Tuesday, 8 June 2010

"Ho-ho! Now we're both eggheads!" Dandy 1496, July 25th, 1970

Hello again, pals. You may have noticed that I have been in self-imposed exile for some time now, only to be lured out of retirement by the fact that I have a whopping 21 followers. Intriguingly, the number of followers I have seems to grow at an inversely proportional rate to the amount I write. Or something.

Anyway, what could be a more entertaining way to briefly rouse me from my deathlike stupor than a little one-sided chat about that staple of the British comics scene, The Dandy. Nowadays, I understand, in a bid to boost flagging sales, The Dandy has been misguidedly redesigned to hide the fact that it is a comic, and looks pretty space-age. Yet no matter how futuristic it may now purport to be, I feel sure that it cannot compete with the out-there other-worldliness of this issue from 1970, which is, in fact, stunningly super-weird. Why the kids nowadays wouldn't want to buy this, I will never understand. Well, actually, to be honest, I do understand. But what I don't understand is why the kids would have wanted to buy it then.

Let us begin our journey into yesterday with Korky the Cat.

Page one, and we're already in a strange realm of the unreal. Putting aside for a moment the fact that this tale revolves around a sentient cat and elephant in a bizarre tit-for-tat battle of inter-species rivalry ultimately resulting in their becoming "eggheads", we are also asked to accept that Korky needs to find employment as a "death diver". If we're talking circus acts here, isn't being a giant talking cat enough? My favourite thing about all this, though, is not the splendidly contrived tale itself, but Korky's fish supper, neatly laid out on a cafeteria tray, with a nice cup of tea. How old is Korky supposed to be? He's like a pensioner on holiday, a wrinkled old duffer in a furry suit. I expect he paid for it with Luncheon Vouchers.

Now on to a work of considerable genius: Dudley D. Watkins' superb Desperate Dan. You can see that kids would have loved this, surely? Although they might have been freaked out by how exceptionally anachronistic it must have looked, even then. But feast your eyes on this fantastic artwork. Those splendid solid blacks...so brilliantly funny. I love how Watkins juxtaposes the wild west with a grimy Glasgow of long ago.

Cramming the page with brilliant humour, Watkins effortlessly manipulates the comics form here, treating us to two panoramic cinemascope panels, to create a brilliant visual gag. Absolutely terrific. What care we that it would appear to be 1954 rather than 1970? Perhaps it's a reprint. Publishers D.C. Thompson were frugal that way.

Now on to Brassneck. The inspiration for Viz Comic's Tinribs, the original has a surreal genius all of its own...more fantastic artwork. I don't know who drew it. Here's a great sequence where the evil Swotty takes Brassneck to pieces. The (unknown, underpaid) artist seems to be enjoying himself here; perhaps relishing the chance to dismantle Brassneck for a few panels, at least.

I do not long for much in this world, but I want a Brassneck I can attach a microphone to the 'bonce' of. Notice, again, that it seems to be circa 1958 rather than 1970, though the mic itself looks like a contemporary Sure SM58 (good for vocals and robot brain manipulation).

And then along comes Dirty Dick, and we could almost be back in the days of rationing, were it not for the abundant Bunter-esque jam tarts. Note the distinctive lettering. I always wondered why the Dirty Dick artist was, unlike everybody else, allowed to do his own lettering. And I always shall. But it allows his speech bubbles to pop out of the pictures in a dynamic way.

What I'm digging the most is the portly chap's straw boater and moustache (bottom right), and how he's jammed into the picture to accentuate the gag. Fantastic.

Another comics genius is at work on the centre pages: Davy Law, better known for Dennis the Menace, but here drawing the lesser known Corporal Clott. Love the splurgey watercolour inks.

Good old fashioned slapstick. Now we venture into a strange realm of dog-related soap-opera. As a kid I always hated Black Bob, the champion sheepdog/faithful border collie. I didn't like the way the story was written out in painfully flat prose in the corners of the panels, which always seemed to be in 'long shot'. And it was an interminable serial, which seemed to have no beginning or end, only an infinitely dull middle. It ran for ever and ever, didn't it? And didn't every kid, spotting the grinning mutt, the cloth caps, the shepherds' crooks and the acres of type, groan and skip this page? Oddly enough, though, looking at it now, Black Bob seems like some kind of impossible masterpiece of comic strip strangeness; an ultra-artificial Scottish canine melodrama, a Douglas Sirk film with dogs. And no women, of course. Just animals, wrinkled men, and young boys in shorts.

