Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fine and Dandy

The Co-Op down the road was sold out of the newly-relaunched Dandy when I went in on Wednesday night, so I only had a chance to read it today. And since one page of it made me laugh out loud in the middle of W H Smith's, I thought I'd buy it and subject it to a full critical review on my blog too!

A very quick summary of what I'm talking about, for the benefit of foreigners: The Dandy is a children's comic, first published in 1937 and still going strong-ish today. It was very popular among kids at the time, but ever since the 1950s it's for one reason or another played second fiddle to its sister title The Beano, which launched in 1938 as a companion to the Dandy but ended up becoming the most popular and well-known kids' comic in Britain.

The Dandy, meanwhile, chugged on cheerfully in its own way, and by the time I learnt to read in around 1980 had settled into a role as the slightly louder and less subtle of the two comics, which absorbed the best characters from DC Thomson's other comics when sales of those comics slumped low enough that they weren't making money any more. I never really read it - I was a Beano fan through and through.

For the last few years, the Dandy's life has been one of constant reinvention and relaunches as the publishers frantically try to get kids to buy it again. The latest incarnation, a fortnightly half-comic-half-magazine called "Dandy Xtreme" seems to have been unsuccessful somehow (gosh, I wonder why? I mean, "Xtreme"? Fifteen years after it stopped being possible to use that word unironically?), and so the new launch this week has gone (sort of) back to basics!

The Dandy is now weekly again, has 32 pages of cheaper paper (I still can't think why anyone believes kids would pay extra for glossy paper, but that's been the official DC Thomson policy lately), of which only one page is an advert and the rest is all funny pictures. And what's more, it's hugely influenced and dominated by the work of Jamie Smart!

Jamie Smart, who's been mentioned on my blog a fair few times in the past, is the funniest thing to happen to British comics in a long, long time. He joined the Dandy about five years ago with a side-splittingly hilarious strip called "My Own Genie", surreal and silly and so much better than everything else in the comic (which at the time, following the latest 'new direction', consisted almost entirely of fart jokes and bogeys), and was funny enough that he eventually was handed the Dandy's most enduringly popular character Desperate Dan, to reinvent in his own style. And for the last couple of years, the only things worth reading in Dandy Xtreme have been Desperate Dan and usually Cuddles and Dimples.

But now, well, the whole comic is like a Jamie Smart strip. Rather than self-contained stories, there's doodles around the pages, joke adverts, silly puzzles and a sort of unifying theme of insanity running through it. It's excellent stuff. Although there's another unifying theme that isn't really a Jamie Smart hallmark and which knocks the comic down a notch or two in my estimation - pop culture references. This comic makes reference to Harry Hill (in a big way), Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Ant and Dec,, the Queen, Noel Edmonds, Jeremy Clarkson, the Stig, Kylie Minogue, Aled Jones, Alan Sugar, Bruce Forsyth, the Go Compare singer, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Jamie Oliver, three other TV cooks, Kat and Alfie, Barack Obama and Peter Kay. Some might say that's a little bit excessive.

The Beano and Dandy have always done this to a lesser extent, and half the time when I was actually a child rather than a grown-up who reads children's comics, I had no idea what the reference was to. In the new Dandy, they're everywhere! Well, not quite everywhere - Jamie Smart's own stuff is refreshingly free from them, but still. Also, there are still quite a lot of left-over farts and bogeys from the Dandy's previous incarnation. Seriously, people, kids don't actually like that stuff in comics. Grow up.

Let's look through the comic in detail! The cover - the new "Dandy" logo is excellent, a sort of modern version of the classic logo. Jamie Smart's brilliant little doodles are dotted all around the cover, but it's dominated by a big picture of Harry Hill (drawn by Nigel Parkinson), with the words "Exclusive! HARRY HILL! Read his new comic inside!" just to highlight the main appeal of the comic to people who've never even heard of Jamie Smart. Other little captions draw attention to the fact that Cowell, Clarkson and Edmonds can be seen inside, that the comic is now "100% funny!", that it's "New!" and that it's "Only £1.50!" - still more than a comic needs to cost, but an improvement on the recent pricing policy. This week's Beano is £2.25 and packed full of adverts.

