Overview

Euan Kerr - The Big Boss of Beanotown

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The Beano has been arguably Britain's most popular and best selling comic of the last 70 odd years, largely thanks to a unique cast of iconic characters and an irrepressible sense of fun. And for around 28 years of that mammoth 73 years-and-still-counting run, Euan Kerr, the Beano's third editor, was a part of that wild and wacky world. BF talked to him about a lifetime in comics.

BROKEN FRONTIER: First things first: when and how did you first become involved with the world of comics? Where did you start, and how did you end up in Beanotown, so to speak? Tell us about your career.

EUAN KERR: In the summer of ’69 (cue for a song!) I applied for a job with DC Thomson’s children’s comics on the advice of my eldest sister, Shona, who had worked for the company on the Red Letter romance magazine. After interviews with Editors and being given a story to write, I was offered a position as Junior on the Hornet Boys Paper.

Like almost every other kid in the UK, I’d grown up with Thomson’s comics. I was a Beezer and Hotspur fan as a lad. At the time I joined the firm there were around 20 different comic titles. There were Nursery mags, humour comics aimed up to 12 year olds and Boys and Girls comics featuring adventure, sport and school stories.

Working for The Hornet was a great experience. With most of the comics selling in the hundreds of thousands each week, things were thriving and staffs of up to ten people were common. My job was to deal with readers’ letters and sub scripts sent in by freelance contributors. Being honest, it was a fairly pressure-free job and I didn’t find it too challenging.

After just over a year, a vacancy came up on the Beano staff. The Beano was the flagship publication in the department and I loved the fact that all stories were written by the staff. I worked on several comics over the subsequent years but always felt that The Beano was “home”. As far as I can remember, my career panned out as follows:

1969 – Hornet (Junior)
1970 – Beano (Initially as Junior, then as one of the team of four sub editors.)
1974 – Cracker (Sub Editor rising to Chief Sub on this new, fairly short-lived comic)
1976 – Back to The Beano for a short stint as Sub.
1976 – Plug Comic (Chief Sub). This was DCT’s first glossy comic based on one of The Beano’s favourite characters.
1978 – Very short period on The Topper Comic.
1978 – Chief Sub of The Beano.
1984 – Harry Cramond retires as Beano Ed and I swiftly jump into his chair.
2006 – Somewhat reluctantly join the management team.
2007 – Desperately missing the creative side of things I jump at the chance to edit BeanoMAX – a magazine aimed at older Beano aficionados.
2009 – Offered an Early Voluntary Severance package and decide to hang up my well chewed pen and head for the golf course.

                 

BF: Having spoken to a few former and current DC Thomson staffers, it strikes me that DCT has a smaller turnover of personnel than a lot of other comic’s publishers. People tend to stick around rather than move on, you yourself being a prime example. Do you think there’s a reason for that?

KERR: Well, the main reason is that there can’t be many better jobs than working in comics. Thomsons have always looked after and valued there staff, so that too has a big bearing on people staying for 40 years and much more in some cases.

BF: You did a fair bit of writing over the years. Which characters did you find easiest to write for and why? Were there any you found it harder to get a handle on?

KERR: I’d guess that I wrote about 15,000 scripts over the years. My favourites were those wild school children, The Bash Street Kids, Baby-face Finlayson – a tiny bandit with a motorised pram, and Calamity James – the world’s unluckiest boy. Baby-face and James were characters I helped create and The BSKs were such a wonderfully naughty, diverse bunch.

BF: Do you have any particular favourite collaborators from your time at DCT? Favourite artists?

KERR: The artists who worked for The Beano were all dedicated, wonderfully talented people. I enjoyed spending time with all of them. I probably worked closest with Dave Sutherland (Dennis the Menace/ Bash Street Kids). Dave is one of the most modest and generous guys you could hope to meet. It got to the stage that he would draw strips exactly the way you imagined them as you were writing.

The series I particularly enjoyed was The Three Bears drawn by David Parkins. David is an amazingly talented cartoonist and now earns big bucks as a childrens’ book illustrator from his home in Canada.

