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Friday, August 17, 2012

Memories of The Dandy

Preview of the final episode of The Dark Newt
It's been a very strange week in British comics. Saddening, to hear confirmation that The Dandy's days are numbered (literally, if you follow the countdown clock to the demise of the paper edition). Unsettling, for the artists and writers, wondering if there will be work for us in The Dandy's digital future. Heartwarming, to read of the interest and affection that Britain's oldest comic has inspired in people.

I love The Dandy comic. Have done since I was four years old and my Mum bought me a copy in January 1964. It became the first comic I had regularly. I looked forward to it every Monday and I can still recall sitting at home with my Mum reading Black Bob to me. It helped teach me to read, putting my reading skills so far ahead of my classmates at infant school that the teacher asked my Mum if I'd had private tuition. (I should add that I levelled out a few years later. I didn't turn into a living brain, as any reading of this blog can attest.)

The first issue I had. Jan 11th 1964. Art: Charlie Grigg.
Some say The Dandy was too old fashioned by the 1960s, but it was having stories set in that sooty, post-war working class land of factory chimneys, seaside deckchairs, horse-drawn milk floats and Dads in pullovers that made it so appealing to me. You see, the Sixties may have been swinging in Carnaby Street but most of Britain still looked like it was the 1950s so the environment of The Dandy reflected the world that I lived in. 

The first Ken Reid strip I read. Instantly hooked!
Then there were the strips themselves. Charlie Grigg on Korky the Cat and The Red Wrecker. Dudley Watkins' Desperate Dan. Davy Law's Corporal Clott. Jack Glass' The Crimson Ball. Jack Prout's Black Bob. Bill Holroyd's Brassneck. George Martin's Sunny Boy. Eric Roberts' Winker Watson and Dirty Dick. Ken Reid's Big Head and Thick Head. All brilliant. All by top class creators. The Dandy was different to The Beano. Unlike many other comics of the period it never had the influence of Leo Baxendale and as such it was more diverse in its art styles I think. That diversity has returned in recent years, perhaps too late.

I've been reading The Dandy every issue since 1964, give or take a few breaks. I did stop for a year in 1968, possibly to afford all the Odhams comics, and I gave up all humour comics for about three or four years in 1975 when I left school, thinking I was too old for them. Fool! 

Brilliant comic violence from Davy Law.
When I decided to focus on a career in comics in 1980 I sent off some art samples to The Dandy, hoping for work. They were politely rejected, and rightly so. I just wasn't good enough. Even after I started freelancing for Marvel UK and IPC in 1983/84 DC Thomson still proved to be a tough nut to crack. Eventually I managed to get in there, firstly drawing several Fun-Size Dandy comics (including a couple of Korky the Cat dream jobs, ghosting Charlie Griggs' style) and then, in 2010, being invited to be part of the big relaunch of The Dandy as a weekly comic. 

Working for The Dandy has been fantastic. An ambition fulfilled, and a pleasure to be part of a great team of creators whose work I admire and respect. A team that includes Jamie Smart and Andy Fanton, who read my work in Oink! when they were kids, which pleases me no end even if it does make me feel ancient.

In next Wednesday's edition my six-part series The Dark Newt comes to an end. (See the preview at the top of this post.) At this moment in time I don't know what else I'll be doing for the weekly apart from a few strips in the final issue for December. (The Dandy Annual will continue next year though, and I've written three scripts which I'll be illustrating for that very soon.)

I'll miss The Dandy, both as an employer and as a comic that's been part of the landscape all my life. I hope its proposed digital future will feature originated material and that it proves successful enough to continue for many years to come. (I also hope it'll feature archive material, to show the younger readers what great classics were around before their time.) 

The Crimson Ball by Jack Glass. Eerie and exciting.
It'll be a day of mixed feelings on December 4th when the comic celebrates its 75th anniversary with its final issue. It will come with a reprint of The Dandy No.1, bringing it full circle. The ending is the beginning. What's next?


BeanoMark (MMi) said...

Brilliant piece, Lew.

My introduction to The Dandy was via the demise of Nutty. And like most comic readers, we were collectors too. We learnt the value of reading, imagination, drawing for ourselves to copy our heros, collecting and looking after our valuable items

Lew Stringer said...

