins and huge success to its difficult present, beset by competition from many quarters, The Art and History of the Dandy is a glorious read, albeit tinged with the sad truth that its glory days are, perhaps long behind it.

And yet, while the title's past success - in the 1950s, it was the world's largest-selling comic with a circulation of around two million copies a week - is without question, there are some who do challenge more recent attempts to breathe new life into the title, the comic's older fans perhaps forgetting it is aimed at children, not 40-something fans with rose-tinted memories of childhood. Indeed. The Art and History of The Dandy tells the story not just of the comic, but how changing society, frowning on some aspects of its very nature, have affected and changed the style of its storytelling, with characters such as Bully Beef considered politically incorrect today, despite the fact that the vile character regularly got his comeuppance.

Sales of The Dandy may be a pale shadow of past years, and the most recent total revamp - documented in this book - has not been entirely welcomed by some. But the creators involved have held true to The Dandy's original ethos, summed up by its first editor, the late Albert Barnes: 'There is never any real violence, only the cartoon kind to be found in Tom and Jerry where the victim always springs back unharmed. It gives children a chance to cock a harmless snook at authority, and sublimate their desires to kick against the traces.'

(Barnes was also behind Desperate Dan, who became The Dandy's biggest star).

Whatever the future of The Dandy - and indeed other non-licensed, original and long-running titles such as The Beano, Commando and 2000AD - The Art and History of The Dandy is a hugely enjoyable read, albeit strong on the earlier history of the title but perhaps less revealing on its current state. If you grew up reading the comic, or are a fan of British comics, Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat, Bananaman (and many other great creations by the likes of Dudley Watkins, Ken Reid, Steve Bright et al) this title definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Sub-titled 75 Years of Biffs, Bangs and Bana Skins, The Art of The Dandy offers an amazing trip down memory lane for fans of The Dandy. Sumptuously illustrated (with some great behind-the-scenes imagery and cheeky notes), I really enjoyed reading this and I think many of our readers will, too.

- Morris Heggie will be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 13th August at the Scottish Power Studio Theatre. Join Mr Gum writer and comic book fan Andy Stanton as he introduces Morris and artist Gordon Tait. More info here

 

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