RIP 76 years of The Dandy 1937-2013. A timeline

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The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic has gone forever. After ceasing to exist on paper last December, it now no longer exists in digital form either.

As a tribute to the comic which brought the world Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat and Bananaman, here is a timeline of The Dandy’s long history:

1937: The Dandy begins. It is originally called The Dandy Comic and is unusual for a comic of the time in using speech bubbles. Korky the Cat is on the front page. Inside, Desperate Dan, an incredibly strong man from the Wild West also features in the comic from the start. He is “desperate” in the sense that a desperado is desperate.

Another story in the first issue is Keyhole Kate, a nosey girl prone to looking through keyholes. She proves remarkably enduring, appearing until 1955 before (after a ten year break) enjoying a long return run in Sparky comic in the Sixties and Seventies. She returns to The Dandy in the Eighties and Nineties appearing on and off until the end.

1938: The Beano, The Dandy’s sister paper, which eventually features Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids, begins. It continues to this day.

The first Dandy-Monster Book (later The Dandy Book or Annual) appears for the first time too.

1939-1949: Wartime (and post-war) paper and ink shortages force The Dandy and Beano to go fortnightly. The two comics come out on alternate weeks.

1940: Korky the Cat starts to speak. Initially, he was a silent character.

1945: Keyhole Kate appears on the cover for one issue only, breaking an otherwise uninterrupted 47-year run for Korky the Cat.

1944: Black Bob, a fictional Border collie, first appears in a text story. He later appears in The Weekly News and in eight books during the 1950s and 1960s.

1954: The first Desperate Dan Book appears. Technically, it was not an annual and only appeared again in 1978, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

1961: Public schoolboy, Winker Watson first appears.

1963: A Dandy-Beano joint Summer Special appears. The first Dandy Summer Special appears in 1964.

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1967: Bully Beef and Chips first appears. Bully bullies Chips until 1997.

1975: Peter’s Pocket Grandpa appears in the comic lasting until the early 1980s. It has a similar premise to the early 21st century BBC children’s series Grandpa in my Pocket although also resembles the 1940s Dandy strip, Jimmie’s Pocket Grandpa.

1984: Korky the Kat is replaced on the cover by Desperate Dan after a long run. Korky continues inside, however, and appears next to the front page logo until 1998.

Dimples – a tearaway toddler – begins in The Dandy.

1980-1985: DC Thomson produces Nutty comic featuring spoof superhero Bananaman. The strip is a huge success and is turned into a memorable TV cartoon between 1983 and 1986 voiced by the performers from TV’s The Goodies (Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie). The strip, Cuddles also begins in Nutty in 1981.

1982: The first Dandy Comic Libraries appear.

1985: Bananaman’s popularity doesn’t save Nutty (although doubtless prolongs its life). The comic merges into The Dandy in 1985. The strip Bananaman continues to this day. Cuddles from Nutty becomes the lead character in a new comic, Hoot in 1985.

1986: Hoot folds and merges into The Dandy. Cuddles and Dimples – two quite similar strips – merge into one. The two toddlers later mysteriously become twin brothers and later, mysteriously again, older and younger brothers.

1984 – 1987: Bananaman has his own annual. He is the only Dandy character to ever get his own annual for four consecutive years although technically was still in Nutty for the first two of these (Nutty, unusually for the time, never has its own annual).

1993: The Beezer and Topper merges into The Dandy. Beryl the Peril which began in The Topper in 1953 appears in The Dandy on and off until the end.

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1999-2000: Cuddles and Dimples briefly replace Desperate Dan on the front page. This proves unpopular with readers and Desperate Dan replaces them again after the two are found to be “too naughty”.

2004: The comic is dramatically revamped becoming glossier, bigger, more TV-orientated and more expensive. The price was raised from 70p to £1.20. This is the first of a series of big revamps which, depending on your view, prolong the life or help finish off the already ailing title. It is a challenging time for the industry: most long-running British comics (except The Beano, Dandy, 2000AD, Viz and Commando) folded in the Eighties and Nineties.

2005: Korky the Cat is dropped after 68 years in the comic. Reader polls suggest he is much less popular than he was. The strip had been undergoing various upheavals since 1999.

2007: The Dandy had another update, going fortnightly, becoming more magazine-like and being renamed Dandy Xtreme, priced at £2.50. The first issue has Bart Simpson on the cover. Regular characters no longer regularly appear on the cover. Some feel the comic has lost its identity.

2010: A counter-revolution! Of sorts. Dandy Xtreme becomes The Dandy again and goes back to being weekly. Every story from the Xtreme era with the exception of The  Bogies, Desperate Dan and Bananaman is dropped. Korky returns. More celebrity parodies appear.

2012: The Dandy’s 75th birthday turns out to be a sad time. The comic ends and goes online. Bananaman, now The Dandy’s third longest running story starts appearing in The Beano and The Dandy online.

