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Monday, December 04, 2017

The Dandy's 80th anniversary

Today marks 80 years since The Dandy No.1 was in newsagents. Truth be told, December 4th 1937 was only the cover date, so it would have been out a few days before then, but that's the date that is usually celebrated.

Sadly, five years ago this week was when the final issue of The Dandy appeared, rounding off its record-breaking 75 year run with a huge bumper issue. The comic had reinvented itself a few times over its last few years, but nothing could halt the fall in sales that had plagued every other traditional comic. What was remarkable is that it hung on for so long, in a fickle marketplace where many comics have fallen within their first year. The irony is that final issue was so sought-after that it had to go to a second printing.

Why did The Dandy eventually fold, while The Beano keeps on going? I think it was down to the content. Every week since the mid-1950s, The Beano has retained a core line-up of kid characters such as Dennis the Menace, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids that readers can relate to, and parents (and grandparents) can recognise. Apart from Desperate Dan, The Dandy tended to change its content from time to time, never quite establishing the same recognition factor for its characters. 

It was a privilege to be one of the contributors to The Dandy during its final two years, when it had rebooted itself as a modern style comic as a change from the disastrous Dandy Xtreme magazine/comic hybrid it had become. Despite a handful of cranky critics going over the top with their condemnation of the new-look Dandy, it was well received by many children it was aimed at. However, ever-declining distribution in shops and a young new readership unaccustomed to the habit of buying weekly comics were part of the problem. At least it went out on a high, with what must be the best final issue of a British comic ever seen; a bumper issue packed with revivals of old characters and selected reprints, and a story ending with the cast of characters singing Hey Jude, accompanied by Paul McCartney (with Paul's blessing). 

That wasn't entirely the end though. The Dandy tried an online version for a few weeks, but it was beset with technical problems and quietly faded away. However, The Dandy Annual continues to be published every year, full of new material and no reprints. There's also a Dandy Summer Special every year (although that is all-reprint), so the title is far from dead yet. 

Happy 80th anniversary to The Dandy! It was the first comic I read regularly (from 1964 onwards) and remained a firm favourite of mine for decades after. It was an honour to have been part of its legacy. 


John Kerry said...

Even if the stories are reprints I daresay a large number of readers have not seen them before and hence they are new to them.

Lew Stringer said...

True, but it would be nice to see new material generated for the summer special, like they do with the Beano one.

Chris B said...

Can't believe it's been five years already. I think the point about recognisable characters is a good one. After Dan the two most recognized by the public were probably Bananaman and Beryl the Peril, both refugees from other comics before the Dandy of course.

Bananaman went across to the Beano and I can understand why others like Beryl didn't as they were similar to strips already in the Beano. I was always a bit sad that Dan didn't go over, but I guess he was so synonymous with the Dandy it made it hard. I'd say maybe one day, but perhaps it's better left in the past and Dan can celebrate the Dandy in annuals etc. I always thought Blinky was a comedic concept that runs and runs, but now I'm just getting nostalgic!

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I think you're right about Dan being too synonymous with The Dandy. Also, it could be that they don't want too many characters in The Beano who are adults. The Beano is all about naughty kids really, so Dan might be an odd fit (even though he behaves like a big kid). Bananaman being the exception, but even he's a boy who changes into a man.

James Spiring said...

I can think of a good reason why Dan didn't come over. The annual. When Bananaman moved to Beano, they stopped using him in the Dandy Annual. So it makes sense that the same would've happened to any other characters that transferred over. As such, they kept Dan back to headline the annual, and I don't expect him to come to Beanotown as long as they keep making them.

Anonymous said...

Thought Korky might have made the move especially with the Kits - also Cuddles and Dimples, could be friends with Bea.

Lew Stringer said...

I guess they want to keep it firmly Beano-related content, especially with its own 80th anniversary coming up in 2018.

James Spiring said...

Even Korky's a bit of a duplicate. Most of his stories (anything not about fishing) could be done by Biffo.

Lew Stringer said...

I dunno. Korky and Biffo have different personalities. Biffo is nicer, but Korky is prone to greed, selfishness, and mischief at times. The Korky stories were often more violent than Biffo's too.

SID said...

The Dandy was the second comic I ever got regularly (along with Beano) and second all-time favourite (after 2000AD).

I wish the comic was still running (either as the 2010 revamp or the pre-2004 version). I agree that the content was a major reason for the demise. I also think that the revamps were another. I appreciate why it was done but in doing so, The Dandy lost its identity.

If you look at Beano and 2000AD comics; although they are different from the versions of the 60's & 70's, you can still clearly see that they are the same comics. But after the 2004 revamp, The Dandy was almost unrecognisable. Even Dan was radically changed even though still drawn by Ken at the time. But I think it was the 2007 revamp that really sealed its fate. Everything was changed including the name & schedule. I remember reading that people thought The Dandy had ceased publication. I also think DCT thought that too when they made 'Xtreme' dominate the masthead.

