Writer and artist Steve Bright recalls the origins of Bananaman, a splendiferous and silly superhero created for Nutty with David Donaldson and artist John Geering who survived that humour comic’s demise and, 40 years on, continues to delight his many fans in the Beano…
Forty years ago this very week, Bananaman clumsily took to the skies for the first time, in a brand new kids’ comic called Nutty. When I wrote that first script, aged 20 (he and Nutty ‘launched’ the week after my 21st birthday), I was just having fun.
I’d been reading comics almost all of my life up until that point. From the age of about 6 to 11, it was the kids’ comics I was later to work for, like Dandy, Beano, Buster, Whizzer & Chips, and my favourite, Sparky. From 11, and throughout my teens, it was superhero comics that captured my imagination and inspired me to draw. At 18, two weeks out of school, I started my first full-time job as office junior on The Beano.
18 months later, I was moved to begin working on a new project that eventually became Nutty comic, alongside my chief sub editor on The Beano, Dave Donaldson, who was to become its Editor. On Day One, Dave handed me a piece of paper on which he’d doodled three sequential sketches of… (1) a small boy on his way to school, (2), who was from the Moon, which was really the biggest banana in the sky, and (3) when he eats a banana, he becomes… and that was it.
“See if you can do something with that.”, he said.
I didn’t need asking twice. Conflating both genres of the comics I had devoured in my youth, within the hour, I’d written that first script. I named the boy after myself (Eric is my middle name), and wracked my brain for all of a split second to name his comical alter ego (not exactly rocket science, that one). I then sketched out how I saw this brand-new superhero, and eventually my own amateurish drawing of the whole scripted page, keeping little Eric pretty much the same as Dave’s sketched version. It was all then sent to the wonderful comic artist John K. Geering (our first and only choice for the job), who worked his magic on it, though sticking very closely to my layout and character design which was a huge buzz for me.
Looking at that first page sitting on my desk, I was totally over the moon (which is really the biggest banana… etc, etc…) with the end result, but even then, had absolutely no idea what was to follow, but I knew I was going to have a lot of fun with writing Bananaman’s adventures every week.
Nutty lasted six years, which was pretty good for a new comic back then. During the early years, DC Thomson decided to make their first foray into the world of animation using one of their big comic characters. The obvious choices at the time were The Beano’s Dennis The Menace, or The Dandy’s Desperate Dan. But when the animation execs spotted Bananaman, during a focus group visit to DCT HQ in Dundee, they asked if they could focus on him instead, and a test sequence was created.
Not long after that, it all went into full swing production, and Bananaman burst onto BBC TV screens all over the UK.
I left Nutty before it folded, to pursue my dream of becoming a freelance cartoonist. But I’ve had spells writing and drawing Bananaman over the ensuing years, as he flew to The Dandy when Nutty ended, and then ultimately on to The Beano, where he’s still going strong today after 40 years. I could never have predicted such longevity. I joined the Beano in a year, 1977, which saw both it and The Dandy celebrating their 40th anniversaries, when only one character in each had endured since the beginning (Desperate Dan and Lord Snooty).
Bananaman has had to use several and varied vehicles to endure as long, including a highly acclaimed West End musical, no less. There was even a joint venture with Elstree Studios to make a Bananaman movie, which went into preproduction before being shelved. All a very long way from that day in the late 1970s when I sat in my new office, with pen and paper before me, for those moments of pure self-indulgence and fun.
We’ve both come a long, long way since then, but I’m still pretty fond of the big fella.
Many happy returns, old fruit!
• Steve Bright is online at www.brighty-art.co.uk – our thanks to him for letting us share his tribute!
• In honour of his birthday the Beano shop has released special edition Bananaman t-shirts and mugs with 15 per cent off all products for a limited time using the code BANANAS
• The original Bananaman TV series, featuring the voices of The Goodies, is now available to view on Amazon Prime
Bananaman © 2020 Beano Studios