Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Dandy's Grand Finalé

I've read countless numbers of final issues over the years but never one as spectacular as this. After 75 years of continuous publication, The Dandy, Britain's longest-running comic, bows out in style with an issue that feels more like a Royal Variety show than a humble comic. 

Opening with a red-foil logo and trimmings on a cover by Jamie Smart, issue No.3610 is a 100 page giant. The format of the contents are completely different to anything the comic has done before, taking the form of a countdown of 75 selected strips from The Dandy's long history. Halfway through the comic we're flung back to 1937 with a 24 page pull-out of issue No.1 - the comic that would have been on sale exactly 75 years ago this week. (Unfortunately the real No.1 had 28 pages, so I can only assume the reduction to 24 was because publications are printed in 8 page signatures - 3 x 8 = 24. Printing an extra 4 pages might have proven too awkward or expensive perhaps.)

Including the pull-out, about half of the contents are reprint, but I'm sure the quality of the reprints will be more of an incentive than a deterrent. Many of the great Dandy artists are represented, with Davy Law on Corporal Clott, George Martin on Jolly Roger, Eric Roberts on Dirty Dick, Ken Reid on Bing-Bang Benny, Frank McDiarmid on Big Head and Thick Head, Bill Holroyd on Brassneck, and many more.

The numerous new pages feature contemporary artists giving their take on classic characters along with some more recent strips. There are some characters here who haven't appeared in The Dandy for decades, brought out of retirement for one last time. It made my day when editor Craig Graham asked me to write and draw a mini-strip featuring The Umbrella Men, one of my all-time favorites. (I also contributed Kid Cops, Postman Prat, Julius Sneezer, and The Smasher to this issue.) 

The other day, artist Nigel Auchterlounie suggested the idea of inviting other Dandy artists to contribute to this blog where they could briefly mention some background to their work on the final Dandy. Sounded good to me! Here's what they had to say...

Nigel Auchterlounie: "The Korky I drew I wrote when the Dandy got it's latest revamp. I sent the rough version to the Dandy not as a pitch but as an in joke never expecting it to be used. I also wrote the Jocks and the Geordies strip. My first "proper" pure writing job before getting the Dennis gig."

Alex Matthews: "I did Wacko! and a Tin Lizzie mini-strip. My first experience of drawing a whole strip in a classic style. I was playing around with the concepts and trying to think about how they would work in 2012. I also did a Nuke mini-strip....Hopefully that won't be the last we ever see of him, but that might be the case...."

Stuart Munro: "I drew Auntie Clockwise, which was Wayne's first gig with DCT and he gave it his blessing. It also features a Jamie Smart-style Doctor Who and Alex's Nuke Noodle, as well as The Beano's Tim Traveller. I included Bill & Ted too, as my signature is actually the Wyld Stallyns logo upside down.
I also drew Hamish The Haggis Basher. It's a Tom Paterson strip that only appeared in one annual in the 80's, I had no picture reference and haven't read the strip, which is a first for me!"

Nigel Parkinson: "Yes I did some stuff in there. Don't remember doing Owen Goal but it's in there so I must have. May have done that Paul McCartney thing too. I certainly meant to, he was very keen."

Andy Fanton: "I did a 2-page Bad Grandad for the final issue (complete with a few little nods to the past couple of years in the background), got a chance to revive Harry and his Hippo again in a mini-strip, and given how thin I am, got the ironic task of drawing two minis based on characters who like to eat a lot, Plum MacDuff and Hungry Horace."

Officially, the final Dandy was supposed to stay on sale for several weeks but copies were snapped up immediately by everyone from loyal regulars to people looking for a quick investment. I understand it may now be going to a second printing! Ironic, considering that low sales were the reason it's ended.

It's a strange and saddening feeling knowing that for the first time in our lives there won't be another issue of The Dandy on the shelves of newsagents ever again. However it's not quite the end, as the new online-only version is now up and running (hopefully with its teething troubles sorted out soon) at and there will definitely be The Dandy Annual 2014 in the shops around July/August of 2013. 

The last British comic to have a record-breaking run was Comic Cuts, ending in 1953 after a run of 63 years (mirrored by Illustrated Chips, ending in the same week that year, just slightly younger than its companion paper). At exactly 75 years old, The Dandy is the UK's longest running comic. (That is, until The Beano takes the crown next July.) 

What I always liked about The Dandy was that it changed its contents around over the years and wasn't afraid of reinventing itself. I still prefer the rather old-fashioned looking Dandy of 1964 with The Crimson Ball and Black Bob that I first encountered when I was four years old but that's just nostalgia talking. Comics have always needed to move with the times to appeal to each generation's different tastes.

