And so we continue our 80th birthday celebrations for the world's longest-running weekly comic: The Beano.
Presenting a full (well, nearly) review of Issue #1 of The Beano, from 1938!
No, I haven't gone mad and bought that copy that was on sale on Ebay last week for £25,00.
There is another way, right now to get a hold of issue 1. For a mere £25 (that's a thousand times less!) you can buy this handsome boxed set from DC Thomson which includes the 80th Anniversary bookazine (available separately) as well as art cards, a poster, an exciting free gift (the Gnasher Snapper! I had one of them but ripped it...), a replica Dennis the Menace Fan Club wallet (with badges) and eight reproduction comics representing the span of time of the life of The Beano.
However this first issue is not a completely faithful reproduction. Take a look at the reprint front cover, printed above. Now look at the original, as taken from that Ebay seller's listing.
Spot the difference? I'm not talking about the colour or the alignment. I'm talking about him. The mascot in the top left corner. The grinning black child in tatty clothes munching on a watermelon.
That, dear reader, is Little Peanut. He was the mascot of The Beano in its early years. And is now expurgated from reprints.
Thanks also to that Ebay listing, I also know the same mascot presided over a joke page, also missing from this reproduction.
I publish it here for historical context:
Now, I'm of two minds as to how I feel about this.
I completely understand why DC Thomson would choose remove a character that is, at best, racially insensitive but I'm also interested in how art forms fit into history.
For example, when Warner Bros released their series of Looney Tunes "Golden Collection" DVDs in the 2000s, they came unedited but with a caveat (sometimes delivered by Whoopi Goldberg). When referring to the racist/stereotyping caricatures one would find in the cartoons, it stated that "these attitudes were wrong then and are wrong now". However they argued that to edit these out would not only be interfering with the artists' work but also be like pretending it had never happened, which is worse.
And then again, I'm sure some people would buy these reprints specifically to give them to children they know. And there are things we'd be, at best, uncomfortable showing to a child of today.
And then again, again, there are many other things I've seen in these reprints I'd be uncomfortable to show a child. But we'll get to that.
Let's start with the cover star Big Eggo.
He's an ostrich who is constantly losing his egg (yes, "his", he is presented as male in spite of the egg thing and there never being another ostrich). In his debut he recovers an alligator egg thinking it is his.
Hey! Leggo my Eggo!
It's worth noting here that pure comic strips were rarely seen on the front cover of other publications at that time. More likely a full-page illustration or a picture strip - that is to say illustrated panels with prose beneath (like in the contemporaneous Butterfly). It is also in full colour, which would have made it (and The Dandy) stand out.
Let's take a look inside. And the first thing to note about page two is that, like most other pages in the issue, it has a rhyming couplet at the top. Usually relating to the strip below it, or sometimes a joke. I'll quote some as we come to them. This page has: "The Crowd Tied Poor Ping in a Knot - To Prove He Wasn't Talking Rot."
This relates to the strip on the first third of this page: Here Comes Ping the Elastic Man. Ping stands on a street corner bragging of being "the only elastic man in the whole world". A gang of strangers pull at him in different directions to prove he wasn't talking rot.
It's a pity the creator isn't still around. I'd love to ask him how he wrote Elastic Man.
The rest of the page is wasted on a picture strip called Brave Captain Kipper. Our Blimpish hero has gone to sea in a row boat to kill a whale. And through wacky happenstance:
Hooray! He murdered that endangered species!
So, this is one thing that really struck me about this single issue. A lot of animals are killed in this comic. And that is definitely something one would not see in today's stories aimed at children.
Page three gives us our first legit comics superstar, from the mind of Dudley D Watkins. Marmaduke, the Earl of Bunkerton, known to all as Lord Snooty.
It's interesting here to see his original "pals". Only two of these characters survived into the era when I was reading it, indeed surviving until the strip was cancelled in 1990. There was, apparently, a reshuffle in 1950. The two were Rosie and Scrapper. Mischievous twins Snitch and Snatch would join a few issues later.
