The Beano’s “Billy the Cat”, the origin story?

The real world origins of The Beano’s teen superhero, Billy the Cat back in the 1960s may be a bit of a mystery, but at least the fictional character has an origin story, thanks to author David Carman, created with permission from copyright holders, DC Thomson.

First appearing in The Beano in 1967, “Billy the Cat”, drawn by David Sutherland was one of several adventure stories that used to run in the weekly comic, today, as, simply, BEANO, now fully focused on humour strips. The story centred on William Grange, the orphaned son of police officers who died in a car accident, inspired by his parents’ legacy to fight crime in the small town of Burnham. 

“Billy the Cat” in The Beano Annual

The strip, later retitled “Billy the Cat and Katie”, when William’s cousin joined him in his battles, ran in The Beano from No. 1289 (cover dated 1st April 1967) to 1677 (7th September 1974). Billy also appeared in Buddy, and has been parodied more than once, including by VIZ.

The character remains much loved, one of his most recent official appearances beautifully realised by the late, much-missed Nigel Dobbyn, in a stunning adventure published in the 2010 Beano Annual, scripted, drawn and letters by Nigel.

Mike Chinn also write a Billy and Katie story for The Beano, also wonderfully illustrated by Nigel.

Billy the Cat, written by Mike Chinn, art by Nigel Dobbyn, for Tge Beano

Nigel also worked up a proposal for a new take on the character that was in the works for the ill-fated STRIP Magazine I edited in 2013, under licence from DC Thomson. Sadly it din’t happen, although my “King Cobra” story did start to run in STRIP, which DC Thomson have copies of, unfortunately unfinished.

Fans of the character, including ace artist Staz Johnson, have regularly pondered potential revivals.

Billy the Cat, rebooted for fun by Staz Johnson, back in 2016
Billy the Cat, rebooted for fun by Staz Johnson, back in 2016

Little is known, it appears, of the creation of character by The Beano team, back in the 1960s, although the success of Batman on TV must surely have been a factor in his real world origin.

Intrigued by the character, author David Carman, has written two “Billy the Cat” adventures published online for free, with the permission of DC Thomson. “The Origin of Billy the Cat & Katie” is a fully authorised story about the crime fighting duo. The open ended “Whatever happened to Billy the Cat and Katie?”, reveals, partially what happened to the heroes, decades after most of their adventures, when a persistent reporter tries to track them down.

“There’s something about British comic books that just hooks you from the start,” says David. “Crazy schoolkids (‘Bash Street’), amazing athletes (‘Alf Tupper’), great war stories (Commando was a fave), bonkers animals (Korky, Gnasher, Biffo) and great inventions like Brassneck and General Jumbo’s army. But the best for me was Billy the Cat and Katie. So much so that I wrote their backstory, with the kind permission of DC Thomson.”

You can read both stories on David Carman’s website, and other stories too

Billy and Katie the Cat ©️ DC Thomson Media

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