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Dandylogo

The birth of a legend

Dandy
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Frolics from 1969

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Wartime frolics, 1940

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Korky cavortings, circa 1939

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Typical Korky one-up-cat-ship

Kkate

In 1945, an unusual cover featured a one-off Keyhole Kate page one attraction. Artwork : Allan Morley

Korky

The same 1945 issue saw Korky relegated to small back-page status. Special thanks to Dave Whit for supplying these unique images

Dandycover

Fings ain't wot they used to be: the uber-modern Dandy of 2010

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Ray Moore compiled the ultimate facts-and-figures guide regarding story appearances, dates of new and departing strips, etc. A lavishly authoritative work that is heartily reccommended to the true connoisseur of Dandy

The Dandy (originally The Dandy Comic until July 1950), launched on December 4th 1937, was one of the longest running comic titles in the world, published by D.C. Thomson & Co, Ltd. Alongside its sister title, The Beano, it has been a part of the childhood of several generations of British children, and characters such as Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat have become British icons.

In the 1980s Dandy absorbed two lower selling titles, Nutty and Hoot. After the millennium its fortunes waned and it underwent several transformations intended to make it appeal more to the new generation of readers. From 2007, it was reduced to fortnightly frequency (something which had previously happened from September 1941 to July 1949, initially due to paper shortages caused by World War II), was retitled Dandy Xtreme, and was marketed as a lifestyle magazine for the under tens. It relaunched once again on Wednesday 27th October 2010, reverting to a more traditional weekly format, but the print edition was finally cancelled in 2012. The Dandy briefly continued online as a digital comic.

A history of humour

The Dandy's most recent incarnation was barely identifiable with its illustrious counterpart of 40 years ago and more, but considering that comic had run for over 70 years, this was doubtless inevitable. Highlights and advantages within the radically updated 2010 version included an increased page-count (certainly in comparison to the 1960s version, which had 16 pages, only four of which were in colour) of no less than 32 full-colour pages. Uber-glossy paper stock was another modern upgrade, due partly to the fact that ever-dwindling circulation dictated that it was cheaper for D.C. Thomson to actually outsource the relatively small production runs to outside printing-presses. This move would have been simply unthinkable throughout the 'Glory 50s' period, when comic runs were known to reach the 'Golden Million-plus' mark in some celebrated cases.

The upgraded and updated version of Dandy was chiefly notable for a radical shift in form of graphics: for the most part, there was a shift away from more typically-elaborate graphics (which may now be on the way out in terms of contemporary output: only time will tell) to more scaled-down, but experimental artwork that appeared to be more in tune with the 21st century comics approach. The modern Desperate Dan in particular was a world away from the Watkins model, but this was probably better than continuing to reprint the originals, which seemed positively archaic alongside the material that the modern Dandy was producing. Indeed, even relatively recent entries like Cuddles and Dimples looked a tad dated in comparison to the no-holds-barred, post-modern look of the comic's update.

In some respects, the artwork and story approach of the modern Dandy mirrored the output (if not quite so abrasive) of 1980s IPC comic-mag OINK! which featured much ahead-of-its time cartoon graphics and more 'earthy' humour. OINK! was even printed on lustrous paper-stock, another glaring similarity to the modern (2010) Dandy.

Modern-day Beano is still, for the most part, true to the spirit of the Fifties and Sixties incarnations. The humour approach has turned a mite radical in what is acceptable within a kids' comic — body fluids and extreme violence like comically severed limbs can be depicted — but the overall tone of Beano is still in place. However, in the case of Dandy, there was a complete overhaul and total change in direction, with only a few strips in the traditional vein, such as Harry Hill and Postman Prat. Almost everything else was utterly post-modern and fully unlike anything depicted within the comic in the past. In comparison to an issue from the late Sixties, or even late Eighties, the break was radical and uncompromising, to the point where the comic was wholly unrecognizable from its traditional past.

Exactly what the contributers of Dandy's more traditional past (Watkins, Charlie Grigg, Eric Roberts, Jimmy Hughes, Bill Holroyd, etc) would have made of the post-modern version is open to question and probably irrelevan. However, in the interests of healthy and productive experimentation, the modern approach was certainly more daring and radical than anything that had gone before within its comic pages. Virtually all of the contemporary 2010 strips were brand-new and also featured the services of new-blood cartoon artists being given a good try-out.

