Fine and Dandy: 75 Years of Desperate Dan and Company

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Next year sees the 75th anniversary of The Dandy, DC Thomson's weekly humour comic that first debuted in 1937! Last October The Dandy went through a major relaunch, with comic strip adventures of popular British comedian Harry Hill at the forefront. Broken Frontier spoke to The Dandy's current editor-in-chief, Craig Graham, about reaction to the revamp, The Dandy's history and the chaotic cast of characters who reside within the pages of one of the all-time greats of British comics history.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The Dandy relaunched last October with a major overhaul in terms of content and presentation. Nearly a year on, what has reaction been like to the bold new Dandy and its wonderfully frenetic style?

CRAIG GRAHAM: Response from readers and the industry has been wholeheartedly positive. The design theme is one of the major successes of the project, and elements like the ‘blue blobs’ and page number holders have almost become characters in their own right.

BF: British TV comedian Harry Hill has been your flagship “character” since the relaunch. How has Harry’s presence been received and what has media interest in his comics incarnation been like?

GRAHAM: As Harry is a genuinely funny man with massive appeal to children and adults alike, we expected him to fit in perfectly and that is what has happened. The media is interested to see what’s going on in the strips, but the most heartening thing for us is when journalists who don’t expect to enjoy a “kid’s comic” get back to us to say how much they enjoyed it. This is a testament to the team who work on the strips, from Harry himself, Nigel Parkinson the artist and Sean Baldwin, to the TV Burp writers who have also been keen to contribute, like David Quantick.

Above right: the latest issue of The Dandy, illustrating its irreverent approach to the cult of celebrity. Image (c) DC Thomson

BF: There’s something endearingly anarchic about the The Dandy’s current incarnation that hearkens back to that knowing convention of self-indulgent naughtiness in British children’s comics. Pre-Skool Prime Minister and Mr. Meecher the Uncool Teacher are good illustrations of strips that have an anti-authoritarian air, while The Bogies, for example, has that slightly ick-factor that kids love. Do you think that tradition of rebellion is something that has always been an integral part of the success of British humour comics?

GRAHAM: Undoubtedly so. When children grow up they learn the ‘rules’ of the world, whether it is that anything that goes up must come down, or that adults are in control. As they develop, challenging and subverting these rules delights them. Fundamentally, all humour is about the breaking of rules, but, for children especially, absurdity, role reversal and gross humour are ways for them to break the rules and challenge convention.

BF: A lot of the comedy of the comic is very topically based now. Have you had feedback from any of the TV stars you fondly send up; especially from your wonderful “Little…” comic strips, satirising some of our favourite celebs in their younger years?

GRAHAM: Lord Sugar was very kind, requesting a copy of the strip for his wall, and Shane Richie was also absolutely delighted. No-one has been upset by their appearance and we hope no-one ever will be.

We aim to send them up affectionately, but we also feel it’s important that the dominant PR version of celebrity culture is challenged. People appear in The Dandy on our terms, not their own.

Above left: TV comic Harry Hill, The Dandy's new lead character, encounters TV cook Nigella Lawson. Image (c) DC Thomson

BF: It’s something of an unfair question to ask, but which characters and strips have really stood out over the last nine months and caught the readership’s attention?

GRAHAM: One of the joys of this project has been to try different artists and stories. I don’t think it’s pompous to say that a comic is greater than the sum of its parts, because a comic’s true identity is built from more than the pages selected to appear within its pages. Having said that, Harry Hill’s Adventures in TV Land is a highlight for me. It’s dense in terms of the number of jokes, cultural references, celebrity appearances and artwork detail, but it also has a lightness of touch which is a joy. It’s also technically excellent, from the pacing, to the caricatures and the ballooning.

BF: The Dandy is still home to a number of familiar favourites like Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat and Bananaman, with others making occasional cameo appearances. How important is that balance between the old and the new, and what are the essential elements to preserve when re-imagining characters for a contemporary audience?

GRAHAM: Like many things, it often comes down to feel. Most of the time, it’s a creative person having a new vision of a classic character. If that vision meets our standards, there’s no reason it can’t make the cut. The Dandy is creativity-driven, so we try to facilitate new ideas, not recycle old ones. If those new ideas involve nods to our heritage, great.

Above right: Super-hero parody Bananaman first appeared in Nutty in 1980 and became a regular in The Dandy when the two comics merged. Image (c) DC Thomson

BF: Could you tell us a little about the interactive element of The Dandy that has allowed readers to vote for their favourite characters and strips to keep them in the comic?

GRAHAM: We use our website and polls to measure the opinions of our readers, but we also run extensive reader research in conjunction with our Youth Insight department. I should point out that our ideas are tested once they’ve come to fruition, rather than the research dictating our ideas.

BF: Something that’s very noticeable about The Dandy now is that its humour genuinely has an all-ages appeal. Was there a conscious aim with the revamp to create a comic that could be enjoyed as a family experience; not just for kids of different ages, but something children and parents could share and laugh at together?

GRAHAM: Absolutely. We wanted it to be a comic that a father and son (for instance) could enjoy together. Our creators are very good at adding details which some of our readers will simply not see, but which will tickle an adult’s sense of humour. We also have to be very careful that most celebrity appearances are funny even when the reader is not aware of the celebrity – that the story is funny on its own terms, in other words.


Above: Jamie Smart's Desperate Dan and Wilbur Dawbarn's Mr. Meecher the Uncool Teacher. Strips (c) DC Thomson

BF: And, finally, are there any hints about new features/characters you can share as we begin the lead-up to The Dandy’s 75th anniversary in 2012?

GRAHAM: We’re looking at that now so our plans are not firmed up yet. However, you can expect the same energy from the comic, and the same commitment to being 100% Funny.

The Dandy is published weekly by DC Thomson usually priced £1.50. For more information on The Dandy check out the official website here. You can also follow The Dandy on Twitter.

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  • Tony Ingram

    Tony Ingram Aug 20, 2011 at 5:46am

    The Dandy relaunch has undoubtedly improved the title, it's just so much better now. But sadly the distribution still seems to be a problem and the recently released sales figures for Jan-June seem to reflect this; it appears Dandy has lost over 48% of its readership in the last six months, dropping to less than eight thousand (Beano still stands at over 37, 000, though it and a lot of other titles are still down on the previous six months). It doesn't bode well.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 20, 2011 at 8:53am

    I love THE DANDY! It's like the 21st century version of the 1970s KRAZY. Some great work being done there.

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