Our story begins on the Earl's birthday. It's clear he doesn't want a stuffy old dinner party with a bunch of posh kids, so instead he sneaks out.
(Also, note the dead tiger on the floor.)
Yes, he might be a wealthy individual, pretending to enjoy the rich lifestyle by day, but he sneaks out and changes his costume for a life of adventure!
That reminds me of someone. Maybe someone also created the following year...
A quick introduction to his pals leads to a goat and cart ride and a collision.
A sneaky slip back into the castle and Snooty can confront the posh boys as they arrive...
Bit mean, that.
Next up, the one character in the issue that is not original. Morgyn the Mighty (also by Watkins).
Yes, Morgyn, a sort-of Tarzan-like character who had became stranded on the mysterious Black Island, filled with dangerous animals.
It was originally a prose story published in Rover back in 1928 but this was his first appearance as a picture strip. It didn't last long.
To protect his precious goats, Morgyn has to stab a giant eagle...
And a shark.
More adventure next week.
Moving on, medieval adventure with Tom Thumb "The Boy Who's Only Six Inches High!"
The first prose adventure in the book, a poor couple with an inexplicably small child (at least it was an easy birth) are having their land overrun by the Baron's men on their hunting trip. Tom rides the family cat (Peterkins), armed with a darning needle to stop them but ends up captured. The Baron wants him to be his jester but wily Tom tricks them and escapes.
The second page of this two-page strip has a "joke" at the top of it: "Mary's lamb, nicknamed " Button," rushes motor - Button's mutton."
And that's not our last dead sheep...
Humour strip Whoopee Hank The Slap-Dash Sheriff next.
Whoops! That stranger was robbing the bank and tricked Hank into keep the people inside while he made a getaway. Luckily a handy nearby civil war cannon (yes, really) can be used to shoot nails into the path of the robber's suspiciously contemporary car.
Worth noting here that this is an example of a hybrid strip story/comic strip. There are speech balloons and captions. It took a while for this "comic strip" thing to properly catch on.
Another example is on the next page: Hooky's Magic Bowler Hat.
A nice young man called Hooky Higgs offers a passing Indian carpet seller some of his picnic, and in return...
A genie is quite a gift.
He is, like Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt (created two years later), a very literal genie.
Next panel: Hooky is pink.
They next accidentally stray in the path of a charging bull. Hooky asks for protection and:
I love that illustration. And I'm happy the bull survived.
Another prose tale now with one-page story The Wangles of Granny Green. "Tell Your Mum, Tell Your Pa - Jimmy Green's His Own Grandma !"
I love this concept. An eleven year old boy whose mother died and father works away a lot is fed up with interfering neighbours restricting his freedom. So he cooks up a wizard wheeze to disguise himself as his own grandmother to keep up appearances.
This could be a great movie pitch. It's Home Alone meets Mrs Doubtfire!
Next page has three short strips.
Wee Peem (he's a proper scream), a mild prankster, seen here with an exploding cigar.
One Dead-Eye Dick (He's a fun-man and a gun-man), seen here shooting a hat that had blown away.
I don't think that's how wind works.
And finally Hairy Dan (How Dan won the race with his hairy face), seen here using his beard as a sail.
Three more strips on the following page.
Contrary Mary (You can't play a joke on Mary the Moke) seen here contemplating disguising herself as a goat.
(Incidentally, Mary was one of the characters that joined Lord Snooty's pals in 1950.)
Smiler the Sweeper (A clever wheeze for catching bees), seen here narrating his actions.
And finally Helpful Henry (Just too bad for Henry's Dad), seen here just before he steals street paving slabs.
Another one-page prose story, The Wishing Tree.
Johnny Gray is visiting his grandmother who warns him of the secret wishing tree (which I believe looks like the actor Michael Gough). Johnny goes down and wishes his father (a policeman) could capture the burglar plaguing the town. Said burglar appears and wishes for a horse, which appears and takes him directly to the police station, thus fulfilling both wishes.
Next page: Big Fat Joe (1 ton of fun), another character that would join Lord Snooty in 1950. A bully gets what-for with the old water-displacement prank.