Pages 2 and 3 depict the launch party of the all-new Dandy, with a contents page, more assurances that you won't find Harry Hill's new story anywhere else, cameos of most of the other new characters making their debuts here, and lots and lots of Jamie Smart silliness to giggle at.

Pages 4 to 7 are the main feature - Harry Hill's adventures in TV Land, written by the man himself and drawn by the always funny Nigel Parkinson. It's really quite good - Harry Hill is a funny man, although I'm not sure whether the target audience really know who he is or like him all that much, seeing as he's more of an adult comedian who just thinks he appeals to children. It's still funny - jokes about Simon Cowell's trousers were passé ten years ago, but his trouser factory staffed by "boy-band slaves" is a great scene. It might catch on.

Page 8 is "The Mighty Bork", in which a little blue alien comes to Earth and demands ice cream. Artist not credited. It's filler stuff, and this is an introductory story which doesn't give much clue as to what's going to happen in future issues.

Page 9 is the first of several pages of quarter-page, 3-panel strips - a feature of the Dandy in its very earliest days, but not the kind of thing that have been seen lately. "Simples! 101 Ways To Use A Meerkat" is funny, the Phantom Pharter isn't, "Noel Or No Noel" over the course of the issue uses up three of the limited number of ways to contrive a phrase that rhymes with 'Deal or no Deal', so I hope it's not going to reappear in every issue, and "Dr. Doctor!" is an old doctor-doctor joke with weird artwork that doesn't really match the joke that the words are telling.

Page 10 is "Kid Cops" by Lew Stringer (another comic creator I've mentioned once or twice before as being one of my heroes). Bobby and Sergeant Nick are the titular characters, who take revenge on the man from the council who's designed a new fun-park that's safe but no fun. Reminds me of "Kids' Court" in the Whoopee in years gone by, which was funnier, but this is good too. Lew Stringer seems to be working with someone else's character designs for the lead characters, it doesn't look like something he's made up himself, which is a bit strange. I think this is going to be one of the more readable parts of the comic, all in all.

Page 11 treats us to a full-page wanted poster for the Phantom Pharter. Enough said, but there's some non-toilet-humour Smart-style silliness around the edges at least.

Page 12 is "The Bogies", a carry-over from Dandy Xtreme which the new-look comic could frankly do without.

Page 13 sees a new take on Dandy stalwart Bananaman. Artwork by him-whose-name-I-can't-remember is not good, and it's not really funny. Maybe it'll improve, because old Mr X can be funny when he really tries.

Page 14, "Count Snotula" by Duncan Scott is, well, more bogies. It does end with the title character being punched in the nose and bleeding, which is quite surprising.

Page 15 is a fake advert of the new iDad, which is actually quite funny. Something different that the Dandy hasn't done before!

Page 16-17, the middle pages (usually reserved for the most hyped strip in a comic bar the front-cover star) is Jamie Smart's "Pre-Skool Prime Minister", which is wonderful. Premise: When everyone grew tired of grown-up politics, a radical new approach was taken... In this issue, the entire world declares war on Britain because they think it's a bit ridiculous to have a four-year-old PM. So does the Defence Minister, but the PM resolves this by launching him out of a big cannon. It's a must-read, believe me.

Page 18 is a Halloween-themed Jamie Smart puzzle page. His art alone makes it worth reading. A maze (Scary Cynthia owns four snakes, but which one is eating her foot?) winds its way around the page, mixing up the other puzzles. You don't get this kind of thing in other comics.

Page 19 is more of those 3-panel strips. Use a meerkat to clean your chimney (not many kids live in houses with chimneys that need sweeping any more, you know), more Phantom Pharter, "squeal or no squeal", and a fun fact about the chicken that crossed the road. Incidentally, the black banners containing the title of each of these strips have lots of little speech bubbles saying ha-ha, hee-hee etc written in black on a black background, which I suspect might have been intended to be more visible than they are.

Page 20, "Shao Lin Punks", a sort of manga-style silly strip is another piece of bland filler by an unknown artist.