Now I am a great fan of the 2010 revamp (and if only that had happened in 2004) but it was a totally different comic compared to 2000.

As I said, I'm not condemning what was done. I appreciate that DCT did its best to save the weekly. I just think that the first two revamps had the opposite effect. :(

Initially at the time of the weekly's demise, I was disappointed that Dan & some of the others did not move to Beano. But now I'm glad. If they have done, I daresay that there would be no annual today which is one of my highlights at Christmas.

One thing I have been puzzled about is what is it that makes Epic successful where The Dandy Xtreme wasn't? They are very similar or would you disagree?

Thanks for the tribute, Lew.

Lew Stringer said...

Hi Sid, It's down to a number of factors I think. These things are never simple. Dandy Xtreme was neither fish nor fowl to an extent. It had changed too much from being a comic, but it wasn't mostly a mag, like Toxic, so perhaps didn't please either camp.

Epic is closer to what makes Toxic a success. Also, I've noticed that distribution of Epic is very good. Over the last 7 days I've seen it prominently displayed in shops around the Midlands and London. Moreso than Toxic, which is a bit worrying. So perhaps Thomsons have set up a good distribution deal with retailers for Epic.

The main problem with The Dandy was that it's distribution worsened towards the end. Especially with Tesco dropping it. The 2010 revamp issue sold well to start with, to speculators and curious people who'd never intend buying it regularly, then when those people naturally didn't come back, shops had lots of returns and cur their orders drastically. Too much really. Then, as its distribution shrank, even its loyal readers struggled to find it. Then when they published the final issue, all those speculators and curious people came back in droves. So much so that it went to a second printing.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone would agree with that assessment.

Lew Stringer said...

And they're entitled to disagree. I hope they come with evidence to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Would you agree that The Beano (or just Beano, as it seems to be now) is in a bit of a rut?
There hasn't been a major new character for donkey's years : the newest character - at least twenty years old! - of any note currently appearing is Calamity James (I think). And all the characters are basically variations on the same monotonous theme : a naughty kid.
Ball Boy - whose appearance has changed more times than Doctor Who - has outstayed his welcome many times over. And Bananaman is in dire need of some new villains (and dare I say, a new direction : I'd like to see multi-part stories).
When I was a kid it had a variety of stories, like The Nibblers, The Three Bears, and McTickles. Why can't there be something like that now?

Lew Stringer said...

These days The Beano tends to focus more on its core characters, and with the new Dennis TV series, the co-stars of that. It's only natural I guess. I don't think it's in a rut, but tends to reflect what the readers like the most. Ball Boy has proven to be popular, as has Tricky Dicky. Yes, they're more mischievous kids, but that's become the Beano brand now.

With the 80th anniversary coming up next year, I expect we'll see some older characters returning. It would be good to see some new characters arriving too, and given a chance to develop, just like Dennis and co had the opportunity to do so. I enjoyed doing Super School for it several years ago, and it was a very popular strip, but was eventually dropped to make way for more new stories. I hope it returns one day.

Anonymous said...

Super School at least broke the "mischievious kids" mould. Maybe, as "last man standing", the Beano is afraid to change anything in case it affects their sales. Which is a shame, because keeping a comic pretty much exactly the same for longer than some classic comics (like Krazy) even lasted, is going to become boring... especially when the kids of today have the attention span of a goldfish.
Another thing about (The) Beano that has irritated me in recent weeks is changing certain characters to match their altered looks in the new Dennis And Gnasher Unleashed series. Mrs Creecher was suddenly revealed to be a robot imposter while the real one (i.e. the one in the series) had been locked in a cupboard for years. And after 40-odd years, Pie-Face suddenly gets ginger hair, glasses, and a woolly hat (all of which makes it difficult to judge whether he's even still a boy... though maybe that's intentional, seeing as transgender is the in-thing at the moment). It just seems a bit weak-willed that the comic is changing the characters it originated to match the series, rather than the other way round : no other established comic or characters were changed to match the versions of them seen in films.

Lew Stringer said...

I wouldn't worry too much about it. Bear in mind that the original Mrs.Creecher was a character from the previous Dennis cartoon series anyway, so the strip has been reflecting the TV shows for quite a while now.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure if this was the case (I wasn't getting The Beano when Mrs Creecher was introduced), but I suspected it may be : the design of the character was slightly different from the usual style. I guess that may explain the change : the character belonged to the company that made the cartoon rather than the comic itself, and the new production company doesn't have the rights to that design.

Another mystery : in the comic in recent years, it has been hinted that the current Dennis is actually the son of the original Dennis! In a flashback, Dennis's dad - who now looks like an older Dennis - remembered his own dad, who was shown as the original balding, moustachioed dad from the early days. Are you aware of any editorial policy reflecting this possible explanation for Dennis still being 10 years old after all these years?

Thanks for your replies.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I think I mentioned it here once or twice.

Mrs Creecher would be owned by DC Thomson so that wasn't the reason for changing her appearance.

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