In the run up to the 80th anniversary of the Beano‘s debut in July 1938, I asked comic creators and fans of DC Thomson’s much-loved weekly humour comic (now produced by Beano Studios) who their favourite characters or strips were, and why? Did they have a favourite creator?
And, perhaps most importantly – why do you think it’s survived while other titles have not?
Here are some of the responses from Twitter and Facebook… and we also take a look at what’s inside the terrific The Beano – 80 Years of Fun Limited Edition Box Set…
For me, looking back on the selected issues of the comics that are part of the recently-released the Beano – 80 Years of Fun Limited Edition Box Set, and the few copies of the title I’ve kept over the years, there plenty of highlights, despite preferring many of rival humour title Sparky‘s characters over some of the Beano‘s (or Dandy, for that matter).
But as others note below, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid deliver the strips that I have lasting memories of growing up, but there’s still plenty of inventive and anarchic stuff in the modern comic. I’ve been a fan of writer Nigel Auchterlounie‘s work for some time, but what he delivers on the Beano is just, well, plain crazy, his scripts complemented by the art of Nigel Parkinson (and others).
There are just so many creators who’ve added wonderful stuff to the Beano stuff down the years – Barry Appleby, Steve Beckett, Gordon Bell, Hunt Emerson, Andy Fanton, Jimmy Hansen, Ken H. Harrison, Laura Howell, Davy Law, Gary Northfield, Danny Pearson, Jim Petrie, Zoom Rockman, Kev F. Sutherland, David Sutherland, Lew Stringer, Dudley Watkins .. it’s impossible to name them all!
Happy Birthday, Beano!
Just in case the lasting appeal of Beano should be in any doubt, artist Steve Marchant, who runs comics workshops and has been a huge part of London Cartoon Museum‘s many projects and events in recent years, is quick to dispel concerns.
“There are two kids sat in the museum right now reading Beanos that DC Thomson kindly send us free every week,” he told downthetubes. “I think the comic’s the best since its ‘glory years’ at the moment, largely thanks to Nigel Auchterlonie’s inventive scripts and witty dialogue. He should get some kind of award.”
“It’s fun and always adapted for its times,” feels journalist Phil Creighton, publisher of Xn and The Wokingham Paper. “While I want The Beano to be the 1970s/80s one it has to move on.”
“Part of The Beano’s longevity must be due to the fact that it changes with the times,” feels comics fan Malcolm Furness. “I used to read it as a kid in the 1960s, then again started picking it up occasionally in the 80s, probably out of nostalgia and a desire to support what was becoming one of the few old-style British comics still in existence. About the time the comic was given a facelift a couple of years ago I realised that I was buying it every week and looking forward to each issue, not for nostalgia’s sake but for the clever, knowing scripts and punchy art. With a strong lineup of characters and throwaway meta touches, The Beano has (arguably) never been better than it is right now.”
“My opinion is that they went with kids characters, earlier than Dandy, and stuck with them,” Beano staffer Mark AP Mcllmail suggested on Twitter. “Kids can then either relate or secretly aspire. It was consistent and, importantly, funny. Keeping with the times helps, but still have to be funny.”
Beano artist and comics writer Lew Stringer quickly agreed with Mark. “Also, keeping the same core characters for 60 years ensures parents and grandparents recognise the comic and buy it for the kids,” he feels, “starting them off as comic readers.”
“Didn’t and doesn’t stop us from introducing new characters, but yes, you’re right,” Mark replied. That level of connection from grandparents, parents and children – all in ‘one’ comic – it’s unique. A lot of Dandy characters were new, or absorbed from other comics over the years.”
“I’ve always read comics from a very young age and our family always got a large selection at the weekend which included The Dandy, Whizzer and Chips, Sparky and The Beezer,” notes comics fan Paul Hough, “but the Beano was always my favourite. I’m sure there were also other comics for my sisters but me and my brother didn’t really bother with them.”
The Beano has come in for plenty of ribbing from rival titles down the years, particularly VIZ , but it was all in good humour, we’re assured.
