Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Today's the day!


Today sees the publication of the 75th anniversary issue of The Beano! Only one other UK comic has matched that record, - The Dandy, - and as that ended (as a paper publication) on its 75th it means that from now on The Beano is the longest running comic in Britain (if not the world).

For a change, rather than showcase my own work here I thought I'd show a few pages from one of the very first issues of The Beano that I had as a child. Here's the amazing cover by Dudley Watkins to The Beano No.1138, May 9th 1964...




This wasn't the first Beano I had but it had the most impact. That Biffo cover strip intrigued me and fired my imagination no end. Even though it was only a four panel strip I remember being totally engrossed in the weird premise. Just look at how aggressive and sinister that character is chasing Biffo. Why is he chasing him? What's he going to do to him when he catches him? And up the side of a factory chimney!?! The danger and the threat felt palpable to me as a five year old child. Then... the twist. It was all done with puppets! That shift from danger to relief was powerful too. Suddenly I wanted  little models of factories and houses to play out such a scene. (And thanks to Lego and Timpo model soldiers, I could.) Most importantly, it taught me how comics could be more than standard illustrated stories. They could trick the reader and mess with their heads! How could I not become a fan of comics after that?

I threw out my original copy of this comic when I was a kid but the memory of that strip haunted me for years until I bought the comic again a while back. In my memory, the chase scene went on for longer, from different angles, and the final panel was more detailed. I guess I'd enjoyed it so much my mind had expanded the story. Because it had such a lasting impression it's remained my favourite Beano cover since.

Like most kids, lots of the regular Beano characters appealed to me back then, but the standout strip for me was The Iron Fish. Here's an episode from the same issue of The Beano as the strip above. Artwork by Albert Holroyd...







What appealed to me most about The Iron Fish wasn't its two rather bland occupants but the fantastic design of the Fish itself. Simple, yet effective... and those 'eyes' really made it. The Iron Fish was just a submarine. It wasn't self-aware nor did it have intelligence... but it looked like it might. And that was its strange appeal. I remember making a Plasticine model of The Iron Fish back then, such was its impact.

In later adventures, Sandy Calder became the artist and did a fine job, but there was something about Albert Holroyd's style on these pages that was darker, more eerie, and much more appealing. 

So, there's a few pages from The Beano way back when. What's today's Beano like? Don't forget to visit a newsagent today and find out! 

7 comments:

Peter Gray said...

No wonder it had a impact..seeing the man drowning...a boy leaping into a runaway boat about to crash! Wow!
Also a great cover as you say..wonder what buster and the policeman will be doing in the scene..

Colin Jones said...

Happy birthday! The first Superman comic arrived not long after so 1938 was a big year for the future of comics. All those DC Thompson comics were great - I remember Nick Kelly and Cedric in either the Beezer or Topper in the early '70s.

Lew Stringer said...

Characters in danger like that were standard fare in 1960s comics. Sadly adventure strips turned a bit soft a few decades later.

Lew Stringer said...

Superman preceded The Beano a bit, with Action Comics No.1 dated June 1938 (and on sale a few months before that).

Nick Kelly (Send for Kelly) was in The Topper. Great strip, drawn by George Martin.

Anonymous said...

Lew, I think the writer had seen the Twilight Zone episode " five characters in search of an exit" and was inspired to come up with that Biffo story.

Lew Stringer said...

Possibly, although I'm not sure if The Twilight Zone was shown in the UK that early. (I only remember seeing it in the early 1970s, even though the episodes were over 10 years old by then.)

Victor Richardson said...

I remember this also - along with others like Red Rory of the Eagles, Little White Chief of the Cherokees and Grip - a "Black Bob" type of dog hero. All excellent stuff for us Fifties kids!