2013: The Dandy Online ends bringing to an end the Dandy Era.

Farewell. Thanks for everything. You will be missed!

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Why was Dan so Desperate? The demise of The Dandy

The last edition of the Dandy has just hit newsagent shelves. Technically, it’s not the end. The comic will continue to appear online. But this feels like the end. It’s a bit like when Blue Peter stopped being on BBC 1.

The Daily Telegraph attempted to assess why the comic might be folding when news of The Dandy imminent demise was announced in August.

“Political correctness,” Michael Leapman claimed. “It meant toning down the violence and, in the school-based strips, stopping teachers from taking the cane or the slipper to recalcitrant pupils”.

It is an odd suggestion. The Telegraph is well-known for its eccentric tendency to blame political correctness for virtually all the evils in the world, but even by their blinkered standards, this seems something of a stretch.

Would The Dandy really have survived had the teacher characters in the stories still been allowed to cane the child characters? Wouldn’t this seem a bit odd, in a Britain where no child has been caned in a state school for a quarter century? Why would this affect The Dandy more than The Beano, which has more school-based strips and is still going strong? And why, if this was such a blow to The Dandy, has it taken until 2012 to have any impact?

Leapman elsewhere blames the poor distribution of the comic for its failure: yet this was clearly a symptom of its decline, not the cause of it.

The real question should be not why is The Dandy ending now, but why hasn’t it ended before?

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I don’t mean this as an insult to the comic: quite the opposite. Its endurance is incredible.

The Dandy started in 1937. Repeat: 1937.

To have read the first issue, you would have to now be similar in age to the Queen, Lord Attenborough or Lady Thatcher. Or, more likely, dead.

The Dandy survived a world war (threat of invasion, paper shortages), the challenge posed by The Eagle comic and TV in the 1950s, the numerous upheavals of the Sixties, Seventies and beyond: computer games, Star Wars, texting, DVDs and the web (the last of which it is now merging into).

It has endured something roughly equivalent to a human life span. It already looked old-fashioned when I was a child in the Eighties. “Dandy” (like “Beano” which started in 1938) was hardly a hip or even a meaningful term by then. Neither was the term “hip” for that matter. I actually much preferred The Beano, also produced by DC Thomson in Dundee. Most people seem to. Hence why that’s still going.

Why was Desperate Dan “desperate” after all? He was incredibly strong and ate cow pie. He wasn’t “desperate”. He is, of course, desperate in the same way that a desperado is desperate. But how many children (or adults) understand that? Adult comic Viz launched a cruel lampoon in the same decade, “Desperately Unfunny Dan”.

The Eighties and Nineties were in fact a brutal period for the British comic industry. I stopped reading as I advanced towards adulthood in the mid-Nineties but many of the comics I read died even before then.

The news would usually be sneaked onto the front page: “Great news about your favourite comic inside!” Even as a child, I grew cynical about this process.

The “great news” was usually that the comic was merging into another comic and thus was effectively bankrupt. One or two stories would still continue to appear as would perhaps, separate annuals for a bit. The name would perhaps continue for a bit as a subheading. Wow! merged into Whoopee! for example and became Whoopee! and Wow!. As with the Lib Dems in the Coalition, the junior partner often disappeared completely after a while.

IPC comic Buster which started in 1960 was THE great swallower of comics during this time. Between 1974 and 1988, Buster absorbed Cor!! Monster Fun, Jackpot, School Fun, Nipper and Oink!

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Whizzer and Chips (which unusually, never appeared as two separate comics) started in 1969 and also absorbed such largely forgotten titles as Knockout, Krazy and Scouse Mouse as well as Whoopee! which as already mentioned had already merged with Wow! plus Cheeky and Shiver and Shake.

Then in 1990, Whizzer and Chips merged into Buster. When Buster ended in the year 2000, it was as if a thousand dying comics screamed at once.

DC Thomson comics followed a similar pattern. Nutty (which included Bananaman) and the short-lived Hoot – which I actually read – merged into The Dandy in the Eighties. Bananaman (which was immeasurably boosted by having its own TV series) goes against the pattern of old stories dissolving quickly and is the third longest lasting Dandy story (the others are Korky the Kat and Desperate Dan).

The Beezer and Topper meanwhile had both endured since the 1950s. Both merged into each other and then into The Beano in the 1990s. I expected The Dandy to do the same.

The Dandy’s end is less sudden then and thanks to the internet, takes a different form to that of other comics.

Perhaps The Beano will one day go the same way. But in the meantime, let us not mourn. The Dandy’s capacity to survive since the period of Neville Chamberlain and the Spanish Civil War is more remarkable than its demise now.

The Dandy: 1937-2012, It’s an impressive run. This was the UK’s longest lasting comic.

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