“As co-creator of Oink! Comic, I can honestly say that any ribbing of the Beano by Uncle Pigg was purely out of jealousy!” says Patrick Gallagher. “Also, having moved into Kids TV, I’d like to add, ‘No Beano – no Round the Bend‘.”
“I’ve been reading the Beano since the Summer of 2010, and it’s been a pleasure being a fan ever since,” says gold SOBeano badge holder Andrew, who wrote this great blog item about why he likes the title so much back in 2016. “Apart from Dennis the Menace (my overall favourite), I really love Tricky Dicky because of how mischievous he is. It’s survived because it connects with todays trends, yet also keeps the classics coming back – Biffo the Bear and Big Eggo for example, and the comic is actually a comic with comic strips (other ‘comics’ are just a load of movie and TV show news).”
“Beano also connects with fans of all ages, as proven by the classic book they do every year… Long live the Beano!
“I was a child of the 1980s,” says fan Chris Hallam. “The Beano was old even then, of course, old enough to have been read by my father when he was a child in the 1950s, indeed somewhat older even than that. Normally, this fact would make it seem less fun somehow – rather like watching Blue Peter – but somehow The Beano retained a cheeky sense of fun which I think The Dandy somehow lacked. The Dandy. Buster. Whizzer and Chips. Topper. The Beezer. Whoopee and Wow! Oink!.. So many of the great comics of childhood have fallen like dominoes in the years since. And yet, The Beano, older than almost any of those, still endures. It’s amazing.
“Why has it lasted so long? To me, it’s down to the strength of the characters,” says says Enniskillen Comic Fest organiser Paul Trimble. “Dennis The Menace is an icon that everyone, no matter their age, recognises.”
Who Are Your Favourite Characters?
“1950s Dennis the Menace!” insists artist Flix Gillett, creator of the graphic novel Mockingbird. “Scrappy, mad, funny and at times poignant.”
“It’s got to be the Davey Law version of Dennis the Menace,” agrees comics and Shaun the Sheep script writer Glenn Dakin.
Flix and Glenn in good company – he’s current writer Nigel Auchterlounie‘s favourite character, too.
“I know this sounds like I’m towing the party line or something, but it’s Dennis,” he insists. “My first exposure to Dennis wasn’t through the Beano comic. My Grandmother in Wales had a toy box with old toys in it for the grandkids to play with when they visited in that box were old Dennis the Menace annuals from the sixties, Dennis strips collected from the Beano. So my late 70’s early 80’s experience was of 60’s Dennis.”
“My favourite characters – how Nigel Auchterlounie writes and Nigel Parkinson draws Dennis is marvellous,” says a Beano insider. “Enjoy it every time. Secret (or not so secret) faves are ‘Numskulls’ – (Nigel Auchterlounie, again) and ‘Betty & the Yeti’ by Hugh Raine – they’re my current top three. ‘Bananaman’ always a favourite.”
“My favourites were always The Bash Street Kids but these days it’s Lord Snooty,” says artist and muscian Horace Panter, who’s Beano-inspired pop art was on display at the Beano Studios in London earlier this year, and is now on tour around the UK (details below). “He’s had a lot of bad press of late but rereading the comics he comes across as an egalitarian sort of toff! Also have a soft spot for Billy Whizz; like his haircut!
“This is reasonably easy for me!” says comics editor Georgia Battle. “Favourite strip: probably Minnie when tries to hide her report card with paint, only it’s glow in the dark paint! Favourite character: probably Tricky Dicky or Minnie but hey, I’m biased.”
“‘Two Gun Tony‘ just edged out ‘Minnie the Minx’ for me,” enthuses SF feature writer Peter Linford.
“Back in the early 1970s, I’d read any comic I could get my hands on but the Beano was always a favourite,” says Paul Trimble. “The characters I enjoyed most were the Bash Street Kids and General Jumbo – his army of toys was just too cool for words!