The late Bob Nixon could make the most average script look great and the best thing I ever did as Beano Editor was to lure him back to Thomsons’ comics after a long period working for our rivals at Fleetway Publications.

                 

BF: The Beano, and to a lesser extent The Dandy, are the last of the traditional children’s humour comics in Britain, about the only ones left which feature original characters rather than being based on licensed material. Why are they still around when so many others have fallen by the wayside?

KERR: I suppose part of their appeal is that the characters are so adaptable to all trends and situations. They have been around for so long that they are known and loved by several generations. Comics are usually first bought by parents and The Beano and The Dandy are publications Mums, Dads and Grandparents know and trust.

BF: Some consider Dennis, Roger the Dodger and the rest of the longer running Beano stars to be slightly dated. Others, me included, see them as timeless. But they still seem to resonate with readers while The Dandy, which has attempted to reinvent itself several times, has fared less well. Do you think there’s a reason?

KERR: All these characters you mentioned were created back in the 1950s. Each of them has a very simple, clear outlook on life – get away with as much mischief as you can! The Dandy in the 1950s failed to move with the times in the same way as The Beano. They have been playing catch up ever since. Much of The Beano’s success is due to the fantastic team of artists that Beano had back in the 1950s – Davie Law (my own favourite), Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid and Mal Judge. You’d also have to credit the vision of The Beano’s first Editor, George Moonie.

BF: You also wrote some scripts for the 2009-2010 Dennis the Menace TV series, didn’t you? That series seemed to depict a very different Dennis and got mixed reviews. Was writing for animation a new experience? And what were your views on the finished product?

KERR: A difficult one to answer this. Animation has different requirements to static comic strips and voices and sound add another dimension. Writing the scripts was an enjoyable experience, though I had to curb my natural tendencies due to changes to the characteristics of some of the cast. I personally felt that using the Davie Law style of drawing would have given the series a more unique look, but I realise that Law’s style would have been difficult to animate and update.

                   

BF: How has the comics industry changed since you started working in it? Are they aiming for a very different audience now, or is what made a good comic in the Sixties still what makes a good comic today?

KERR: All print media face tough times and major budget restrictions. I always argued that comic strips were by far the most popular items in the comics and readers’ opinion surveys confirmed this. However, strips are more costly to produce than feature material and editors are very aware of the harsh reality of economics these days. To be fair, lifestyle features can help make the comics much more up-to-date.

Cover gifts have become the biggest selling point and today’s editor is producing a package of gifts and editorial material.

BF: Where do you see the industry going from here? Commando (DC Thomson’s long-running war comic) has seemingly benefited from embracing digital media, is that the future for comics? Do comics even have a future?

KERR: Thomsons are aware that The Beano must have cross-media appeal. To that end, developing animation is absolutely essential. Hopefully the Dennis and Gnasher series is the forerunner to much more in this area.

BF: Lastly, what are you up to these days? Anything interesting on the horizon?

KERR: I’ve been retired for over two years now and spend much of my time on Carnoustie Golf Course both playing and caddying for the many international visitors to the course. It’s a healthy, deadline-free life meeting some very interesting people. It’s the best “office” I’ve ever worked in!

I do dabble with a bit of writing during the winter months – mainly children’s nonsense verse which I haven’t found the motivation to develop fully yet. Maybe this winter I’ll get things together.

There is also the possibility that I may be involved in a Beano nostalgia product. My lips are sealed.

For more on The Beano and its colourful cast of characters visit the official website here. All images (c) DC Thomson.

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Comments

  • Tony Ingram

    Tony Ingram Aug 19, 2011 at 2:25pm

    Euan is amazing, a true gentleman of the old school. Intrigued by that last comment, though...

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 19, 2011 at 2:51pm

    Wonderful interview Tony. And again, a lot of fun sorting images - though CRACKER was not an easy one to find a reference for!

  • Tony Ingram

    Tony Ingram Aug 22, 2011 at 12:15pm

    You should have said. I've got quite a few Cracker issues.

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