Cheers Mark. Yes, The Dandy and other comics provided invaluable entertainment and education, making reading FUN. It's sad how times have changed but it's very satisfying when we hear from today's kids who enjoy Dandy, Beano, etc. They're still out there. Not as many, but they're out there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about this. I loved 'The Dandy' too. I have to say though I'm staggered at the number of online comments blaming so-called 'political correctness' for its demise. Oh I see. Nothing to do with declining sales then? Best, Zokko

Bear said...

That's a lovely post. But I can't believe your artwork back in the 1980s wasn't good enough. I have very fond memories of some of your Oink! stuff from the same period.

Would it be possible to see your effort of ghosting Korky? Had no idea you'd done that.

And yes, I agree with what you say about the diversity of artwork in the 1960s Dandy and the current one. I do think DC Thompson are being a little shortsighted in ditching something brilliant. It just needed some good marketing.

Lew Stringer said...

There's a splash page from one of my Korky Fun-Size Dandy comics on my blog:

Korky the Cat

It wasn't ghosting as such, as I was able to sign it, but I was asked to base him on the classic version which I was happy to do.

Aidan Courtney said...

Well to all involved in the Dandy hope it all goes well for everyone whatever incarnation it takes afterwards. I hope from this in the media people go out and buy the Beano and other comics for their kids.

Daniel Best said...

I loved reading Dandy as a kid and when I started to read Viz as an adult I could see the Dandy influence on display. It's a shame that this comic should be allowed to vanish.

Unknown said...

I just hope they bring the digital version (of both The Dandy and The Beano) to Android devices.

Anonymous said...

did they really tell you that your work was not good enough?
I sent 2 samples to the Dandy over 20 years ago of pages that I had written and drawn, they told me that my "style was not suitable for a traditional British comic like the Dandy". I still have the letter. I also applied to Spitting Image at the same time and they told me they were cutting back on staff, this was during the recession of the early 1990s.
So kudos to you for the fact you kept on trying, in the current circumstances I guess you need that positive mentality again!

Lew Stringer said...

As I said, my pages were politely rejected. They were more discreet and professional in their reply rather than telling me I wasn't good enough, but that was the reason. I look back at my fanzine work from that 1979-81 period and I just wasn't at professional level then. I thought I was at the time, or I wouldn't have sent off my samples, but with hindsight I obviously wasn't up to scratch. No problem though. A few more years of practice helped.

Adam Teitge said...

Great article! A quick question, have you kept your first issue you ever read all these years or did stick in your memory and you later found a copy? I vividly remember my first issue from October 1994 but sadly lost it when I moved home in 1997. I was delighted when I found it again years later, the cover was exactly as I remembered it, Desperate Dan throwing darts at his house wall, not realising he is actually pinning Aunt Aggie to the kitchen wall on the other side!

Lew Stringer said...

I threw out all my comics in 1966, burned them on a bonfire. WHAM, DANDY, TV21 etc. Regretted it a few years later but in the 1980s I managed to buy them all again at very reasonable prices, and in far better condition than they'd have been if I'd kept my own.

Some of the 1960s Dandy issues are actually Charlie Griggs' own copies, which he sold to a comics dealer about 25 years ago. Some have little notes at the top of the covers, where he'd indicated which issues began his serials (Red Wrecker, Umbrella Men etc.)

Robert said...

Terrific article, Lew. Bought my son the Dandy this week - he still likes it.

NP said...

You... gasp... BURNED THEM ON A BONFIRE?? I'm going to have to sit down! 1966? It wasn't a protest at Desperate Dan claiming he was more popular than Cheeses was it? (Too subtle?)

Lew Stringer said...

Yes for reasons that escape me now when I was 7 I decided I'd throw away my entire comics collection (1964-66). I distinctly remember my Mum saying I should keep them in case I want to read them again later, but I was convinced I'd never need them again and happily ripped them up and asked my parents to burn them. (I particularly remember sitting on the carpet and ripping up that first Dandy I had, pausing for a second before deciding I was doing the right thing.)

A reversal of the usual "My mum threw out my comics" story. My mum wanted me to keep them! Naturally she was right as a year or two later, when I started saving/collecting comics I could have kicked myself for destroying my earlier ones.

It all turned out ok eventually though when I bought them again from comics dealers etc years later.

Cheeses gag: not too subtle. That Liverpool humour always works.

Anonymous said...

you should play this song lew:

Lew Stringer said...

Ha! Some parts of the lyrics are quite suited to the comic. Never heard that track before.

SID said...

A nice article, Lew, and I still miss it.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, so do I Sid. At least it ended on a high with some cracking new strips and talent involved.

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