The first issue of the revamped Dandy hit the newsagents last Thursday, and the fallout is all over the internet. Now re-branded as Dandy Xtreme, and published fortnightly instead of weekly, the publication has changed its ratio of feature and comics material to favour articles on "gross stuff" and video game cheats. Dandy ComiX is a 16 page pull-out within a 20 page magazine, and on the whole, the vociferous fans on the net are not happy about it.
BBC News featured an interview with editor Craig Graham where he explained:
"Following extensive research, we discovered The Dandy readers were struggling to schedule a weekly comic into their hectic lives. They just didn't have enough time.
"They're too busy gaming, surfing the net or watching TV, movies and DVDs. They still enjoyed The Dandy, but if they were going to buy it themselves they expected more than just 'a comic my dad used to read' ."
This failed to convince some people. The forum at Eurogamer.net had one poster reacting: "Since when do kids require a lifestyle guide?". Another person there said: "It's a terrifying thought that kids are 'too busy' to read a short comic...if that's the case what hope is there for them reading books?"
Over at the blog Summet or other the blogmaster commented "I guess there's just more to distract kids these days. We used to have an hour of telly, now they've got whole channels, computers, consoles etc. so maybe comics just have less appeal to the kids of today than the bored kids of yesteryear."
People on the World of Stuart forums were less forgiving. "That's sad on so many levels" said one. "I cried a little inside when I saw it was called 'Dandy Xtreme'. Korky the Cat must be rolling in his grave" said another. (Er, Korky isn't dead!) Then things got more unpleasant: "What a load of horse-shit. And what a sad situation for the industry to be in. Like fuck six-year-olds have any kind of "busy schedule" that they somehow can't fit a fucking comic into. The Dandy isn't War and fucking Peace—it's a thin comic that takes fuck-all time to read" ranted someone with time on his hands, whilst another snootily added "I guess it never occurred to them to try and tell decent jokes in amusing stories".
At Boards.IE things were a bit more restrained and level headed. After someone posted "The Dandy that we all grew up with is finished" another replied "It's a shame in one way, but at least they're still going. Fortnightly is better than nothing". Another correctly stated "I'm not going to get to worried at this point as they have repackaged the Dandy a number of times over its 70 year run".
At http://iampat.blogspot.com/ the comment was somewhat sarcastic, mocking the marketing claim about children's hectic lives: "Already children around the country are emitting sighs of relief. those that did read it every week can now use that time to catch up on some much needed sleep".
Over at http://www.drownedinsound.com some people appear to have read a different Dandy Xtreme to anyone else. "What kids wanted from the Dandy was pretty much the same comic that's been going for seventy years, not some shit with computerised pictures of desperate dan on the cover. Horseshit" (Horseshit indeed, as Dandy Xtreme features no CGI pictures of Desperate Dan, anywhere. Dontcha love the internet for spreading misinformation?) Someone else on the same forum added "I read The Beano and The Dandy religiously for five years even though they never, ever made me laugh. Thus, I'm not sure what purpose either serves/served, other than to give away free sweets". Another commented "Children do not require a lifestyle magazine. They have no lives". Scary!
The opinions of serious minded people continued on the unfortunately titled http://coxsoft.blogspot.com featuring the view that "The Dandy was never more than a 10-minute read, which is the reason I never bought it as a kid. Plus the art was lousy and the stories daft".
http://gymedia.wordpress.com/ had thoughtful albeit scaremongering musings on the subject: "Eight-year-old kids should never ‘be in the loop’, they need not know of a single trend and the only must-do should be occasional homework and fun-having. If we don’t do something about this vile trend of the ‘adultification’ of children we’ll end up with an even meaner, more aggressive society than we already have. We’ll have kids that have no childhood and no ignorance of the horrors of the world".
http://norock.tumblr.com postulated "I suspect, like when Look-In turned into Now, the resulting product Dandy Xtreme will last about two months before they pull the plug".
Missing the point and thinking The Dandy was canceled, someone at http://www.djhistory.com moaned "The dream is over. I can't believe it lasted this long - it was crap even when I was a kid".
http://whoopdedoo.net sez "The relaunch of the Dandy reeks with a desperation that Dan would be proud of, but the worry is that it will be the comic’s last chance before yet another one of my childhood loves bites the dust and skips off into the desert sunset".
http://benbaker.tumblr.com wondered "Exactly how stupid ARE kids today?"
On the forum at The Dandy's own official website, Mike of Glasgow yelled "New Dandy=rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Not too keen on change obviously.
A calmer reaction came from MikeyB who commented on MySpace "If something is to survive in the modern world it needs to be able to change. Well done Dandy for FINALLY getting bold! I wish Dandy the best of lucky and hope it remains the world's oldest comic".
Over on the Comics UK forum the Dandy makeover has provoked quite a debate. Beano artist Kev F explained " In the thousands of kids I have worked with since January this year, I have met a few dozen Dandy readers and two 2000AD readers (you could make that 7 or 8 2000AD readers if you include the teachers, and one headmaster, who booked me in the first place). Not a scientific report, but my view from the chalkface. Possibly helping to illustrate why The Dandy may be having to change its marketing".
