Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Beano #1768: Half way there

Welcome back to my reviews of significant issues of The Beano from across its eighty-year history, as chosen by DC Thomson themselves.

It all began with this post, giving a personal overview, then went on to look at issues from 193819451951 and 1960. So go and have a look at any or all or none of them.

This issue is dated June 5th 1976 and will be the last issue I look at (for a while at least) that was printed before I was born. Albeit only by a few weeks. I'm old guys. So old. Like body-giving-up-on-me old...

So the first thing to notice is that cover star. Yes, our boy Dennis the Menace has finally taken up his rightful place on the cover. Knocking off boring old Biffo the Bear after 26 years (!) as cover star. Dennis took to the front page in 1974.

Also, one may notice the banner across the top declares the existence of the Dennis fan club! More on that story later...

Another new development is that Dennis' adventure continues on the back page! The whole back page!

Let's take a leap over there right now and see what's on the other side of that wall...
Feels weird going to the back page so soon in the review, but needs must.

One more thing to note before we move on is the change of creative personnel. Many of the artists I mentioned in the 1960 issue review are no longer here. They lost Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale to Odhams/Fleetway back in 1964  and Dudley Watkins and Davy Law to the Reaper's scythe more recently.

Hence, this Dennis is by the great David Sutherland, who took over in 1970 and continued until 1998. It's a striking visual that retains the spirit of Law while being its own thing. And still the Dennis most people think of.

Inside we go on our journey into the now 20-paged Beano.

Page 2 gives us Wee Ben Nevis, a michty Scottish boy who disnae ken his ane strength.

Here he is slamming his teacher's car door.
An unremarkable strip by Vic Neill, who would go on to create the much better The McTickles.

Next up, another long-lived, fondly remembered strip: Pup Parade (starring the Bash Street Pups).
Doggy analoggies to the Bash Street Kids, Bones, Sniffy, 'Enry, Tubby, Wiggy, Manfred, Peeps, Dotty and Pug (and sometimes Spinner the Spider) were created by Gordon Bell in 1967 and stayed in The Beano until 1988 before going on to The Topper/Beezer and Topper until 1992.

This week, Bones and Sniffy are playing golf.
Minnie the Minx now gets two pages, due to her popularity.
Now drawn by Jim Petrie, who took over from Baxendale in 1962 and continued till 2001. Again this is a wonderful continuation, adding Petrie's style to Baxendale's designs making a beautiful new thing.
We get to see a bunch of pranks as Min does warm-up exercises, practicing for doing things like stealing from nemesis Fatty Fudge.
And it all ends with a slipper.
Lord Snooty (and his pals) are still here, but by now we're down to just Scrapper, Fat Joe, Doubting Thomas, Snitch and Snatch. The girls and the animals are gone.
Although, frankly, the personalities of all the characters are interchangeable at this point.

Dudley Watkins ceased drawing the strip in 1968, with Robert Nixon taking over until 1973. Here we have Jimmy Glen, who drew the strip until 1988.

Although fondly-remembered (not least by me), this has little of the charm of Watkins' work and is so far from the original concept it may as well be any group of kids, like The Banana Bunch, say.

In this strip the gang hire a "lightning artist" to paint their portrait and to test his skills they get him to sketch Billy Whizz.
Another well-loved character next with Ball Boy. The football mad tyke only arrived the previous October and was drawn by Malcolm Judge until he passed in 1989 and has been appearing on and off by various artists ever since.
Sorry, not much football action this week. And none of his regular team mates show up either.

On the next page is one of my childhood favourites: "Baby-Face" Finlayson, the cutest bandit in the West.
A thief (usually of food, not unlike The Three Bears) who looked like an ugly baby and got around in a motorised pram.

Surely he was based on Baby Face Finster from the 1954 Bugs Bunny cartoon Baby Buggy Bunny (not one of Chuck Jones' best but still pretty good, you can watch it here if you want).
Image result for baby face finster
Finster is a bank robber who uses his small stature to disguise himself as a baby. The name, presumably a play on real-life 1930s bank robber Baby Face Nelson. 

Anyway, a typical "Baby-Face" Finlayson story would involve a relative who is also named "Something-Face" helping with a robbery. This week sees astronaut cousin "Moon-Face" attempt to steal the Moon's cheese. Obviously it goes wrong and they are arrested in a cheese factory by resident antagonist Marshal "Marsh" Mallow.
"Baby-Face" had first appeared in Little Plum and was created by Ron Spencer (not to be confused with the Magic the Gathering artist which Wikipedia links to) from 1972 to 1991. The art style is delightfully bizarre.

