Stephen McGinty: The sign of desperate times
So, the brave new world of digital claims a British comic great and a little milestone on road to literacy for millions has gone, but let’s not mourn just yet, writes Stephen McGinty
THE rules of sovereignty governing embassies is such that we do not yet know when the authorities will seek to take possession of this desperate individual. Fearful of being shipped off to somewhere he would rather not go, he took refuge in an embassy of a rival government and is currently seeking asylum.
Julian Assange is not the only character wily enough to exploit the rules of diplomacy for his own protection. I have it on excellent authority that the figure now holed up in the embassy Dandytown has long maintained in Beanotown is none other than Desperate Dan.
Oh, so you were unaware that Dandytown even had an embassy in Beanotown? So, where were you in 2004 when the Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger and Dennis the Menace all tried to storm it?
Clearly not manning the barricades with a slipper.
The actual agreement is buried deep in the archives of DC Thomson but Dandytown has always maintained a diplomatic refuge in rival territory. However, the rights are not reciprocal, with Beanotown seeing no need to invest in the cost of maintaining such a property, and with Lord Snooty refusing to serve as ambassador in what he has long considered a failed state.
Footage of the embassy can be seen in Beanotown Racing, the Beano’s Grand Prix game, and it is thought that Dan’s long-term girlfriend, Little Bear, a Native American woman, whom he first met in 2001 but who has not been seen in person for the last eight years, has joined him behind the embassy walls.
Last night, there were unconfirmed reports that a dirty protest is under way, with the kitchen and dining room littered with giant ceramic dishes clogged with congealed gravy, antlers and chewed hoofs.
Mr Dan has also refused to shave with a blow-torch and the subsequent beard is long enough to spark off the floor, presenting a constant fire hazard. It is a tinder-box atmosphere in which the authorities are now attempted to negotiate a suitable settlement.
News of the economic collapse of Dandytown has hit the residents hard, with many unconvinced of the governing authorities’ plans to move the residents online.
Winker Watson, the third form pupil at Greytowers School, pointed out that such a dastardly plot was all too similar to the alien invasion the boarding school endured in 1993 when extraterrestrials equipped with powers of mind control attempted to take over the school with the eventual view of casting it adrift in space.
After being kept back in the third form for the past 51 years, Mr Watson, 64, is abiding by the old Latin master’s maxim that when life deals you lemons, make lemonade, by using the forced resettlement of Dandytown to strike out on his own.
He has decided to put an extensive and expensive private education during which he cunningly carried out dodgy tricks for his own gain while leaving others to carry the can behind him and make a fresh start. He is going into banking.
As is often the case when a society collapses, there will be casualties and predators waiting to take advantage of the startled and insecure comic character when they alight at the bus stop of a strange new town – as a consequence Beryl the Peril has been taken into care.
After 32 years of ruthlessly ripping off the looks and manner of various Dandytown residents, Viz is drawing up plans to secure the services of Black Bob, the Border collie, originally from Selkirk, as a replacement for Black Bag: The Faithful Border Bin Liner who tragically tore a seam and had to be put down. (Amid the chaos of this week’s announcement archival papers revealed that in 1995 at the height of Viz’s intransigence and repeated examples of identity theft such as Roger the Lodger and Desperately Unfunny Dan, a special edition of the Jocks and the Geordies was published in which the Jocks trounced their foes from Newcastle, home of Viz. The editor was, reportedly, “slippered” by senior management but having first stuck a telephone directory down his shorts considered it a price worth paying. Viz retaliated by publishing a new character DC Thompson, the Humourless Scottish Git, who marched around complaining of breach of copyright when a mother called her son, Dennis, a menace.)
Yet the fact is comic culture in Britain owes a great deal to DC Thomson and the chuckle factory which, over the years has kept generations of children and no few adults entertained.
When first published in December 1937, the Dandy was the first children’s comic, with only DC Comics (no relation) Detective Comics, home of Batman, and Il Giomalino in Italy as older titles. At the height of the Dandy’s success in the 1950s it was selling more than two million copies but since then it has been in steady decline, like all printed comics and newspapers, and today sells just 8,000 comics a week. Over the years, like a desperate man looking for firmer footing on an steep icy roof, management has experimented with redesigns and relaunches. In August, 2007 they launched Dandy Extreme, which although it may have sounded as if Desperate Dan was now wearing a pair of leather chaps, was a radical change with many of the characters abandoned and replaced with TV characters. The first issue featured Bart Simpson on the cover. Normal service returned three years later.
During the past 75 years, a number of great comic artists have worked on the Dandy, most notably Dudley D Watkins, who drew Desperate Dan as well as Our Wullie and the Broons and died, fittingly, with pen in hand at his drawing board. Then there is Leo Baxendale, who drew Dinah-Mite for the Dandy and created the Bash Street Kids for the Beano. Many of the writers, such as John Wagner, who created Judge Dredd for 2000AD, and Alan Grant, who wrote Batman for over a decade for DC Comics, began their long career in comics at DC Thomson. What will be interesting to see is if the demise of children’s comics will, eventually lead, to a more severe impact of “adult” comic titles such as those published by Marvel and DC. The likes of the Beano and the Dandy were the nursery where as a child you began to enjoy reading across the panels and fusing together artwork and word balloons before graduating, as if from shorts to long trousers, to more sophisticated comics. I still remember cancelling the Beano and ordering 2000AD.
While there were multiple factors, plummeting sales, a new generation of kids more accustomed to scrolling down a screen than flicking through a comic for the Dandy disappearing off the newsagent’s shelves, there was also the comic itself which, to my mind, was never as robust as the Beano. In a way it’s sad that its print demise/relocation online was announced in the summer which was usually one of only two times when, as a kid, I got the Dandy. The summer-time specials produced by DC Thomson of the Beano and the Dandy were, like the annuals at Christmas, a yearly treat whose 64 pages made many a sodden summer holiday in Donegal a little brighter. To me, the Dandy was to the Beano what Tiswas was to Swap Shop, good to watch once in a while, but why switch over?
Each year, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t start them until we arrived on the boat at Larne and I still associate the antics of Desperate Dan with the smell of engine oil and sea-spray that hit me as soon as the car was parked in the hold and I headed up on deck to see the green coastline of Scotland slip away.
As I got the Beano weekly and was more familiar with the Bash Street Kids and Dennis the Menace than Korky the Cat and the Jocks and the Geordies, I always enjoyed their adventures but still never felt the need to stay and hang around with them all year round.
For me, a holiday was enough then it was back to Beanotown, whose civic foundations are, I hope, a little more robust.
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