Stripped Event Report: The Beano At 75

Beano 75
Stripped was the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival’s major comics strand which featured many talks and workshops with comics creators both British and from overseas. Stripped had its own blog which featured book reviews, previews of events and post event reports as well as links to video interviews with the guests and some full length video or audio recordings of the 1 hour talks.

In 2012 the BookFest celebrated 75 years of The Dandy and this year it was The Beano‘s turn with editors Morris Heggie and Mike Stirling plus artist Stephen White for a talk on what Stripped announced as ‘Calling All Menaces’.

There was a time, admittedly a long time ago, that a ‘beano’ was a slap up meal, a contraction of the longer ‘bean feast’. Today if you say “beano” to virtually anyone in the UK they will assume that you are talking about the comic because, to put it quite simply, The Beano is the best known comic in Britain.

This year it is celebrating its 75th year of continuous publication and to take the audience through that long history were Michael Stirling, DC Thomson’s Editor In Chief of the Beano range and a former Beano and BeanoMAX editor himself, Morris Heggie, a former Dandy editor and current writer of The Broons and Oor Wullie, plus Stephen White, an artist on the Beano, Dandy and Digital Dandy. Stephen spent the entire talk drawing a wide range of Beano characters on the flip chart while Morris and Mike took the audience through the history of the comic and it characters, treading the fine line between keeping the children in the audience entertained while not talking down to the adults.

Michael began by describing himself as someone who read the Beano in the 1970s, as he showed off a 1970s era issue to the audience, and that he reckoned at the time that he was a bit more like Walter The Softy than Dennis The Menace. However now when he tells people what he does for a living he often gets the reaction back that that isn’t a real job “and they are probably right!” He went on to describe Morris was the Dandy editor who ‘spied’ on the Beano office in the DC Thomson building in Dundee in an attempt to steal their ideas and staff.

Shows of hands were very much the order of the day for the children in the audience: who read the Beano – unsurprising virtually every hand went up; who didn’t – one hesitant (though rather brave) girl who was immediately presented with a free copy. Later on one boy in the second row got presented with one of the newest ‘free gifts’, a Nerf-style pistol with which he was told to shoot Stephen, and impressed everyone (except Stephen) by managing to hit him with the first shot from some distance away.

beanotown
Michael also showed the audience a whole lemon that, in true Menace style, he had just ‘stolen’ from the author’s yurt because it had reminded him that Bash Street Kids artist David Sutherland used to bite into a slice of lemon while looking in the mirror to get the inspiration for Plug’s extreme expressions. He then suggested that Stephen should try that while drawing Plug for the audience, a suggestion that Stephen quickly mugged to the audience that he didn’t want to happen. Morris did point out that even in the offices they weren’t that nice to the artists and related the story of making a cobweb of sellotape in a doorway to trap an artist who would determinedly wear a hat low over his eyes while inside the building. That said Michael did point out that for all the fun they had at their expense that it was the artists who made the Beano magic happen.

They then ran a game for the audience similar to Top Trumps. With large illustrated cards of Beano characters, Mike took the characters that would be familiar to younger readers while Morris took the characters that would have been familiar to their parents and, having presented facts and some history of each character, they had a shout-off between the old and new characters – Billy Whizz beat Dennis (though perhaps only because the audience was getting used to what they had to do), Roger The Dodger beat Little Plum, while beat Gnasher beat Biffo The Bear by a mile. It was a simple way to show images of characters and give information to the adults while keeping the children entertained.

They also showed off a new piece of artwork that was created this year, a map of Beanotown by Wilbur Dawbarn. In the 75 year history of the title this map had never be done before and was created this year for the Beanotown display and events in the Southbank Centre in London. Complete with football club Dundee Untied (sic) and supermarket Widl (ahem!) the exact centre of the town was of course the back garden of Dennis’ house with his tree house and Gnasher’s kennel but the map included as much to the world of the Beano over the years that could possibly be fitted in. Everyone at the event received a copy of the map on the way out.

Beano Signing L-R Morris Mike Stevie
Morris Heggie, Mike Stirling and Stephen White at the beginning of a long signing session

Michael told the audience that they did take note of letters and e-mails from readers for their ideas so the Q&A session at the end was interesting to get ‘live’ reaction to stories from the children in the audience who, if a general conclusion could be drawn from such a small sample, didn’t seem to like change. One request was could they “change Ball Boy back” implying that he preferred the previous artist to the current one, another wanted the Numbskulls to return to Ed’s head rather than the tour of others that they are on at the moment, while yet another wanted more Rasher stories, a suggestion that ended up with Michael and Morris musing that perhaps Dennis’ pig should father a litter of piglets. It was interesting to witness from the range of questions the enthusiasm and amount of knowledge the comics’ young readers had.

Of course it wasn’t just the readers. Michael’s enthusiasm for the title coupled with Morris’ in-depth knowledge of it shone through in an entertaining talk while their post talk signing session, during which they chatted away to children and adults alike and Stephen White sketched on the presented books, stretched out much longer than anyone expected.

There are more details of the current Beano on the Beano website: www.beano.com

There are more details of the older Beano characters in the retro section of the Beano website: www.beano.com/retro-beano

There are more details of The History Of The Beano book on the Waverley Books website.

This event report was first posted on the Stripped Book Fest blog and is re-posted here with full permission.

Jeremy Briggs

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