Upon examination of a distant Dandy of forty or more years ago, the main differences from 2010 are in the larger-scale artwork (although some pages had a whopping five rows of panels) and sumptuously detailed frames of the sort that are simply not practical for the majority of today's more compactly-realized comics pages. Thus, although artists of the bygone period like Watkins and Grigg undoubtedly had a lot more space to fill (and consequently significantly more work on their plates) the artistic freedom they were offered in some cases (especially Grigg, whose front-page, large-scale Korky depictions almost always took full advantage of this approach) made for epic-style story depictions, in a way that is impossible for the much more cramped artwork turned out by the Dandy in 2010.

Grigg's most impressive work included his 'serial-like' melodramas (the stuff of thrills and wonder) such as Captain Whoosh, The Umbrella Men and The Purple Cloud. They were a world away from his more down-to-Earth Korky cavortings, so stylistically different from the cat's antics as to come as a surprise that these adventure-dramas were penned from the same nib as that of the Korky cover-artist. Further impressive work from Grigg was evident in his hyper-accomplished Dandy Book entries throughout the Sixties and early Seventies: spectacular two-page spreads consisting of a single large image, often depicting devastation and destruction on an almost cinematic scale. Grigg was artistically adept at alternating between slapstick representation and more moody, illustrative pieces. His work on Dandy during his long tenure is amongst the proudest and most impressive of the publication's considerable back-catalogue.

Dudley D Watkins' chief contribution to the comic was, of course, Desperate Dan, and the Dandy is remarkable inasmuch that it was the only one of D.C. Thomson's 'big four' funny papers to opt out of having Watkins' masterly skills grace the coveted front page of the title. (Beano had Biffo the Bear, Topper had Mickey the Monkey, and Beezer had Ginger, all by Watkins.) Nevertheless, Desperate Dan is often cited as being Watkins' own personal favourite strip amongst his wide and varied output, and there is no denying the sheer stature (in more ways than one) and wide-spread fame engendered by this Western character. His image is immortalized (along with that of Minnie the Minx) in D.C. Thomson's home city of bonnie Dundee, in the form of a looming 'life-sized' bronze statue. Any true comics fan planning a Mecca-like pilgrimage to Dundee simply has to visit this monument, which is located near the city centre.

Usually full of frankly eccentric and joyous anarchic mishaps, (due in most part to Dan's well-meaning but destructive super-strength), this strip managed to establish its own fully-rounded and detailed individual fantasy world, even though the actual setting is contradictory and unlike any place on Earth at any period in history. For example, Dan's home town of Cactusville is clearly inspired and derived from the 1880s-styled old American West, complete with gun-toting local Sheriff, and the local populace dress as was customary within those times. However, we often see (in the definitive Watkins version, at any rate) decidedly British-style pillar boxes, archaic street lamps more akin to Victorian Britain, and also 1930s-styled tramcars of the type commonly seen in Britain in the first half of the 20th century. As this is obviously a fantasy strip, we can forgive these inaccuracies — and, indeed, these supposed flaws actually enhance the strip's surreal qualities. Dan shaves with a blowtorch and devours basin-sized cow-pies (the term 'cow-pie' has an unfortunately different connotation in the USA), complete with throw-away horns and tail extending from the 'delicacy'.

Much destruction is wrought upon the local facilities due to Dan's unthinking, impulsive antics, although in no way could he be described as an ill-intentioned 'vandal' in the sense we encounter in UK life today. Some early strips depicted a mistreatment of animals that is shocking and alarming to some modern eyes. Dan was seen to kill crows in mid-flight, skin a whale for a gargantuan meal, and even head-butt charging wildebeest to death in some of the more extreme cases! Some of the stories branched out into 'continued-next-week' territory, although these tales were more connected items with a common theme rather than more commonly-seen 'cliffhanger' escapades. These scripts included extended appearances from Dan's unruly pet dog (a street-sussed mutt forever getting one over old Dan), Dan's pet ostrich (especially memorable, that one] and an extended odyssey where Dan encounters some of his long-lost relatives, one of whom turns out to be a bear.

There were many supporting characters, but the key players were Dan's overbearing Aunt Aggie (the only being on the planet that Dan appears to fear) and his niece and nephew Katie and Danny, who sport jutting the jutting jaw-line that is obviously carried on within the family gene-pool. Danny and Katie's main reason-to-be was as the impish instigators of elaborate practical jokes, in their attempts to bunk off school, or get one over on old Dan as part of their eternal quest to ridicule him.

The final Watkins-drawn Dan strip of 1969 reputedly featured a story involving the bristle-chinned one felling an apple tree. Following Watkins' passing in July of that year, long-time Dandy editor Albert Barnes perhaps wisely felt that there was no-one in existence who was fit to fill the master's shoes, and the slot was filled with reprints of earlier Watkins episodes. (Indeed, ancient Watkins Desperate Dan reprints were still surfacing in the second decade of the 21st century in one form or another.)