“I always loved the adventure picture-stories,” says author Andrew Darlington, a regular contributor to magazines such as Spaceship Away. “In particular, ‘Jimmy & His Magic Patch‘ was a favourite, ‘Longlegs The Desert Boy’, the Viking exploits of ‘Wulf Of The Arrows’ as well as the DC Thomson gadget tales Ironfish and the Bushwacker… ‘The Jellymen’ were strange eco-octopus invaders, but they were in Beezer.”
“The best story and character for me was ‘Billy the Cat‘,” says Paul Hough, “although he only lasted until until the mid 70’s.”
(Billy has appeared in the Beano annuals and strips also ran in adventure comic Buddy. Artist Nigel Dobbyn developed a revival of the character under license from DC Thomson for STRIP Magazine, which also published new “King Cobra” stories, but the title folded before it could be commissioned).
“I think I liked him so much because although he had the fantastic Cat Suit and helmet and other ‘James Bond’ type devices, he was still a normal boy, like myself at the time, unlike most of the other Beano characters. Even when reading the stories I always imagined myself climbing and swing along with him when he was out and about fighting crime. However I still liked Roger the Dodger and even went as far as to start writing my own ‘Dodge Book’, which didn’t last very long.”
“I started reading the Beano in 1964, so Leo Baxendale had left by then,” says cartoonist Lew Stringer, “and Ken Reid was about to, but one of the strips I enjoyed the most was ‘The Iron Fish’. Such a great design.”
(Find out more about “Iron Fish” on Lew’s own blog here)
“There was a song about The Bash Street Kids in one of the annuals,” Chris Hallam notes, for anyone considering Beano as a specialist subject on Mastermind, perhaps. “‘Danny,Wilfred, Smiffy, Toots: the wildest kids you’ll see. With Fatty, Erbert, Spotty, Plug: the kids of Class 2B.” Very useful if you ever forget any of them (Not that that’s usually much of an issue…)”
“Growing up it was definitely Roger the Dodger, for me,” says Mark Andrew Roberts, publisher of the Marvel UK dedicated blog It Came from Darkmoor. “There was something very appealing in the notion of complex dodging techniques, and Roger’s many Books of Dodges. I was always a Dennis the Menace fan (and Fan Club member) though. And one of the few people I knew who really liked ‘Calamity James’.
“When it came to actual artists though, I was always a greater fan of Leo Baxendale. Baxendale was the Beano to a child of the 80s, in my opinion.”
Who are your favourite Beano creators?
“I love a bit of Biffo the Bear, Rodger the Dodger, and of course Dennis the Menace,” says Exeter-based graphic designer Jude Coram. “I think some of reasons the Beano did so well is because it somehow managed to collect some of the greatest artistic talent like Leo Baxendale, Dudley Watkins and Ken Reid. Each page and story seemed different!”
Modern creators earn deserved praise aplenty for their work keeping the Beano alive. The much mentioned Nigel Auchterlounie and Nigel Parkinson aside, Georgia Battle singled out Laura Howell and Andy Fanton as her favourite artist and writer.
“There have been so many wonderful creators in the Beano,” says Malcolm Furness. “… but it wasNigel Auchterlounie’s work that made me sit up and take real notice of the Beano after all these decades, even to the extent of taking out a subscription. This is not to downplay any of the other creators currently working on the comic — every strip is thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable! — but Mr. Auchterlounie’s work has that extra touch of crazed logic to it.”
Thank you to every Beano fan who shared their memories of their favourite characters and thoughts on its success. Long may it continue!
The Beano – 80 Years of Fun Limited Edition
Beano is celebrating 80 years of fun and mischief this year and to mark this incredible milestone DC Thomson have released a luxury box set filled with some wonderful memorabilia, available from WHSmith and the DC Thomson Web Shop
Delve behind the scenes of 80 years of Beano history and enjoy the phenomenal comic art from the development of Big Eggo in issue one to Beano’s world record-breaking 3800th issue.
This is a terrific item of Beano nostalgia, the bookazine that forms its major selling point simply crammed with background information that complements and evens expands on other works such as The History of the Beano, with some smashing imagery, anecdotes and tributes to some of the comic’s key creators. The bookazine alone – which you can find separately in many newsgents – is great, but this box set is simply marvellous!
