Friday, October 17, 2008
Super School: Genesis of a new Beano strip
Over a year ago, in late summer 2007, I was contacted by Alan Digby, editor of The Beano, to enquire if I'd be interested in drawing a brand new strip for the weekly. Naturally I jumped at the chance, as long as I could fit it in with my other workload. I'd drawn a strip for the Beano only once before, - a fill-in on a Fred's Bed strip that eventually appeared in last year's Christmas issue. (Another fill-in, this time on Ivy the Terrible, would appear a few months later.) Several years ago I'd also contibuted several strips to the Fun-Size (digest) editions of Beano and Dandy, - and drew a few pages for a Beano Summer Special about 10 years ago, but that was my sum total of contributions for DC Thomson, which had always proven a tough nut to crack.
Alan explained that he'd been looking through my back catalogue (presumably my website and not a huge secret database DC Thomson keep on people) and he thought I'd be ideal to draw a superhero comedy strip they were preparing. The working title for the strip was The Ultras and basically it would feature a classroom of young kids learning to use their super-powers.
Alan's script arrived which set up the premise and he asked for character designs for the principal characters (above). At this early stage, the character who would become Waterboy was called Moon Boy (hence the crescent moon on his outfit in the early episodes) and the shape-changer was called Nature Boy (now Safari Sam).
Invisible Isobel was specified to be an ethnic character, which was a positive step in my opinion. Her design was the one I liked most. I based her hairstyle on that of Kym Marsh from Coronation Street, assuming it'd be a style the kids would consider "cool".
Stinkbomb was the class smelly kid, but he'd be using his powers for good. I gave him a skunk-like white stripe in his mop of hair. I suspect Stinkbomb may prove to be the most popular of the bunch.
With the character designs approved I penciled the first story (above). As with all new strips, I sent the pencils to the editor for approval first. No problems, so it was on with the inks (below) and colours. (I've only coloured the first two episodes. The rest will be coloured by Thomson's excellent in-house staff.)
A second script soon followed from Alan and I drew that up too. The modern method of DC Thomson comics is for new strips to be tested by a focus group. As I understand it, a dummy issue is presented to a selected class or group of children and they're asked their opinions on the new material. The findings on The Ultras were mainly positive, although a title change was suggested.
This initial process took quite a while, and Ultras didn't receive the final go-ahead until several months after I drew those first two episodes. Once the editor had the green light the strip was scheduled for the next "revamp" issue of The Beano, which wouldn't be until October 2008. Plenty of time to turn around the scripts that Alan was now sending to me on a regular basis.
The strip was still called Ultras in the scripts until a few months ago, and even mentioned as such in The History of The Beano as a forthcoming new series. Then the decision was made to change it to the more explanatory Super School (sub-tiled "Teaching Tomorrow's Heroes") and, with the new logo in place, the first episode was scheduled for The Beano No. 3454, dated October 18th 2008.
The first episode appeared this week in spectacular fashion due to The Beano changing format to a high gloss stock and sharper printing. The new paper defines the colours properly (the strip looks exactly as it did on my Mac) and overall is a brighter comic. The upgraded format has necessitated a price rise from 99p to £1.25 (yep, The Beano's broken the pound barrier) but a price rise was inevitable anyway, glossy printing or not. Hopefully the readers will still enjoy their brighter Beano and the stories within. (Cover for the current issue, below, by Nigel Parkinson.)
The first episode of Super School is introductory and the pace picks up in weeks to come. I can't divulge too much yet, but Beano tripe-hound Gnasher guest stars in a few weeks, and a brand new superhero joins the class as a regular character in the New Year. (One episode coming up in January features LOTS of new super-kids. It's going to be fun to draw but I reckon it'll use up a bottle of ink!)
I'm currently inking the strip for the Christmas issue. Sneak preview below! As you can see I've designed the logo for this one, complete with traditional snow on the lettering.
New strips that have longevity aren't that common in The Beano but hopefully Super School will prove popular with the readers. At present it's leading in the online Beano poll this week, but that could change at the click of a button. Whatever the outcome I'm having fun drawing it and I hope some of that enjoyment transfers over to the readers. As they said in the Sixties: Never Be Without A Beano!