And so we continue our journey through the 80-year history of The Beano, the UK's longest-running comic.
If you want to, you can read my personal history of The Beano here, or visit my reviews of single issues from the 1930s, the 1940s or the 1950s. Go on. I'll wait for you here.
You're back! Great!
Okay, today we are looking at issue #954 from 1960 and this is the point where it really starts to look like the comic we all grew up with. Largely thanks to some newer talent. But we'll get to that.
As you can see, Biffo the Bear has stuck around as cover star, still drawn by the great Dudley D Watkins. I love the expression on Biffo's face here (and his pal Buster's face too).
The inside of the comic has, however, made great leaps forward in style. In fact, this issue was chosen for the boxed set because the comic had had a redesigned "new look".
The editor of The Beano from issue #1 was George Moonie but in 1959 Harold Cramond took over, bringing a fresh approach to the children's comic market.
For example, there's that new logo you can see on the cover above. That combination of black, yellow and red that (with variations) remained that standard for the almost sixty-tear period since. The page count is now up to a healthy 16 pages.
And there's the characters...
Dennis The Menace is, of course, still with us. His popularity meant he now gets a full page, instead of the half he had when last we saw him. He is also the first thing the readers see once they're past the cover.
And Davy Law's art really pops off the page here. I love it. His style has developed incredibly well.
The story here concerns Dennis' Dad offering to take on his judo teacher. I love how casually cruel Dennis is to the other boys in town...
Of course the whole thing is a misunderstanding as Dad thought he was challenged to a game of Ludo and after a humiliating defeat he takes it out on the boy.
Our first spanking! Not a slipper though...
On to page three and we get another of those all-time great comics creators. It's our first glimpse (on this tour) of the work of Leo Baxendale.
This is The Three Bears, itself a spin off from Baxendale's Little Plum (more on him later).
Ma, Pa and their son Teddy are three bears who live in a cave near to a town in an Old West setting. They are perpetually hungry and looking for food to steal.
In this story, a coyote is reading smoke signals and discovers a shipment of steaks will soon be passing through. When word reaches the bears they are determined to beat all the other animals to it.
I love Baxendale's cartoony style which looks like it was heavily influenced by US animators like Tex Avery and Bob Clampett.
Oh, and it all turns out to be another hilarious misunderstanding.
Adventure time now with The Ting-A-Ling Taylors. This one has a high concept that sounds like a Viz parody.
So it's a family who live on an African wildlife reserve.
And they own a big red fire engine.
All right, so we've got an ethnic stereotype and the "great white saviour" trope but this was well written and nicely presented so I'll allow it.
This was a two-page story and featured the fire engine being used to subdue the elephant for long enough that they treat the injured foot that was driving it mad.
This strip did not last long, I imagine because the writer ran out of ways a fire engine could be used to solve animal problems.
Time to check in with the only character to have appeared in every review so far: Lord Snooty. And his pals.
The "pals" seem to be the same ones as the last time we saw them, apart from Polly who is no longer in the gang (or possibly has been edited out).
Excitingly, however, we do get our first glimpse of Professor Screwtop! All right maybe not exciting for you but I perked up when I saw him.
Anyway, Screwtop was Bunkerton's abent-minded wacky inventor character and hit all the same cliches of the type from Gyro Gearloose to Professor Branestawm. In later years he would turn up in other strips. I have an 80s Beano Comic Library where he invents a time machine a sends various characters back through history. I'll do that one here someday.
But more interestingly, a version of the character was brought back into the comic recently and appears in the current Dennis animated series along with his daughter Rubi Von Screwtop.
Back to the story in hand and the gang find the Professor's invention of a mobile paddling pool useless so head back to the castle...
Note that Watkins was allowed to sign this strip.
Also: this page featured an ad for the latest Black Bob book ("The Dandy Wonder Dog")
It's time for some more of that sweet sweet Baxendale action next as we get our first look at another iconic (and I do not use that word lightly) British comic strip:
Yes! It's The Bash Street Kids! Another bunch of characters we all know.
Drink in that panel. It's fascinating to see how much Baxendale crammed into every drawing at this point in his career. And I love this comedy violence!
Originally titled "When the Bell Rings" in 1954 it was a strip that showcased the chaos of kids leaving school, usually featuring one large panel packed with detail.