The Beano – 80 Years of Fun Limited Edition Box Set includes….
• Beano 80 Years of Fun compendium (100pp, softback, also available separately)
• Reproduction of eight specially selected Beano comics from across the decades:
- the first issue, cover dated 30th July 1938 – note the masthead character “Peanut” and some pages have been excised, find out why here
- Beano 272, cover dated 1st December, 1946, the first issue to sell over a million copies
- No. 452, cover dated 17th March 1951, the first to feature “Dennis the Menace”
- No. 954, cover dated 6th October 1960, which saw an increase in page count and cover price, and included its first free gift in twenty years (not included with this reprint)
- No. 1768, cover dated 5th June 1976, which saw the launch of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club
- No. 2280, cover dated 29th March 1986, in which Gnasher goes missing
- No. 3052, cover dated 13th January 2011, which features the last regular “Minnie the Minx” by Jim Petrie
- No. 3800, cover dated 5th September, 2015, when the Beano was recognised as the longest running weekly comic, although it actually broke that record with No. 3611 back in 2011, but no-one noticed!
• Gnasher Snapper gift first given away with Beano No. 1980, the most popular free gift in the comic ever, it seems and it was given away with No. 2201, too, and in facsimile with the 2017 Beano calendar…who needs all that plastic?
• Dennis the Menace Fan Club wallet and badges
• Four A6 art cards featuring covers of various Beano Books
• An A4 print of Dennis the Menace, suitable for framing, from the 1962 Beano Book
• A Double-sided A1 poster featuring over 250 Beano characters, all identified on the reverse (but not their creators)
• The McManus Gallery in Dundee has been turned over to Beano characters until 21st October 2018. (Read our news story here). We also understand that the National Library of Scotland intends to mark the anniversary
• Beano: A Manual for Mischief 10.00 – 17.00 continues until Sunday 12th August 2018 at the V&A, NAL Library Landing, London – Free event | More information here online – read Richard Sheaf’s report here
• Horace Panter’s The Beano Goes Pop Art (#BeanoGoesPopArt) has just finished its run in York | It’s next at the Red House Originals Gallery in Harrogate from 16th November – 16th December 2018 | Horace Panter is online at www.horacepanterart.com | Find Horace Panter on Facebook | Follow Horace on Twitter @horacepanterart or Instagram @horacepanterart
• Happy Birthday, Beano! runs until 28th August 2018 Eduardo Alessandro Studios 30 Gray Street, Broughty Ferry, DD5 2BJ More details here
• This autumn, Comic Art has been invited to exhibit at the Loogabarooga Festival in Loughborough, which is celebrating The Beano in its 80th anniversary year. This is described as “an annual event for families who love books and illustrated literature”. Comic Art has a special licence from DC Thomson to use its fabulous archive of artwork in screenprints. These are hand-printed by John Patrick Reynolds and his team in west London on cotton, mould-made paper, which is milled in Somerset.
• As part of the ongoing celebrations throughout 2018 to mark 80 years of Beano, Art & Hue has created a new collection of stylish pop art prints inspired by the iconic British comic. Read our news story
Summer Reading Challenge 2018
The Beano is the focus of this year’s The Summer Reading Challenge in British libraries near you. The comic has teamed up with the The Reading Agency and librarians everywhere to make this year’s Challenge Beano themed. Introducing Beanotown Library and some special Beanotown visitors: The Jacqueline Wilson Fan Club, #JKRowling, Simon Cowell, World Of David Walliams and Danny Wallace.
Past Beano landmark celebrations here on downthetubes…
• Happy Brthday, Beano – 75 Years Young– our tribute from 2013
• Happy Birthday to the Beano at 70 – Comic Creators celebrated 70 years of the Beano back in 2008
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DC Thomson provided downthetubes with a free copy of the Beano 80 Years of Fun Box Set collection. All imagery © DC Thomson/Beano Studios
Box Set Beano edition information via John Price over on the Facebook group Peter Gray’s Comics
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.