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 www.dandy.com 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.