Obviously most of the reinventions that The Dandy had were influenced by trying to turn around declining sales, but at least the comic was having a go, rather than stagnating. (Even the often-dismissed Dandy Xtreme era brought us Lucy Grimm and some great Cuddles and Dimples strips.) Some people have suggested that if The Dandy had played it safer and stuck to a core of established characters (as The Beano has) then it might still be thriving. They may have a good point but we'll never know for sure. What is known is that a) sales have been falling for decades, and b) The Dandy had outlived every other British comic in history, (except for The Beano) and many of those other comics did stick to their status quo. For example, Whizzer and Chips and Tiger were good comics but sticking to formula and long-established characters didn't save them from eventual extinction.

The final Dandy ends on a poignant note, with fifty of the characters gathered to sing Hey Jude (led on piano by Sir Paul McCartney, - an avid Dandy reader of old). It really is the grandest of grand finalés that a British comic has ever had.  


George Shiers said...

Haven't recieved my copy yet - its still in the post.

A great end, I'm really looking forwards to seeing it, and some of the old strips too!

A shame to see so many people are buying it just to sell it again, there's already loads on eBay...

Anonymous said...

bighead and thickhead was drawn by ken reid not by frank mcd. Ken also drew tge ali haha story.

Lew Stringer said...

Ken Reid was the original artist on Big Head and Thick Head but when he left to work on Wham! in 1964 the strip was taken over by Frank McDiarmind, ghosting Ken's style. The one used in the last Dandy, taken from a Dandy Book, is definitely by Frank.

I'm fairly sure the Ali Ha-Ha strip in the last Dandy isn't by Ken either. Again, Ken originated the strip but this one looks like it was 'ghosted' to me. The hands don't quite look right.

John Freeman said...

Although I haven't found a copy yet, WH Smiths have an exclusive 75 Years of Dandy magazine available for £5.99.

Harry Rickard said...

Saddened to hear the high amount of reprints in there but I suppose if you had such talented past artists - you should be proud to show them off - and let's be honest, DC Thomson had some blimmin' brilliant artists!

I can't wait for my issue to arrive - it looks like it'll be even better than the 76-page Bumper Christmas Dandy of 2010!

Oh, a little correction: It's Nigel Auchterlounie not Aucterlounie. A small mistake but one worth noting. :)

Lew Stringer said...

I'm happy with the 50 or so pages of reprint. After all, it is a celebration of 75 years so it's only right to show off some of those great artists who are now sadly no longer around.

I would personally have liked to see a few of the adventure strips too, but at least some of had the honour of putting our own spin on some of them. The Black Bob mini-strip is hilarious.

Lew Stringer said...

@John, that 75 years special has been out since early September. Good to know they're still selling it. (I wonder how many people bought that this week, thinking it was the final issue?)

James Spiring said...

Put it this way, two of the three WHSmith branches I checked had sold out of the 75th anniversary special as well as the final issue. The third had the special but not #3610. So yeah, I reckon some people did confuse the two.

I eventually got a copy from Nisa Local, thanks to Mike D (Bone-O artist) who told me they had it in stock.

beanokev said...

Lew, thought the final issue was a fitting tribute. I love your Smasher and just amazed he didn't appear in the weekly months ago, the only issue I have is why oh why wasn't Korky drawn in a more traditional style & a three panel strip for Black Bob big error. Overall sad but good send off

Dr Andy Oliver said...

Thanks for the artist details Lew. It's good to put a name to these strips. Interestingly I was going to ask you, in an earlier blog, about whether Big Head and ALi Ha-Ha were drawn by Ken. I wondered whther a rcent artists had ghosted his style or perhaps they were early Ken efforts. Particularly the Big Head strip lacked the usual Riedy detail.

peter bangs said...

Visited 15 Newsagents trying to pick up a copy for my 11 year old daughter and nary a look. in 3 I was told guys had been in and bought up all the issues they had and now I see it on ebay for between £12 and £20. Wish I'd ordered it for her but she was swapping between Dandy and Beano so it never seemed necessary.

Lew Stringer said...

Hi Peter, I've ordered a spare from this website. Might be worth giving it a try?

Andy, Ken Reid did some excellent Big Head and Thick Head pages. Not as wild as his Odhams work, but close. Yes, Frank McDiarmid ghosted them after Ken left, and Jimmy Hughes did some too.

I may be wrong but I'm sure some Ali Ha-Ha pages were ghosted by other artists. The one reprinted in this last issue just doesn't look like Ken's work in some places to me. I think it's by Michael Barratt, who later drew 'The Whiskery Dicks' for Topper. Anyone else know for sure?

Lew Stringer said...

beanokev, thanks for the kind words about The Smasher. I've written three new ones to draw very soon for The Dandy Annual 2014.

Twitter @MLPasterisk said...

Excellent final issue.

Unlike most of its contemporaries The Dandy hasn't vanished from the shelves with a "great news inside chums" but instead goes out with a terrific celebration of 75 years.

Favourite strips were Black Bob and The Umbrella Men.

Winker Watson is a real blast from the past with talk of halfpennies and panniers.

Lew Stringer said...