Take a look at the plot summary. The boys were on holiday from the city and knew so little of country ways that their grandpa thought they were cissies. The wee Sassenach bratties! So, quite rightly, they run away to show their innate manliness. But, meanwhile, their grandfather had been taken to hospital for an operation. Various nonsense ensues. But the main drama this week centres around a lamb that falls off a cliff. Can you imagine any of this in a kids' publication today? Splendid. Check out the following sequence - and the best thing is that Black Bob is so into his lamb-protection mission he's quite prepared to herd the wee laddies off a cliff, possibly to their deaths, to save it. For they are sissies, and deserve it.

Unfortunately, though, the small child does not die, and lambkins is saved. But, in the final panel, new intrigue.

Looks like they'll have to dash about amidst the heather for another week...and another...and another...forever and ever, amen. But I don't blame them. Grandpa looks a bit sinister and I bet he'd have at the little cissies with his stick. If he could see them. Which he can't. For another ten episodes, at least. It's all rubbish, really. Yet still I long to know what happened next.

Now, gather round, kids. Back before the internet, the letters page was a place where the readers of a comic could converge. Here - with the tantalising promise of a Bag of Laughs - a creepy aged schoolboy in rather close fitting shorts invites readers to write in with True Stories, Big Laughs, Funny Stories, though what you would actually end up getting were invariably Contrived Lies, Depressing Puns, Mirthless Incidents. But occasionally something a bit unusual would turn up - for instance this:

Shown around the set of a Norman Wisdom comedy film? Wow, how I wish I had been Timothy Snape of Lancs. But hang on a minute - this isn't just any old Wisdom vehicle - it's the brilliant 'adult' one that's never on TV - where wrinkly not-Pitkin unwisely gets his kit off and slides his spindle-shanks frame incongruously into the sack alongside the yummy Sally Geeson (rumoured to appear topless in the legendary 'export' cut). Blimey! No wonder Timothy Snape's so pleased with himself.

That's enough of that. Take a cold shower and return to the world of teachers in mortar boards, where you belong. Here's Greedy Pigg.

Pigg gives me the creeps. There's just something about him. Is it the striped trousers? The oddly swollen belly? The tongue? The way he surreptitiously prowls around the boarding school after classes stealing things from children? Couldn't Mr. Pigg afford his own cake? Shouldn't he prefer a stiff drink? Too many questions. We shall leave social services to investigate and linger here no longer. Flip the page for more mortar boards - as we visit an equally odd time-warp school to meet Winker Watson. He's a what? Oh, you said Wangler.

Another endless serial. Lots of running about, climbing over walls, that sort of thing, this week and every week. I always quite enjoyed Winker Watson - and do like the fact that Mr Creep wears his mortar board with his pyjamas - but I never seemed to locate the start or the end of any of the stories. The same artist as Dirty Dick, but here he's not allowed to do his own lettering. Why? This is the question that haunts me to this day.

And finally - another one that Viz ripped off - Bully Beef and Chips. The premise was simple enough. Every week Beefy would duff up Chips, but get his comeuppance at the end. Small recompense for Chips living his life in fear. But as we have learned the greatest of all crimes is for a child to be a cissie. Just ask the blind old git in Black Bob. A real-life Bully Beef would hopefully have been in an institution for young offenders. But this is Dandy world. More great artwork! Loud check demob suits all round - and supporting characters who look like George Formby film racetrack spivs - except for Beefy, who sports a Ramones haircut some years early.

July 1970. Not so long ago, really, in the scheme of things, yet so distant, so obscure, that it may as well be all eternity. How lucky we are to have The Dandy to give us an entirely inaccurate idea of how things were back then. And if you think all this is bewildering, you should take a look at The Dandy's early 70s companion paper, The Sparky. Especially the jaw-dropping title character, Sparky himself. No, you shouldn't. Don't even go there.

You will find this comic in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS.


  1. Another fine piece, sir.
    Re the 'export' cut of What's Good For The Goose. I think the evidence for this is solely based around one person's supposed viewing of the film late on ITV about 20 years and seeing Sally's breasts. Probably just his fevered imagination...

  2. Hoorah for your continued blogging, good sir. Hoorah indeed!