For Whom the Bell Tolls

The traditional British comics have been dying one by one. Whizzer and Chips, The Beezer, and The Topper all sang their swansongs in the 90s, followed by the demise of the goliath that was The Dandy, barely shy of its 75th birthday, last year. And now I hear a bell tolling from the hill again. I think it’s the death-knell of The Beano.

I’ve been a Beano fan since I was a kid. I always preferred The Beano‘s characters to The Dandy‘s and Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger, and the Bash Street Kids were as big a part of my childhood as they were of anyone’s in the thirty to forty years preceding. When I started work in Cambridge, I used to buy The Beano and leave it in the staff room. Testament to its enduring appeal is that it always made its way to the managers’ office after a day or two. Back then (about 2004) it was really funny, even to my adult mind. Then my circumstances changed and I stopped buying it for a few years. Other things on my mind.

Fast-forward to 2012 and, in the summer, I bought an edition or two. Nigel Parkinson (still the funniest cartoonist on their books) was still drawing for them, but the gags weren’t funny anymore – just puerile fart jokes. The Beano had, bizarrely, become more kiddified and less sophisticated than it had been eight years before. And then The Dandy died. With increased attention from the loss of its sister publication and the resultant nostalgic final edition, The Beano had its own nostalgia market to tap into. It was printed as a new, glossier version with collectors’ covers – and the funny stuff was back. The thing that made me happiest here was more of “Calamity James” (always the funniest page in there by far), but even “Dennis the Menace” had a surreal Brit-comedy edge. I’ve been buying The Beano every week since late December.

Apparently, nostalgia hasn’t been enough. The comic is, predictably, packed with more advertising than ever, for one. And, despite the success of the 1981 Summer Special being reprinted as an extra feature a couple of weeks after Matt Smith’s Doctor Who was seen reading it, it’s been all-change again. There’s been a re-shuffle of artists, with “Roger the Dodger” and “Bananaman” both moved on to new cartoonists. Younger cartoonists with a scrappier, post-Nickleodeon drawing style. The 75th anniversary edition that kicked off the latest round of changes was packed with damp stories featuring celebrities. Numskulls has lost its normal human agent to be replaced by the numskulls of a different celebrity every week. It looks like a desperation move. Celebrity toons were not enough to save The Dandy as its circulation dropped. And if trying to appeal to an adult audience has been scaled back after less than nine months, I don’t hold much hope that The Beano can save itself by using younger artists to increase its child appeal.

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~ by Scary Rob on 12 August, 2013.

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