I half expected a line saying "Great News Inside, Chums! Your favourite comic is merging into the Internet!"

Anonymous said...

in the history books it says ken reid drew big head and thick head and ali haha. i think people are more inclined to believe them??

Lew Stringer said...

The history books tend to only give the name of the artists who originated the strips.

As I said, Ken did draw Big Head and Thick Head... initially. Then Frank McDiarmid took over in 1964. The page in the last Dandy is definitely Frank's.

The more I look at that Ali Ha-Ha page the more I'm sure it's not by Ken. Look at the hands, and the buildings/roads - nothing like Ken's style. Excellent ghosting of Ken's style on the faces though.

swirlythingy said...

I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed it didn't include the words "Great News Chums!" anywhere. It's just not British for comics to admit they're being cancelled right there on the cover.

James Spiring said...

Swirly, Buster did the same thing, saying on the cover that it was the last one.

Anonymous said...

its sad to hear about the demise of the dandy comic.
i know your site is essentially about british comics scene, but i read that the world famous 'bazooka joe' comic will be disappearing from the bubble gum packs in january 2013! kids all over the world just don't want comics anymore...

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I heard about Bazooka Joe going. Shame. Back in the sixties me and my mates used to buy Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum from a vending machine at the top of our road. I wish I'd kept those strips! Don't know why I threw them away, as it's not as though they took up any room. (Perhaps I do still have them somewhere but they've become misplaced as they were so tiny.)

Robert said...

Hi, Lew

Having ordered the comic directly from DC Thomson, I was a bit anxious for a while reading newspaper stories about the final issue whilst noticing that the postman had neglected to deliver my own copy. But it finally arrived and both myself and my children (especially my nine year old daughter) enjoyed it immensely.

It was fantastic seeing some old favourites (though no 'Rah Rah Randall' Boo! Hiss!). Loved the little Black Bob tale - a favourite for this youngster back in the 70s, despite its old fashioned look (actually, I think that was part of the charm). The young lad growing up in Belfast didn't really get the significance of the Jocks and the Geordies though that was another favourite - naturally I preferred the Jocks, who looked way cooler than their counterparts.

Incidentally, I was impressed at how much my nine year old read, even ploughing through the dense text of the stories from the issue one reprint. Speaking on her behalf, I can only say that she much prefers comics print than online (which she associates with other activities such as games, Club Penguin and YouTube) - she was annoyed at having won an online Beano subscription in the recent golden ticket promotion.

Lew, I did enjoy the Umbrella Men, who looked fantastically strange, almost a cross between Mary Poppins and The Prisoner. That was a fun little tale.

However, I have to award the prize of Most Poignant Strip to Whacko, whose very name served up as a great running gag for how comics have changed over the years...

Great stuff!


Jon Ingram said...

It's a real shame that the print editions are now no more :-( But the final issue was a great send off.

On the topic that the sales numbers kept on falling, then I personally would have moved away from the young audience altogether, and instead pandered to the nostalgic 30+ age group (if this failed then go down the online route).

They could have released a Dandy comic that resembled the layout and designs from the 70s or 80s. Production costs could have been slashed by taking advantage of their huge back catalog by using re-prints, and maybe even using the same recycled paper idea that some newspapers still utilise today (as I still think glossy/shiny paper doesn't feel right for a comic).

I just don't think they took full advantage of that particular market sector (who usually buy the annual every year).

Naturally if this didn't work then online would have been the only logical step.

Although my concern with the online idea is that you need credits to purchase these online issues. Which is all well and good if you're an adult (or a child who has parents who are used to purchasing a Dandy subscription on their behalf) but they will lose the sales from children who went to the newsagents to purchase the latest issue with their own pocket money (Naturally this problem can't be solved, but it's a shame to lose those readers).

On a side note I've just released a Dandy themed issue for my Bifter SVG comic (a free comic that can be read by the visually impaired). I re-drew the front cover from my very first Dandy annual from 1992 :-)

Lew Stringer said...

A few people have suggested a retro-styled comic on cheaper paper etc. It's an interesting idea but what springs to mind is that Classics from the Comics offered 64 pages on newsprint every month but it still couldn't find a large enough audience in the end unfortunately.

Personally I don't think there are thousands of adult readers out there who would make this idea feasible. They might buy the odd copy as a novelty, but getting lapsed comic readers back into buying them regularly would be a hard task I think.

That said, it'd be good if they tried.

Aaron said...

Wow! I just found this in my local newsie on Christmas Eve, which is odd considering I couldn't find it anywhere when it was released. Perhaps it's a second printing?

Either way I'm chuffed (and also a little sad) that I'm now reading a fitting swansong to the printed Dandy

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, the first printing of 50,000 sold out in the first week so they've done a second printing. Ironic eh?

Jenks said...

The second printing (with a gold foil cover, take that completists) hit the shops near me just before Christmas, and have sold by the basket load.

Maybe they'll do a third and fourth print?

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