In 1956 the formula was simplified and Baxendale picked out his favourite characters and put them all in a single school class and renamed it The Bash Street Kids.
In this strip the kids are recognisably the same as the ones you'd see in today's Beano. Namely Danny, Smiffy, Wilfrid, Sidney, Fatty, Plug, Spotty and 'Erbert. Only Toots is missing.
The centre pages are given over to The Great Flood of London, another adventure strip set in the far-off future of 1970. Not much has changed but we live underwater.
This was why the Thames flood barrier was built.
Yes a "mysterious burning planet" caused sea levels to rise and London was evacuated.
Harry Foster, however decided that he was keeping his family there in spite of what an obviously terrible idea it was because Brexit means Brexit and it would be an insult to democracy to give in now.
So yes, they live in the Elizabeth Tower in the Palace of Westminster (it's not called Big Ben) and scavenge from submerged shops.
Remarkably, it is drawn by David Sutherland, the man who would take over Dennis from Davy Law and is still drawing The Bash Street kids today after taking over from Baxendale in 1962! That's 56 years!
Simple gag strip Wonder Boy is next. About a boy who wonders.
Here he is wondering what it would be like to be a long jumper.
This page also has an ad for the new Beano Book, promoted by more Baxendale art with a picture of Little Plum. I said we'll get to him later.
Next up: Little Plum.
It's that Baxendale man again.
Again, I love all the little details, like the fish biting things.
Little Plum was a juvenile Native American in an Old West setting. He'd get up to the same sort of mischief as his UK-based contemporaries and usually get punished by the leader of his tribe, "Chiefy".
It was long-running and still occasionally appears in today's Beano, now drawn by another British comics legend, Hunt Emerson.
Some elements could be considered problematic today. For example the way characters talk is um heap big stereotype. But Little Plum is fondly remembered for a reason.
There's a final two-page adventure strip with extra-terrestrial hero The Danger Man.
Nope, no relation to John Drake.
This Danger Man is from Mars and lives on an island in the south Atlantic.
There he waits for calls for help regarding disasters, whereupon he can launch his specially-built rocket crafts, loaded with equipment to deal with any emergency.
This is Thunderbirds, five years early!
He has two child sidekicks, Jet and Jane (I don't know if they are also Martian or not) and while DM pilots the larger craft the Zoomar, they fly the smaller Zoomets.
This week's story sees them saving the cat from a burning skyscraper in San Francisco.
It would be churlish of me to point out that San Francisco does not have any skyscrapers, due to it being built on a fault line, so I won't.
As we head towards the end we get one more Leo Baxendale treat, and another comics icon: Minnie the Minx.
Again, Minnie is a character that survives to this day in the Beano and is as popular as ever. Here we get to see her creator invent some "monsters" that make Min's scary mask prank backfire.
I love these panels, in spite/because of how contrived they have to be.
The inside back cover is Colonel Crackpot's Circus, by Malcolm Judge (who would go on to create Billy Whizz and Ball Boy). A fairly simple concept about the odball characters one would expect to find in a circus.
One of us, one of us...
And so to the back page where we find the other bona fide comics genius working on The Beano at that time.
The genius is Ken Reid and the strip is Jonah.
The concept of Jonah is an odd one. He's a man who sincerely believes that his calling in life is be a sailor. However, a combination of clumsiness and coincidence means that every ship he sets foot on sinks.
Soon his reputation precedes him and no ship will have him so he has to use stealthier methods to get on board. He is, of course, inevitably discovered, usually with a loud "Aaargh! It's 'im!" and then all heck breaks loose.
Unusually, this was a serialised humour strip, with events carrying over week on week. This week starts a new story as Jonah attempts to get cast as "Huckleberry Hack, the runaway who wants to become a chimney sweep on a river boat" in this big-budget movie from Colossal Films.
Seriously Jonah, who's your agent? I'd never get an audition like that...
Anyway, when he's asked to take his hat off he is immediately recognised and break out the heck.
I love Ken Reid's art so much and we'll have a look at his work again some time. Especially his monster designs.
A cargo of springs sends Jonah back onto the ship as it moves off and we have to wait to see what happens next. Please, DC Thomson, reprint Ken Reid's Jonah.
It's worth noting here that Reid also created Roger the Dodger the previous year for The Beano, but at this point that strip was on hiatus. So no Roger today.
But come back next time and we'll see how The Beano looked in the 1970s.