Page 21 gives us "Little Simon", the adventures of a young Simon Cowell, by Nigel Parkinson again. It's okay for what it is.

Page 22 is cut-out Celebrity Halloween Disguises, without as many doodles around the edges as I might have expected.

Page 23, "Robot on the Run" is the page that made me laugh in the newsagent's - the artist is Alexander Matthews, but if it's not written by Jamie Smart then it's a perfect and hilarious imitation of his unique sense of humour. The world's first robot is reactivated in the year 5173 (in Ipswich) and, on learning that crisps don't exist any more ("Do you still have crisps in the year 5173? I can't eat crisps being a robot, but I like to look at them. Especially the ones with ridges." "I'm afraid not. Crisps were banned more than a thousand years ago when a really big one fell on the President of the World and slightly hurt him."), goes on the run. I love it.

Page 24 is Lew Stringer's "Postman Prat", who attempts to deliver a skateboard, a dozen eggs and a priceless vase, with predictable results. Slapstick is always funny, but you have to wonder if this is going to be the theme of every week's story...

Page 25 is a peculiar "What's in Cheryl's Hair today?" picture - Harry Hill's style of comedy that I suspect will be a bit lost on young readers.

Page 26 is the funniest advert for subscriptions to a comic that I've ever seen, by far (and Viz has done some good ones over the years). It's that man Smart again, permeating the whole Dandy with his silliness.

Page 27 is "George vs Dragon" by Andy Fanton of occasional-Viz-artist fame. A sort of Road-Runnerish chase strip, which might become a bit of a classic.

Page 28, "Pepperoni Pig" by what's-his-name is the adventures of a pizza-delivery-pig pursued by the Big Bad Wolf. Rather silly, if unexceptional.

Page 29 is our last page of three-panel comics, notable for featuring no Phantom Pharter, his place being taken by "Korky the Cat". Korky is an interesting character - his popularity peaked in the early-forties heyday of funny-animal comics, but he's hung around the Dandy in one form or another ever since, somehow. This latest version, reduced to a quarter of a page, bad art and the kind of joke that was old when the Dandy was new, is weird.

Page 30 is Desperate Dan, unchanged from the Dandy Xtreme but now fitting in much better with the rest of the comic. He desires a giant sausage. It's silly and funny, as always. I honestly can't get enough Jamie Smart.

Page 31 tells us what's coming next week, with more silly doodles running around the page.

And the back cover is the comic's only advert - for a Ben 10 video game. Even this page is invaded by a meerkat doodle in the bottom corner.

All in all - good stuff! I think this has made me a Dandy buyer (as opposed to a reader-of-the-Dandy-in-newsagents'-so-I-can-complain-that-it's-not-funny-any-more), and I'm sure it'll do the same for jaded youngsters around the country! Just phase out the Bogies, the Pharter and the celebrities, and we've got a winner!


Zoomy said...

No problem, sorry again. I'll remove the previous comments, too, and just leave this one here to confuse people.

Anonymous said...


Lew Stringer said...

That's a nice long review and quite balanced I think. The artist for Bork, Bananaman, Pepperoni Pig and Shao Lin Punks is Wayne Thomson. Personally I really like the variety of his work.

Regarding Kid Cops, yes I designed the look of the characters. I thought I'd go for a slightly different style than usual; sharper features 'cos they're quite spiky characters.

Re: Postman Prat, the upcoming episodes all revolve around him delivering mail but they're all different in their own way. I'm having great fun drawing this, and writing/drawing Kid Cops.

Hope you stick with the comic. We're all very enthusiastic working on it so I hope it's a success with the readers.

gargunza said...

Compared to the detail of the old comics, the artwork looks as though it has been penned by five year olds. Desperate Dan? What a travesty.

Mike H

alexander matthews said...

Thanks for appreciating my strip, Zoomy (Robot on the Run that is). I write it as well as draw it.

Zoomy said...

Gargunza, Jamie Smart's art is an acquired taste - read a few of his comics and I'm sure you'll grow to like it.

Alexander Matthews, thanks for appreciating the appreciation - having read all of the Robot's adventures so far, I'm still loving it!