In Review: Beano Boomics – “The Battle for Bash Street School” and “The Abominable Snowmenace” – and “The Ultimate, Dennis and Gnasher Comic Collection”

The Books: What do you get if you mix books with comics? BOOMICS! It’s the ultimate BEANO adventure!

This all new illustrated format has more words than a comic, more funny pictures than a book. . . BOOMICS are pages of pure entertainment!!

From the boffins at BEANO, dive right into notoriously naughty Bash Street School where mysterious new teachers have arrived to lay down the law. Can Dennis, Gnasher and their gang of total legends outwit the most cunning teachers in the universe?

Celebrating 70 years of Dennis the Menace with this collection of favourite comic strips, the Ultimate Dennis & Gnasher Comic Collection comes packed with over 50 comics full of mischief and mayhem from the weekly comics, offering rib-tickling tales for every reader from creators such as Nigel Auchterlounie and Nigel Parkinson.

Included in the collection is the story “The Epic Yarn of Awesomeness”, in which Dennis finally reveals the secret of his striped jumper…

The Review: At a time when sales of almost every magazine seem to be trending in the wrong direction, the modern-day BEANO is bucking the trend. With increases in circulation, year on year, they must be doing something right that other magazines and comics are not.

One of the key reasons for the success of the comic is that a character created seventy years ago remains as popular and fresh now as he ever has, and despite changes in appearance and the expectations of the readership, Dennis the Menace is still easily recognisable as the same mischievous school-boy he always was.

The strip has been modernized, with the Dennis I read about as a child now being the current Dennis’ father and the liberal use of the slipper, and other forms of corporal punishment, have been replaced. Walter is no longer Dennis’ enemy simply because he is a ‘softy’ but because he is a real villain in training who represents the unacceptable face of politics and business.

These changes are often decried by older comics fans and the Daily Mail, but the continued success of the character and the comic he headlines tells the tale as far as the target audience of kids are concerned.

It’s a testament to the longevity of Dennis that as part of the anniversary celebrations, Beano Studios have found other publishers, keen to produce Dennis material in new formats and using styles of storytelling they have not used before. Farshore, an imprint of Harper Collins, have recently released two books for younger readers that they have referred to as ‘Beano Boomics’. The format is a mixture of a storybook, with illustrations more tightly integrated with the text than is usual.

Two books have been published to date: The Battle for Bash Street School and The Abominable Snowmenace, with at least two more on the way. All are credited to, I.P. Daley, which is an indication of the type of humour you are going to find inside. Daley, aka Craig Graham and Mike Sterling, are joined on this project by regular Dennis artist, Nigel Parkinson.

The format, a normal sized paperback book with copious illustrations and a low word-count seems designed to attract BEANO fans and not put off the more reluctant readers of prose.

The artwork is key: it isn’t designed just to illustrate the text, it is an integral part of the storytelling, that will help readers of comics move to the new format. I’m immediately reminded of Geoffrey Willans wonderful, ‘Molesworth’ books that used the drawings of Ronald Searle in a similar way.

In both books, Dennis is joined by other characters from the weekly comic: Minnie, Calamity James, and Roger the Dodger all feature, along with new characters. The jokes are a mixture of the clever and the gross, aimed very firmly at kids, but still provide quite a few laughs for parents or grandparents sneaking a look at the children’s copies or reading these books to their children.

I’m not the target audience for these books, I miss the age bracket by more than forty years, and to be honest, I think the integration between words and pictures could be a little tighter. But for everyone concerned this is a new technique and I’d except a lot to be learnt from this outing.
I can see that these will be very popular with the average BEANO reader, and might just be something that persuades some kids that books are not just as boring as they thought.

The other new publication from Fairshare is something that should have bene done years ago. The Ultimate, Dennis and Gnasher Comic Collection, a 160-page collection of some of the best Dennis stories of recent years. Unlike the annual collections of old stories that accompany the Beano and Dandy annuals each year, this is not aimed at the nostalgia market, but firmly at the current readers of the comic.

Instead of looking back over the history of the strip, this collection is all by the current creative team of Nigel Auchterlounie and Nigel Parkinson.

Taken from the weekly comic and annuals and published in a handsome, hardback, the book kicks off with a brand-new story that tells the amazing origin story of Dennis’ black and red striped jumper.

It’s very different reading these stories one after the other, rather than waiting for a weekly fix. It becomes very clear that the BEANO team know their audience, and are writing as much for themselves as for that audience.

The strips here refer to popular television shows, especially those that their target readership is probably not really supposed to watch (“The Walking Dad”, episodes, for example), to the horror of having to tidy your room and the shame of Parent’s evening, when teachers get their revenge by revealing to parents the true story behind grades and the state of their kids’ homework. There are ghosts, robots, monsters, and spaceships, too, but mostly there is some good-humored mayhem and a constant attempt to try to do something a little different.

Witness the introduction of the “Dennis-Skulls”, the little men in Dennis’ head who control his every action, when they aren’t distracted. That story is perfectly constructed and packs gag after gag into two perfectly constructed pages. It’s quite simply a masterclass for the creators of humour comics.

The there are crossovers with Minnie and Roger, and the Bash Street Kids and the introduction of fantasy and science fiction elements that shows off artist Nigel Parkinson’s, imagination to the full.

I did wonder if a collection of this type might become, repetitive and boring. I needn’t have worried. There are themes that reoccur, jokes and ideas that come back. But always with that little change in script or artwork that makes a real difference, that makes it interesting. And what great comedy does not have catch phrases or recurrent ideas, no, not boring, just really, funny.

In his introduction Dennis refers to the book as “the first volume in my collected comic strip adventures”, so, if successful, it promises much for the future.

If there is a criticism to be made of the business decisions of BEANO management in the past, it is that they have not make best use of their greatest resource, the excellent material their writers and artists produce on a weekly basis.

Collections of strips from weekly comics are common elsewhere in the world. European comic heroes such as Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke and Spirou are all best known for their albums, but all were collections of strips that had appeared in weekly comics.
The Belgian comic, L’Journal De Spirou, which began publication in 1938, has, since its earliest issues, published regular hardbacked collections of rebound issues of the weekly and most strips within its pages will eventually be published in single-story albums.

The weekly, the rebound issues and the albums, all appeal to different audiences, and increase the readership and sales dramatically.

The same could be true for BEANO. This collection cries out to be in every library in the country and belongs on the shelves of older comic fans who would see that the Dennis stories, in particular, are examples of the very best use of the comics medium.

Reading a large batch of Menace stories in the same book is n absolute delight. You can see the thought and care that goes into each episode, you can watch themes develop and appreciate how much attention goes into trying something new as often as possible.

If you are a buyer of the annual nostalgia-based hardbacks, or just someone who enjoys comics in general, then this is among the finest material currently on offer and presented in a way that is more likely to appeal to fans and students of the art than the weekly comic.

BEANO is still fresh and very funny and after seventy years, the Menace family are in safe hands with Nigel Auchterlounie and Nigel Parkinson (not forgetting his colourist, Nika).

I hope this is the first of a series of collections from the archives, and that we will finally see DC Thomson and Beano Studios making the most of an excellent resource.

Peter Duncan

All these books are available now from all good bookshops

Dennis & Gnasher: Battle for Bash Street School is out now | ISBN 978-0755503230 | Order it now from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Dennis & Gnasher: The Abominable Snowmenace is out now | ISBN 978-0755503247 | Order it now from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Ultimate Dennis & Gnasher Comic Collection is due for release on 30th September 2021 | ISBN 978-0755503254 | Order it from AmazonUK here (Affiliate ink)

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