Then we get a rather more down-to-earth strip with Tom, Dick and Sally. A simple strip about a little girl constantly besting her bullying older brothers.
It was created by Dave Jenner but mostly drawn by Keith Reynolds and ran from 1975 to 1986.

A small tangent here but when I watched the sitcom Third Rock From the Sun I noticed the male characters took the names Tom, Dick and Harry and the female took the name Sally. I always wondered if it was because of this strip. Seems unlikely, right?

We have now reached the centre pages which now has The Bash Street Kids spread over them, given room to go wild.
As with Dennis, this is now drawn by the wonderful David Sutherland. Sutherland took over in 1961 and I never tire of reminding people he is still drawing it every week to this day. That's one strip a week for 57 years!
I love the style of this. And now we have Sidney's twin sister Toots as a regular as well as class swot Cuthbert Cringeworthy. Cuthbert was really another Walter.

A pun on the word "spelling" leads to Toots pretending to be a witch and putting the frighteners on Teacher, right across the centre staples...
Of course Teacher figures it out eventually...
Next up, The Three Bears, which, since Baxendale left in 1961, was drawn by Bob Mcgrath until 1985.
Like last time we see them decoding smoke signals. But lets get to comedy violence!

Another stone-cold classic next: Billy Whizz!
Like Ball Boy (and last time's Colonel Crackpot's Circus) this is another creation of Malcolm Judge. The fastest boy alive debuted in 1964 and was kept on after his creator's death in 1989, passed around various artists and been more-or-less consistently appearing ever since. 

I was fascinated with that design as a kid, the way the antennae-like hair stuck up and the lines around his head didn't join. "Are they allowed to do that?" 

Another icon we have not seen before on this journey is Roger the Dodger.
At this point Roger is drawn by the great Frank McDiarmid (well-known for his work for Fleetway such as The Krazy Gang, Cheeky and Pongo Snodgrass).

This version of Roger has less of a cheeky look and more of a malevolent evil. I guess that fits. He is more of a schemer than his contemporary mischief-makers. He also has a pet crow called "Crow".
I really like McDiarmid's style but it feels like he's holding back on the weirdness he will bring to his later creations. He drew the strip from 1976-1986 after various artists had been given a chance following creator Ken Reid.

Ah yes, Ken Reid. Can't help feeling we've been slightly robbed by not getting any Roger by Reid. The strip was on its only hiatus at the point of the last issue we looked at. But if you want, you can have a look at some Reid strips here.

Next up is the first appearance ("Starting now!") of Jacky Daw with Maw and Paw.
A simple strip about a clumsy young bird which, I'm told, is by David Gudgeon and has this nifty gag where Jacky is twanged out of the panel:
I love it when comics do that kind of thing.

Boring old Biffo the Bear is still around, now drawn by Jimmy Glen. It really feels like a relic by now. A thing from the 1930s. Which it definitely is but feels like it hasn't noticed how the rest of the comic has changed.

The art style looks like it's stuck in the old Beano (is Glen just too devoted to replicating Watkins' style?) and this week's strip has Biffo and pal Buster playing with a hoop and stick as well as men having their shoes shined. 
Surely this stopped with The Little Rascals?

A glimpse of the past is followed by a glimpse of the future!
It's the Dennis the Menace Fan Club! The launch of the society I and many others joined and was re-launched this year.

By joining the fan club you were also made a member of Gnasher's Fang Club.
You got a wallet, a membership card, two badges (one of them furry, with googly eyes) and access to the secret code words.

This was also the first Beano letters page. 

Being the first meant that they didn't have any letters yet from readers, so instead they came from within Beanotown.
Grandpa was another Reid creation, now drawn by Jimmy Glen.
The adventures of another mischief-maker but this time with the twist that he's an elderly gentleman getting into scrapes.
Anyone wondering about the problematic nature of cultural appropriation of Native American culture can relax. He's just got stang off of some nettles.

Anyway save that indignation for Little Plum.
Yep, Baxendale's "Redskin Chum" is still with us, now drawn by Ron Spencer (as mentioned earlier) and I love the style of it.

And that's it. We've reached the back cover once more and The Beano has found its Platonic ideal. First went the prose stories, then the picture stories and now we've seen the back of adventure stories altogether. The comic is now entirely made up of humour strips, plus the letters page. Not that future editors won't experiment with non-humour content in the future.

Before I go, I have one word to say to you, dear reader.