Another two-page prose story, The Shipwrecked Kidds, comes next.
Cyril and Ethel Kidd are two spoilt rich kids, putting down their help, until a freak windstorm strands them, Big Bill Thomson (a sailor hired to send the family on a trip) and Mickey (the cook's assistant) on another mysterious island while the rest of the family and staff are safely on dry land.
It's a fun romp with a nice change in how the characters relate to each other. The children really are awful to the adults right up until the point where they realise they might die.
Page two of this has another joke: "Little pheasant, flying by, sudden bang - Pheasant pie." So there's another death.
Then comes Rip Van Wink, the original Philip J Fry. He awakes from his cave seven hundred years after he put his head down.
He trepidatiously wanders out into the real world searching for food (that length of nap will make you hungry) and immediately shoots an arrow at a passing hiker (his enormous backpack made him look like some kind of beast).
Showing no hard feelings, the hiker gives him some food.
However, he hadn't taken into account that Rip would have no clue what a banana was, let alone tinned food. After eating the bananas whole ("Ugh!") he pops the beef on the fire to cook. It, of course, explodes.
One more one-page prose story with luckless hound My Dog Sandy.
Out driving sheep with his cruel owner, Watkins ("Watkins had a small-sized sheep farm but he was also a dealer."), a fire engine tears past them, sending the sheep into a panic. Sandy does his best to keep them from harm but two of them are "hit and killed instantly" as the engine plows through them.
Watkins takes it out on Sandy with a thrashing ("You stupid brute!"), causing him to run away. He endures several more Dickensian miseries before being taken in by kindly young shepherd named John Murray. And then their true adventures begin. I guess.
Time for one last two-page prose story: The Ape's Secret.
Circus boy Jimmy (who performs an act with spring heels) is due to inherit his uncle's business (the circus itself) but just after Uncle Jed dies a performing chimp (Algy) snatches the will and hides it. So cruel uncle Jules gets it instead. Can Jimmy and kindly clown Tumbler save the circus and themselves and figure out exactly what Algy did?
I liked this one, it had a real Lemony Snicket air to it.
Another picture story next with The Wild Boy of the Woods.
We have covered him before, specifically because he owned a GIANT ROBOT HITLER!
Quick version, he's a low-rent Tarzan called Derek.
Above you can see him as he's about to enter his tree house with fish he'd caught on privately-owned land. Not a treehouse, it's a house in a tree. He's opening the front door.
He lives with an old hermit he knows simply as Grandad.
There's a room in there to cut his hair.
The hermit announces he's leaving home after living a lie. See, Derek is no relation, he was simply found in the woods. So the hermit headed off into the city to find out where he came from, leaving Derek behind to fend for himself.
None of that makes any sense but it sets up the story of a boy living in the woods with nothing but his own wits, which is a good premise.
However, whilst out poaching again, he stumbles into a trap for him, laid by gamekeepers and hauled off meet justice.
What happens next? I'll never know.
Two more humour strips are on the penultimate page. The first is Uncle Windbag (He tells tall tales).
Another Blimpish figure, his curious nephew asks if he'd ever hunted tigers. He regales him with the time caught a tiger by the tail and literally ripped its skin off.
I mean, at least he didn't kill it but let's face it, a skinless tiger won't live long.
Anyway, young Billy decides to prank his uncle by draping a real dead tiger's pelt over himself.
Below that is tedious strip Monkey Tricks in which animals play cricket.
There is no joke to speak of.
And now, we've reached the back page and the secret origin of Tin-Can Tommy The Clockwork Boy.
Cartoonish art hides a dark background.
Yep, let's kick off with a dead child.
A displacement activity for the mourning father is to build a robot.
That's literally all that happens in issue one, let's look forward to
more android antics in the future!
And that's the end of The Beano, issue one from 1938. Join me next time for an issue from 1946!
(No point complaining, I am doing this.)
Finally tally: Number of dead animals: 12
Dead humans: 3
Dead bees after being sucked into vacuum cleaner: Unknown
Animals spontaneously generated by magic: 1 horse