Launched in 1937 The Dandy is the oldest still-running comic in the UK, and the third oldest in the world. The weekly kids’ humour comic and its characters have become a part of UK culture, with such characters as Desperate Dan, Bananaman, and Korky the Cat known to generations of fans.
Late last month The Dandy was relaunched, returning to a full comics magazine after several years offering more magazine style content as The Dandy Xtreme. Editor Craig Graham said that they felt that the market had become oversaturated with general interest magazines aimed at boys and that by returning to a full comics format they could offer something unique.
So far the redesign seems to have worked for them as Graham says that they’ve “been overwhelmed by the good response.”
The plans for the redesign went underway earlier this year, with the twin goals of being both “fresh and exciting” and “100% funny”. To help with this they enlisted Jamie Smart, best known to North American comic fans as the creator of Bear and Ubu Bubu. Smart’s been working for The Dandy for the past six years, ever since he sent them a series of (unpublished) strips about a monkey, a naked man, and the ensuing calamity (“[S]omehow,” he claims, “it was family-friendly”).
Smart ended up creating a style bible for The Dandy redesign that was “filled with loads of banners, lettering, panels, and a huge array of incidental random pictures”. Smart also redrew The Dandy masthead logo, recommended a number of artists for inclusion, and is drawing two strips: Desperate Dan and Pre-School Prime Minister.
A pie eating, wild west, strong man, Desperate Dan has been in The Dandy since its launch. Several years ago Smart took over writing and drawing the strip, radically redesigning the character from the way he’d been drawn for decades. “I was totally expecting the traditionalists to go nuts on it, since my Desperate Dan is a little different to the previous versions,” says Smart. “[But] the response was overwhelmingly positive, I didn’t get one bad comment.”
“My style is a lot looser, my humour a bit more surreal,” says Smart describing how he creates the Desperate Dan strips. “[Dan] has this almighty strength, but it always gets him into trouble, and he uses it to get out of trouble, which causes MORE trouble. So I really loved him being like a big baby, leaving a trail of destruction while only trying to help.”
New strip Pre-School Prime Minister is as straight forward as the name suggests, and Smart says that it’s fun to create. “[T]he idea of having an irrational, hysterical child passing laws and dictating the rule of the country to his own whims is like a sandbox for a comic artist to play around in.” Smart is also working on another strip for The Dandy, codenamed AOA, which he says will come out early next year. “[I]t’s one of the more ridiculous things I’ve done”.
The Dandy has recruited a number of other cartoonists, both established and new, to fill the rest of the pages with over a dozen different strips. “We looked long and hard for the best cartoonists we could find,” says Graham. “Some of them we found amongst our existing contributors, some are new.”
The strips are a mixture of new and old, a continuation of The Dandy’s consant evolution over its 70 year history. Graham says that new characters have always been introduced as older ones are phased out. “If it’s not funny, it doesn’t make the cut. The press love to run stories about national treasures being dropped or changed, but I don’t care what the papers think – I care about what works for my readers.”
Several of the new strips in The Dandy are parodies of celebrities or existing properties, though Graham points out that “the very first Dandy features celebrities of the day in their own strips”.
This version of The Dandy has also recruited UK television star Harry Hill to appear in his own comic. Hill, a friend of Dandy cartoonist Nigel Parkinson who draws the strip, was “amazingly enthusiastic” about working on the comic. Both Hill and some of the writers from his show TV Burp have contributed to writing the comic, making it “a real team effort” according to Graham.
While there have been some complaints in the media about the redesign, these don’t bother Graham or Smart. “I think it’s fair to say those people are not regular or even potential readers,” says Graham. “The best comics are always those you read when you were a child, regardless of when that was,” he continued. “The kids who enjoy The Dandy [today] will grow up and complain about the way The Dandy looks in twenty years’ time”.
Smart agrees, saying in response to a recent critical article in the Daily Star that “a lot of people hate change and if they don’t like the new Dan then I draw it for the people who do.”
For the future of The Dandy Graham says that they’re investigating mobile and online options for delivering digital versions, but that nothing is yet set in stone. Smart is looking forward to the future, “[it] is very exciting to see where The Dandy is going to go from here”.
You can check out www.dandy.com for more information and art from the new Dandy.