On the same forum, Peter Gray's reaction was more adverse: "The Dandy should of ended........the magazine should just be called Extreem........it was really horrible!the ugly Dad was not nice nothing wrong with him......the sister with bad BO...it all was just pointless.....not funny.......and sick.."
"Big Simon" then commented "Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful... DUMBED DOWN Dandy..... Now it includes page after page of 'barfing', 'pimping', 'gross farting', 'kicks in da butt', 'megga farts', 'Dude, you got wacked!', 'turds' and 'eggy pumps'... Do MOST kids really speak like this? Mine certainly don't. Incredibly, on page 7 there is even a photograph of a child pretending to lick sh*t off his hand! See it if you don't believe me!"
"Conor B" who is closer to The Dandy's target age group said "Bought it. Read it. Loved it".
Paul Twist added "I would've loved a comic like that 20 years ago. Oink! had The Plops, after all. I agree it's a shame that The Dandy is, to all intents and purposes, dead, but kids of today aren't the same as kids of 20, 30, 40+ years ago - we've had all the arguments before so I won't say any more".
DJDogfart said "Should've spent my 2 quid on a pint of beer.... Rubbish, I give it 6 months tops". (Prompting me to reply "If you're old enough to buy beer you're too old for The Dandy".)
Reedee said " It doesn't really feel like The Dandy at all. As others here have mentioned, what surprised me most was that this now appears to be a publication aimed solely at the pre-teen boys market".
Sidnny summed it up with "Please excuse my ignorance, but I assume that this revamp has occurred because DC Thomson is trying to save The Dandy from folding due to poor sales. If that is the case, then I applaud them for trying their best to save it. And from what I can gather, this has not been their only attempt".
And the debate raged on...and on...
Big Simon said that his 7 year old was disappointed with the changes, which was fair comment. However, most of the adverse comment across the internet has come from adults whose main opinion seems to be something like "It's not like it was when I was younger". Of course it isn't! The point many of those people have missed is that British comics have always adapted to suit changes in society.
As for the claim that kids don't lead hectic lives, the lives of kids today can be more "hectic"; not in a stressful way, but in the fact that they have more opportunities for playing sports, or going out for the weekend (many parents didn't have cars 50 years ago), and more leisure distractions in DVDs, PC games, etc. (Few of my friends' kids read comics. They're too busy playing squash, horse riding, playing PC games, or doing the tons of homework they have now.)
It's hardly surprising that comics now often feature computer game news, cheats, DVD and movie news, as they're now in direct competition with the numerous computer game mags and suchlike. Kids aren't in newsagents on a Saturday morning anymore. They're down the games stores looking at the latest x-box or PS3 offerings. (Which again brings us back to my old opinion: get comics into games stores, publishers! It's where your target audience is!)
As for my opinion of Dandy Xtreme: it's pretty much as I expected. (It was clear that The Dandy was heading this way for some time, as features and "gross humour" had steadily increased over the past several years.) I liked the Whizzer and Chips two-in-one format (16 page Dandy Comix inside 20 page Dandy Xtreme) and the 1946 Desperate Dan strip was a nice surprise (not sure how the kids will react to such an old strip though). My regret is that less comics pages means less work for The Dandy's artists. Not good, but sadly part and parcel of a freelancer's life.
To quosh some myths that have sprung up this week: Dandy Comix is not "mostly reprint"; 5 out of 16 pages are. This is not the first time Desperate Dan has gone to using reprint (it turned to reprint for many years after the original artist, Dudley Watkins, died in 1969). Nor does the comic contain "a French reprint strip"; Captain Hookless is British and brand new.
Admittedly, I didn't care much for the magazine section, but then I'm 48 so I'm not expected to. I thought the "gross humour" was mostly harmless, but I thought the pic of the kid apparently licking crap off his hand crossed a line that should not have been crossed. (Actually it's chocolate spread with the looks of it, but the inference is that it's something more unpleasant.)
I can understand why DC Thomson have made these changes to The Dandy. Toxic has successfully been reflecting the current "gross humour" trend for the past five years and Dandy Xtreme does seem to be very much trying to get a slice of that action. Whether it'll pay off or not remains to be seen.
Some people are saying that "it's no longer a comic" because of the number of non-comics pages. However, a little research proves that when The Dandy started in 1937 it had 28 pages... but only 15 of them were devoted to comic strips! Likewise, comics from the "golden age" of the early 20th Century, such as Illustrated Chips, only had 50% comic material.
As Jeremy Briggs said on the Down the Tubes Blog "What to us is the traditional British weekly comic full of picture strips with speech balloons really only gained its dominance after the Second World War and in particular in the early Fifties. Before that what we would think of as the weekly British adventure comics were the story papers. They had pages upon pages of text stories with a couple of spot illustrations per story, and maybe a couple of pages of comic strip to break up the monotony of the solid text. Even the more visual humour titles had text stories in them".
People tend to compare today's comics with those of their childhood and sometimes that leads to unfair criticism. Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture - the entire 100 plus year history of British comics, - it becomes clear that children's comics have evolved for every generation. Whether we as adults like those changes is irrelevant. (It's like complaining that toys are no longer made of tin, or that tv shows aren't in black and white anymore. Society isn't static.) Whether the publishers have accurately reflected what kids want is important. In the case of Dandy Xtreme, time will tell.