As the Beano closes in on its 80th birthday, comics auctioneer Phil Shrimpton of Phil Comics looks back at some the weekly humour comic’s achievements and its continued success today…
The Beano comic needs very little introduction, certainly not in the world of comic collecting but also not amongst the general population. Many of its characters have stood the test of time and are household names – Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, The Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx, Billy Whizz – the list goes on. We read this week that some 27 million people alive today have been regular Beano readers – nearly half the UK population!
Generations of kids have devoured the fun factory that is the world’s longest running weekly comic. You’ll find issue Issue 3945, guest edited by author and comedian David Walliams, in the shops this week and the landmark Issue 4000 will be reached sometime next year.
Apart from a few years in wartime 1940s, when The Beano came out fortnightly, the comic has been published every week since it appeared on the news stands on 26th July, with a cover date of 30th July 1938. It survived the World War Two (unlike sister paper, Magic) and indeed boosted morale, with war propaganda messages.
However, oft-repeated claims the editor of The Beano was on a Nazi death list, a story debunked on Bear Alley by Jeremy Briggs ten years ago (who also wrote a companion piece for downthetubes speculating on how British comics might have looked if the Nazis had won the war, which you can find here).
The Beano made the decision shortly after the war to have all their characters as kids, plus it became a pure comic, with no text stories, from the 1950s.
“This seems like a recipe for success. The early 1950s saw print runs of around two million copies a week and the same decade saw the appearance of several iconic characters that have lasted until today.
The comic was so popular that throughout the 1950s and 1960s only two free gifts were issued – kids needed no extra incentive and, put simply, it just sold itself.
In its 80 years The Beano has had just seven different editors: George Moonie (1938-1959), Harry Cramond (1960-1984), Euan Kerr (1984-2006), Alan Digby (2006-2011), Michael Stirling (2011-2012), Craig Graham (2012-2016) and the current and first non-Scottish Editor, John Anderson.
Many legendary comic artists have worked on the comic throughout its time and helped create unforgettable characters – Dudley D. Watkins, David Law, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, David Sutherland and Nigel Parkinson to name a few, plus a multitude of editorial staff, staff artists and behind the scenes workers.
Since 1940,the annual Beano Book has become as much a part of the festive season as the turkey and the Christmas pud. A Summer Special has been published each and every year since 1963 and the Dennis the Menace Fan Club had 1.25 million members at its peak, the most famous being Star Wars actor Mark Hamill.
In 1988, the comic entered the Guinness Book of Records when a 235 x 170 foot cover of Beano #2396 was reproduced on Scarborough Beach to become the world’s largest comic strip.
Licensed merchandise is available from T-shirts, art prints, Doc Martens boots and even a Raleigh Chopper bicycle. A street in Dundee was renamed ‘Bash Street’ a few years ago and a bronze statue of Minnie the Minx stands in the city centre.
This year’s Summer Reading Challenge for libraries is called “Mischief Makers” and based around, you guessed it, The Beano – a perfect choice considering the comic has helped generations of kids to develop their reading.
The comic today is by no means at the dizzying heights of the 1950s print figures, but the climate is completely different and scores of British comic titles have come and, sadly, gone in those 80 years. The Beano has stood the test of time and, in 2017, 1.86 million copies of the comic were sold – no mean feat today where kids are immersed in a digital world.
Indeed, The Beano has embraced the digital climate. The website Beano.com was created over a decade ago, the @BeanoOfficial Twitter account has over 12,000 followers, there’s a Beano smartphone app and Dennis the Menace has his own CGI animation TV series through the recently created Beano Studios.
All this may seem a world away from the humble beginnings of 1938 when Big Eggo, Lord Snooty and his pals, Hairy Dan, Big Fat Joe, Morgyn the Mighty and Tin-Can Tommy adorned the 28 page, primarily black and white comic gifted with a fabric toy mask. However, it’s fantastic to know that 80 years on the Beano is still going strong, published from the same imposing Victorian building in Albert Square, Dundee, by a creative team of people who have the same objective and desire as George Moonie and co – to create fun for kids.
Long may it continue!
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