Review by Peter Duncan
It’s that time of year again, the nights are drawing in and the long hot days of summer are coming to an untimely end. All there is to look forward to now is the cold and wet of autumn and the long dark nights of winter… well, that, and the Beano and The Dandy Annuals!
I always tell myself that I’ll leave the annuals to read as a Christmas treat, but I never do. As soon as I see them in the shops it’s like finding a hidden Christmas present. You know you really shouldn’t look at it, and spoil the surprise, but you never do. Writing a review is the feeble excuse I give myself to read them now, rather than admit that it’s as a result of a complete failure of self-control.
On the shelves, the 2022 annuals look very much as they always have, front covers, featuring characters from the comics looking cool or doing something adventurous, while the disastrous consequences of their actions are hidden on the back of the books.
Nigel Parkinson’s Beano cover features Dennis, Minnie, Gnasher and JJ in perfect ‘Superman Family’ pose as their capes catch in the wind, while Steve Bright depicts Desperate Dan carrying out an impressive snowboard jump on the Dandy Annual. The back covers show the effects of the cape-catching storm on the rest of the Beano cast while Dan’s jump has inevitably gone wrong for the Dandy cast watching it.
The care taken with design even extends to the endpapers of the books. On the Beano Annual is one of many nods to the head to older readers, where the faces of the current cast of the comic appear in a series of ‘Warhol’ inspired portraits that is both a stylish image, and one that seems purpose build for merchandising.
The Dandy goes with another version of the traditional cover gag, with a ‘before and after’, that gives a clue to one of the highlights of the book. Both are the work of Nigel Parkinson, who seems to be the go-to man when DCT editors want every character in the comics to appear in a single panel.
In terms of the main contents, the Beano Annual, is exactly what you would expect, a good mixture of strips featuring the usual suspects, but since the stories for the annuals are produced so far in advance, not reflecting some of the recent changes designed to make the title more inclusive.
What makes it special are some of the extra touches and surprises that have been added. The opening strip sets us off on a trilogy of adventures featuring ‘Batmin’, courtesy of Andy Fanton and Laura Howell, in which longtime favourite Minnie the Minx embarks on adventures entitled, “Batmin Begins”, “The Dark Nit” and “The Dark Nit Rises”. A nice parody with the ‘origin’ sequence being a particular delight.
Later, we are introduced to a new member of the Menace family, in the shape of the most unusual looking horse I’ve ever seen, while in another Dennis strip, artist Nigel Parkinson seems to be paying tribute to the classic Calvin and Hobbs strip in one panel.
There are longer stories, one featuring one of the newer Beano characters, “Dangerous Dan” is set in Bash Street School and features most of the cast of the weekly comic, while “The Ultimate Menace”, where Dennis, Minnie and Roger are out menaced and dodged by a strange, monstrous creature is an effective team-up of the Beano big three, with Nigel Parkinson once again working overtime.
Overall, it’s a hugely entertaining annual, one that will please both kids and older fans. The stories are well written, and the artwork is both varied in style and uniformly excellent. DCT and the Beano creators understand the formula for producing comics for kids, the reason why sales of the weekly Beano are going up year on year. They never ‘write down’ to their target readership, they tell good stories that, while limited in the subject matter they cover, are written to be enjoyed by anyone. Kids can tell when they are being patronised and the Beano never does that.
The result is that older fans, like myself, can still thoroughly enjoy the yearly hardcover adventures of Dennis and Min and Roger, of the Bash Street Kids and Billy Whizz and, if we are prepared to accept a few minor changes in tone, of the new characters that fill Beano’s weekly pages.
The Dandy Annual is always a real treat, a change to reacquaint ourselves with characters no longer seen on a weekly basis. But I do sometimes wonder how the strips read to children discovering the characters for the first time. Nevertheless, it’s a tribute to the strength of the original ideas that the book is still popular enough to survive year on year.
For example, Andy Fanton and Laura Howell’s wildly energetic “Beryl the Peril” strips, featuring a suitably thuggish guest appearance by Bully Beef, and Lew Stringer’s compact art on my father’s favourite character from his childhood, “Keyhole Kate”, don’t need any introduction for new readers to quickly get what is going on and engage with the stories.
(I’ve been writing these reviews in various places for a few years now, and I’ve always been struggling with what it is about Lew’s art that makes it so distinctive and attractive. At least part of it is that Lew seems to like to draw full figures and at a time when many artists are being going bold and big, Lew keeps his storytelling compact and tight. There is that feeling that this is exactly what George Perez would have done had he been a Beano or Dandy artist!).
The big crossover this year is “Snow Trials”, a Dandy Winter Olympics tie-in hosted by Winker Watson and Korky the Cat, and while slightly more contrived than the Beano book longer stories, does feature my favourite single joke in either book, when an interloper from another comic wanders into panel and is quickly ejected. Art is, once again, by Nigel Parkinson who gets to draw almost every classic Dandy character.
There are strips from the later years of the Dandy, too, that I do not know very well. “Harry and his Hippo”, “Blinky” and “Dreadlock Holmes” are relatively new to me, but all are funny and fun and well put together.
For many older readers those last few years of the Dandy’s weekly existence were difficult to take. There were complaints that “they ruined the Dandy”. It was too different from what some remembered as their comic, they argued. However, the annual mixes classic Dandy with something of the comic in its final years very well.
Steve Bright’s “Desperate Dan” will not disappoint traditionalists, while Jamie Smart’s superb, and very funny, “Space Raoul” shows just what could have been, had sales not killed off the weekly. In many ways, the experiments with The Dandy pointed the way towards The Phoenix Comic, but perhaps came a little too early to succeed.
This years’ Annuals are uniformly excellent. The changes made to the stories in recent years, the removal of the use of slippers or canes or other forms of corporal punishment, alternatives to racist, size-ist or other discriminatory jokes have not changed the basic tone of the comics. The stories are still about slightly naughty kids running rings round adults, and occasionally getting caught and punished. With the old tropes gone, writers have to be more imaginative and in general have risen to the task.
And, anyway, I challenge any older strip to match the sense of chaos and mayhem in Laura Howell’s art for the opening, “Beryl the Peril”, story. These are not the comics I remember. In many cases they are better written and better drawn, and fart gags are still allowed, and are still funny!
Buy both books for your children, nephews or nieces or your friend’s kids, and if on Christmas day you get to visit and the young un’s playing a new video game, then you can grab these books and have a nostalgic and very enjoyable Christmas.
As an aside, the Beano & Dandy Gift Book 2022, the annual collection of classic material from Beano and The Dandy is also available now. “Arty Farty” mixes “art”-related strips, with the previously mentioned “fart” jokes.
It’s one of the better collections in recent years, seeming to contain a lot of material from old Annuals, including an excellent example of the type of adventure strip that was popular in the DCT, titles, “Captain Whoosh”, and some fantastic use of the extra room that stories in annuals used to give writers and artists. It’s more expensive and aimed at the older reader, but hugely enjoyable.
• Beano Annual 2022 is available from all good bookshops now | ISBN 978-1845358648 | Buy it from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link, using this link helps support downthetubes, thank you) | Buy it direct from DC Thomson Media
• The Dandy Annual 2022 is available from all good bookshops now | ISBN 978-1845358648 | Buy it from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link, using this link helps support downthetubes, thank you) | Buy it direct from DC Thomson Media
• The Beano & Dandy Gift Book 2022 is available from all good bookshops now | ISBN 978-1845358648 | Buy it from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link, using this link helps support downthetubes, thank you) | Buy it direct from DC Thomson Media
All images featured here for review purposes © BEANO and The Dandy © 2021 DC Thomson Media