Early in the Seventies, fairly decent Desperate Dan updates courtesy of the highly-skilled pen of Charlie Grigg were put out and few complained. Indeed, Grigg's Desperate Dan stories of the Dandy Books in particular were epic works that fully utilized large-scale frames, serving up comic shenanigans on par with the Watkins version. For the most part within the comic, however, it was back to tried-and-trusted Desperate Dan reprints: however, in the outside world, the sphere of comics were evolving and exploring new avenues, and even the somewhat stuffy-and-staid Dandy itself would change, but not until well into the 1980s. For the meantime, though, it was business as usual within the comic, even if a further blow in the shape of the loss of Davey Law (who became ill in 1970) meant that another long-running strip (the colour Corporal Clott of the centre pages) was to lose its illustrious creator.
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Lastdandy

The final issue

Another key artist to leave a massive imprint was Bill Holroyd, whose personal brand of unrestrained cartoonery must surely have been familiar to literally millions of readers over an extended period. Very early Dandy contributions from this zestfully boisterous artist included the Highlander high-jinks of Plum MacDuff, and also the magical misfires of the mystical Wuzzy Wiz ("Magic is his biz!"). Although Holroyd's style of drawing barely budged in the decades he worked for D.C. Thomson, his instantly-recognizable trademark artwork delivered much comical and unpretentious belly-laughs as his often gracelessly hilarious characters went about their unrefined business, in a solidly-hewn, raucous manner that was as typical of Dandy cavortings as any other contribution by any other artist. His panels were crammed with endless comic detail and incident, and if curiously old-fashioned-seeming even at the height of his creative powers, his work was consistently reliable and delivered much of the quality expected from the comic's readership.

Holroyd's most memorable creation for the comic was undoubtedly Brassneck, the absurdly hilarious tales of a 'schoolboy' robot who is advanced in technology enough as to act as a free-thinking individual, and who merrily joins in the cricketing and football games of his flesh-and-blood sidekick, Charlie Brand. Much of the storylines revolved around the typical outdoor pranks and japery so beloved of the Dandy of this period, and one diversion typical to this strip was the deserved comeuppance of the bullying, brawny teacher Snodgrass, who falls foul in his small-time tyrannical aims to scupper the enjoyable pranks so beloved of Brassneck and Charlie.

Further Holroyd gems of this era included the succinctly comic Spunky and his Spider, which emerged in 1969: this was another two-pager which recounted the everyday hokum-like antics encountered by young Spunky Webster, and his most unusual pet: the dog-sized domesticated pet spider, 'Scamper'. Scamper, of course was designed to be appealing to readers and bears absolutely no resemblence to the alienating horrors of a true-life arachnid: indeed, he more resembles a cuddly monkey who just happens to possess eight legs and a pair of twitching antennae. The scripts were more solidly down-to earth farcical fare, of the 'scrumping apples' and 'tightrope-walking-out-in-the-back-garden' variety, which was clearly the sort of script expected, as they were submitted for Barnes' inspection.

Holroyd diversified his absurdist drawings further in 1973 when he unleashed his long-running creation Jack Silver: this epic opus is set on a distant planet, Marsuvia. Without doubt Holroyd's most visually-bizarre entry ever, the sights and sounds of this outrageous otherworld are represented by strange alien animals of every size and shape, and also oddly archaic (yet paradoxically futuristic) technology like Fifties-looking jet spacecraft. All of this is recounted in the weekly tales as experienced by Curly Perkins, who had been brought to Marsuvia courtesy of the big-eared Jack Silver's personal spacecraft. For a planet of such truly alien exotica, Marsuvia is represented by beings and situations that can only appear within an Earth-bound comic such as Dandy, and the majority of the slapstick depictions are clearly representative of the 'Planet Dandy', right down to the Fifties-styled school cap sported by the strip's titular character. Jack Silver clearly gives the impression of being among Holroyd's personal favourites, as the unbridled exuberance exhibited in this work leaps from the page. Initially in red-and-pink interior colour-scheme, the strip proved a surefire winner with readers, and eventually gainered full-colour centre-page status, which is the incarnation that most readers remember.

The end of an era

The final issue of The Dandy as a print comic, issue #3610 (a 100 page special including a pull-out replica of the first ever issue), went on sale on 4th December 2012, ending a 75 year run that brought fun and laughter to generations of children, though the comic continued in an online digital format for a further thirteen editions until June 2013.

Final bob

See also

Comic strips

Adventure stories

Official websites

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