Recently, downthetubes contributor Matt Badham was found online bemoaning the lack of coverage there seems to be for BEANO, at least in relative terms considering its massive success as arguably the preeminent children’s humour comic of this or any other era.
Instead of moaning, the team at downthetubes suggested that Matt might make things better by providing some publicity for the comic himself in the form of coverage here. The first result of this is an interview with cartoonist and writer Nigel Auchterlounie, who also goes by the name of Spleenal. (There will be more semi-regular interviews and features to follow if Matt ever gets out of bed! (“You mean, off Twitter” – Ed.)
Please tell our readers who you are and what you do.
I’m Nigel Auchterlounie. I write and draw for the BEANO. Mostly write. Most notably, Dennis and Gnasher.
What are your thoughts on the children’s comics scene in the UK at the moment? To me, it seems to have undergone a renaissance in the last decade or so with the BEANO a significant part of that.
Yes. When I started work on The Beano and The Dandy, things were on a downturn, generally across the board, for all print media. The feeling at the time was, ten plus years ago, that we were keeping things going as long as possible, but it couldn’t last. The vibe is very different now. With the BEANO growing and growing. (I don’t know what’s happening with the rest of print.)
What makes a good BEANO strip and can you give us examples of this from your own and others’ strips?
For me, a good BEANO strip is for all ages. A universal humour. Not like The Simpsons, or Shrek, where kids can watch and the jokes for the grown-ups go over their heads, but solid gags that everyone can get. Part of that is not talking down to kids. Kids are smart and switched on. You don’t need to dumb down.
I was pleased with what I did with Minnie recently. Each week, a different character gets a longer four-page strip, which get to I write. This week it was Minnie. It starts with Dangerous Dan getting a mission. The Evil Prefect has built an iron fist with which he’s going to rule the town, But Minnie finds it. But Bananaman gets to Minnie before Dan, and thinks the iron fist is General Blight’s. Because he hasn’t done anything bad with it yet, Bananaman gives it to the General. So it’s a crossover between three different strips. It’s a twisty tale with lots of characters misunderstanding this and that. The story doesn’t talk down to the audience.
To what do you owe the upturn in the BEANO‘s fortunes?
The Dennis and Gnasher cartoon, for one. It’s done really well on CBBC, and is also on Netflix. I’m sure it’s brought lots of kids to the comic. Then, once they’ve got the comic you have, of course, got to keep them. I think the BEANO has done that with content. There’s a lot to read in the BEANO. A lot of kids’ magazines have articles you can skim through quickly. A kid can read it in the car on the way home from the supermarket.
The BEANO takes longer and so is more rewarding, I think. It also speaks to the reader as an equal.
Any thoughts on the value of the BEANO as a pathway to reading? I’ve certainly used it to turn a reluctant reader of my acquaintance into an enthusiastic reader.
I was a reluctant reader. For me, reading was boring, because the words went in so slowly. I used to write my own stories for fun, as a child, but no one could read them as every third word was misspelled. Comics, for me, were a way of reading faster. Of reading more at the sort of pace other children read at. And I first started drawing my own comics as a way of telling a story with fewer (misspelled words).
It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I was told I was dyslexic. A year or two after I’d become a full time professional writer.
Did you read the BEANO as a child?
No. I read Nutty, the comic Bananaman started in. I once got in trouble in English because I was writing my own Bananaman story. Later, I got paid to! While I wasn’t reading The Beano, I was reading “Dennis the Menace” collections. My Grandmother had a bunch of old collections at her house so I’d pour over them when I was there. So in the 1980s, I was reading sixties and seventies “Dennis the Menace”. All that Davey Law stuff.
Dennis the Menace is a British comics icon. Were you worried about taking it on?
I couldn’t afford to be worried. I’d been made redundant a couple of weeks before I got the job! Any quiet concerns I may have had evaporated once I saw what Nigel Parkinson did with the script. It was brilliant! He hadn’t just drawn it, he’d elevated the script.
Do you write anything else?
Nothing successful! I’ve written a few novellas and a book set in a fictional Northern town called Judes Vale, to zero success. I wrote some as scripts. Two-hour long things. So either Vera TV show length or films? It doesn’t matter. They’re not getting made, either way! I converted one into a comic, that I put on my oft-ignored (by me) blog.
There’s also a sitcom I turned into a comic on there. It’s about a pair of old ladies who run a cafe and behave badly. Honestly. I can’t think of anything where women that old behave that badly! It’s like Skins for the over sixties.
One thing I did manage to get made was a thing called The Deer Hunt. A half-hour audio drama about a deer hunt that goes disastrously wrong, and by the halfway point starts to slide into folk horror. Evcol did a great job with it. There’s a deep soundscape in it I didn’t expect. There’s something else of mine in the works with them, but that will be quite a way off.
Nigel, thanks very much for your time.
A simple witness interview in a murder investigation, quickly side steps into dark and fantastical territory, going back into prehistory.
An Evcol Entertainment / Clockwork Digital Studios Original Production, a part of the On Another Wavelength audio anthology series featuring the voice talents of Mitch Howell, Holly Gillanders & Chris Machari
Written by Nigel Auchterlounie, Directed & Produced by Simon James Collier, Series Created & Co-Produced by Adam Dechanel, Soundscape Design: Zachary Elliott-Hatton
BEANO copyright DC Thomson Media/ BEANO Studios
The use of “The Beano” and BEANO at different stages in this item reflect changes to the title format. The comic is the same!
Matt Badham is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD and Big Issue in the North.