As the new Heritage Brands Editor at DC Thomson, replacing Kirsten Murray who inaugurated the role, Gordon Tait brings a great depth of knowledge and experience to the position that includes editorship of 104 issues of Commando a year plus the weekly “Broons” and “Oor Wullie” pages in the Sunday Post newspaper and the alternating biannual softcover Broons and Oor Wullie books (this year it is Oor Wullie).
Jeremy Briggs spoke to Gordon about both his current work and his own heritage with DC Thomson for downthetubes.
downthetubes: Were you interested in comics as a youngster and were there any particular titles or characters that you enjoyed?
Gordon Tait: Comics and drawing comics were my childhood obsessions. My Dad would come home from work with The Beano and The Dandy every week. He introduced me to comics and encouraged my artistic ambitions. I would religiously copy the drawings, looking to become the next David Sutherland or Ken Harrison. Dad grew up with The Eagle and would often tell me how much he enjoyed Dan Dare. So, you can imagine how it was for me when 2000AD came along.
Warlord comic was my absolute favourite. Although a bit young for it at the time, my big cousin in Glasgow would save his weekly issues and hand them over to me every visit. I was very keen on Lord Peter Flint and Union Jack Jackson. Still am. I have an almost perfect run of Warlord in my personal collection.
Starblazer is another title that captured my imagination, and I became quite the collector. Would be good to see that make a return.
DTT: When did you join DC Thomson and what have you worked on since then?
Gordon: I joined The Dandy in 2001. I had been freelancing for a few years before that, with DC Thomson being my main source of income. It was suggested I take up a position on staff and I jumped at the chance.
In 2004 I moved to the Consumer Products department which afforded me the opportunity to work in various fields, across different platforms, and with a range of intellectual properties owned by the company. I’ve worked behind the scenes on a lot of projects, some of which never made it beyond the development stage. Musicals, animations, film, books, toys, confectionery, even fashion.
One of my career highlights has to be a private lunch with (British pop artist) Sir Peter Blake to talk about a Beano collaboration. I managed to engineer that via another high-profile collaborator who I knew had worked with the legendary pop artist. I won’t say who, that would be shameless name-dropping.
I recently moved back to the DC Thomson Media part of the business after three years at Beano Studios.
DTT: What is the job of the Editor of Heritage Brands and how far does the Heritage remit extend?
Gordon: I work within the Heritage Brands team, who are responsible for the regular Commando comic. There are four issues every two weeks, two reprints and two original stories. We also take care “The Broons”, “Oor Wullie”, “Wee Harry” and “Wor Nicky” comic strips that appear in The Sunday Post every week.
Brand extensions such as our recent Ramsey’s Raiders graphic novel add to our responsibilities alongside the annual book offerings which are a staple. We are always looking to develop more brand extensions, using existing characters and material from the archive as well. The team is also free to develop new intellectual properties as well as product to add to the portfolio. Watch this space, I guess.
The remit is wide-ranging. We can utilise the back catalogue as long as we don’t cut across anything another part of the business is doing. For example, we can’t work with any Beano characters as they are all looked after by Beano Studios.
DTT: The new Commando Presents Ramsay’s Raiders reprint graphic novel is a welcome addition to the Commando brand. How did this come about, are you planning to follow this up with other reprints, and are you considering any changes to the regular Commando because of it?
Gordon: I am pleased you think so. We are so happy with the book format. The material works incredibly well in colour and at the larger size.
Ramsey’s Raiders are amongst our most popular recurring characters and hadn’t made an appearance for some time. I called writer Ferg Handley to ask if he would like to bring them back. Ferg had also been absent from Commando’s pages for a while prior to my appointment. Happily, he agreed. As we enter 2019, Ramsey and the team return with an all-new story in our regular Commando title.
So, when we decided it was time to commit to the Commando Presents format it was an obvious choice to go with the Raiders. The timing is perfect. The first two adventures are a great read, and there are lots more awaiting the same treatment. The book is an ideal introduction to Commando for younger comic fans who perhaps aren’t aware of Britain’s longest-serving war comic.
There will be some small changes to the regular comic. Nothing too extreme. We’ve recently had Graeme Neil Reid join as a cover artist, and his work has been well received. His debut cover was an instant hit. There’s a good chance 2019 will see the return of some fan favourites from the DC Thomson back catalogue to the British comic scene via Commando. The unique talent known as Ian Kennedy is also working on some special projects that will see the light of day throughout next year. That’s all very exciting. It might be worth subscribing just to make sure you never miss a Commando!
DTT: Whilst they are iconic Scottish characters, pre-dating both The Beano and The Dandy comics, The Broons and Oor Wullie are much less well known in the rest of the United Kingdom. Do the biannual softcover books reprint all of the previous two year’s newspaper strips for each, and do the books and the associated character merchandise such as shortbread and tea towels sell outside of Scotland?
Gordon: They do contain two years’ worth of material to the point we commence production. They are prepared quite far in advance. We are currently proofing next year’s The Broons book, and I am only just looking forward to settling down with my Oor Wullie book on Christmas Day.
The books and associated merchandise do travel quite well on occasion. Gardiners of Scotland produce beautifully decorated tins of handmade fudge, featuring both The Broons and Oor Wullie, which have had to have a few territories added to their license in order for them to be sold outside the UK. A big part of my new role involves working with the existing licensees and working on future plans with other third parties.
Outside any commercial interests, we are really looking forward to Oor Wullie’s BIG Bucket Trail throughout Summer 2019 in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. We have high hopes of exceeding the incredible success of the original Oor Wullie’s Bucket Trail in Dundee in 2016 and raising even more money for the children’s charities involved.
DTT: With virtually the entire back catalogue of DC Thomson characters and titles available to you, do you have any particular areas that you would like to explore for reprint or revamp, and do you consider Rebellion’s recent purchase and reprints of comic strips from the IPC back catalogue to be a help or a hindrance?
Gordon: Never a hindrance. Most definitely a help. I’m a consumer of a fair amount of Rebellion’s output and a fan of many of their characters. I only recently had a catch up with someone from Rebellion, and I think it would be safe to say we shared similar views. They care about British comics and so the properties they have purchased are in good hands.
DC Thomson Media are just as passionate about their own rich heritage of comics, and I can’t say too much about my own plans or wishes as it’s still early days for me in this role. I would love to bring back all my childhood favourites, of course, but it would be nice to know what other comic fans would like to see. My hope is you’ll see lots more from us very soon.
DTT: Gordon, thanks for taking the time to talk to us and we look forward to seeing more Heritage Comics publications in the near future.
Look out for our competition to win copies of Ramsey’s Raiders, coming soon!
Commando, Broons and Oor Wullie publications and merchandise are available at the DC Thomson webstore:
There are more details about the Oor Wullie’s Big Bucket Trail on the charity event’s website.
All artwork copyright DC Thomson and Co Ltd