Monday, 7 January 2013

THE 'FIRST' LAST DANDY...



Looking through some old papers recently, I discovered an article I'd
written for THE ILLUSTRATED COMIC JOURNAL back in 2004/'05,
when editor DAVID MIRFIN was intending to restore the fanzine to some
kind of regular publishing schedule. Alas, for reasons unknown to me, it never
happened, but I had already written two or three articles, one being about
the then-recent relaunch of THE DANDY as a 'yoof-style'  magazine,
as opposed to a purely comic strip-focussed periodical.

I sent the article to CRIKEY!, who published it as a letter, in
the process making changes which robbed certain paragraphs of
any sense. (Crikey! was a an enjoyable magazine, which unfortunately
suffered from 'spellchecker syndrome', often resulting in names and titles
being 'corrected' to close approximations of how they were actually spelt.
'GEOFF CAMPION' to 'Geoff Champion' and 'JUDGE DREDD
MEGAZINE' to 'Judge Dredd Magazine', etc. I found such careless-
ness extremely annoying. The mag would have been vastly improved by
the services of a competent proofreader. SPACESHIP AWAY suffered
from the same complaint, although I've no idea if it still does, not
having purchased an issue since #22.)

I digress, however. I thought regular visitors to this blog might
enjoy reading my thoughts on The Dandy's first mistaken new direction,
which ultimately led to its demise in December of last year. So, without any
further ado ('cos I'm fresh out), here's my observations as written seven or
eight years ago. We pick up just after I had listed the companies I'd free-
lanced for, and pointed out that "the only main British company I
haven't been involved with is D.C. THOMSON & CO., LTD."

******

I won't bore you with a list of all the individual strips I've worked
on over the years, but my full-time career came to an end about four
or five years ago, due mainly to the fact that there is no longer a thriving
comics industry to speak of in this country which is capable of supporting
the ever-growing legions of would-be comics freelancers chasing an
ever-decreasing amount of available work.

When I freelanced for IPC/FLEETWAY, they had titles like
2000 A.D., THE MEGAZINE, DICE MAN, CRISIS, EAGLE,
LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, WILDCAT, REVOLVER, BATTLE
ACTION- FORCE, TIGERROY OF THE ROVERS, WHIZZER &
CHIPS, BUSTERWOW, OINKNIPPER, etc., not to mention comics
libraries, summer specials and annuals. Of course, not all these titles were
published simultaneously - some overlapped and some came in between -
but the point is that there was always something on the go.

So what's left of that lot today? 2000 A.D. is the only weekly
comic of its kind left on the shelves (now owned by a games company
called REBELLION - the comic, that is - not the shelves) and the
Megazine is a half-reprint publication.


As far as comic companies go, there's no longer a 'Big Two' - in fact,
there's not even a 'Big One' - as even the once-mighty D.C. THOMSON
comics empire is in decline. (Actually, that's a gross understatement - it's
very nearly dead.) THE BEANO and THE DANDY are the only two
surviving weeklies from their once vast stable of titles which at one time
included TOPPER, BEEZER, SPARKY, WARLORD, HOTSPUR,
HORNETWIZARD, VICTOR, CRUNCH, SPIKE, BUDDY,
NUTTY, PLUGBUZZ, MANDY, JUDY, BUNTY, etc., etc.

The Dandy's circulation has declined so alarmingly in recent
years that it's been relaunched as a 21st century 'yoof-style' maga-
zine, bearing little resemblance to the traditional 'comic-paper' that
you and I read as children. (And, in my case, I blush to admit,
as an adult also.)

Which brings me to the main point of this review.

In relaunching The Dandy, D.C. Thomson has, I believe, overlooked
an important factor in the longevity of their two favourite titles - they've
lasted so long because, essentially, they haven't changed too much. (Or,
at least, any changes have been so gradual as to be imperceptible.)

They remained immediately recognizable as the comics which
many parents read as kids, and, out of a sense of nostalgia, would
then purchase for their children until said offspring acquired the
habit of buying them for themselves. Then, in the fullness of time,
the cycle would begin anew.

It will be interesting to see if this will still happen to the same degree
now that the comic has been forcibly mutated into a radically different
product that up-and-coming mums and dads will scarcely recognize. It
now has to stand on its own merits, without the safety net of nostalgic
parents fondly 'passing the baton' to their kids. This act of 'generational
perpetuation' (or 'regeneration', if you can stand the pun) can no longer
be taken for granted. Dan must really be feeling desperate as he looks
out from behind his new face and sees what's happening around him.


Another factor in the success of DCT publications was that they were
relatively inexpensive. You could, for example, once upon a time (back in
the '60s) buy a Beano and a Milky Way for what it would cost you for a
TV CENTURY 21. The choice of a comic and a bar of chocolate was
sometimes a major factor in determining a purchase as far as quantity
was concerned, certainly in a parent's mind, if not a child's.

Value for money? Let's make a little comparison here, just for fun.

The last issue of the old-style Dandy comic cost 70p and had 32 pages.
Of those, 25 had comic strips, but five of them did not fill the full page,
so it works out at 23 and one third pages of strips, one puzzle page and
seven pages of adverts, two of which are 'in-house'. (The two thirds page
is a "Huge News Inside!" ad on the cover, along with the logo.) Older
readers of comics will perhaps remember that this usually heralded the
'trump of doom' for their favourite title.

So, does it in this instance?

Well, the new Dandy magazine costs £1.20 (99p introductory price)
and has 44 pages. This consists of 26 pages of strips, nine and a half
pages of ads (five in-house), a two-page poster, a joke page, one and a
half pages of letters, etc., two pages of introductions to the (fictitious)
Dandy Staff (OFFICE HOURS), and the cover.

A contents page? In a comic? (A comic posing as a magazine, I grant
you.) The term 'space-filler' springs to mind, as it does in response to the
Office Hours and poster pages. Give the readers more strips to read, for
goodness' sake, and get rid of the unnecessary stuff by cutting down to
40 pages and lowering the price.

Don't know about you, but I buy comics to read comic strips, not
contents pages and 'filler' material. Do you realize, Dandy reader, that
you're now paying 50p more per week (almost double) for only two and
two-thirds more pages of actual comic strip content? C'mon, DCT, get
rid of the padding and give us some substance for our shekels.

"Is it the end for The Dandy?" reads a blurb on the cover of
the final old-style issue. Only time will tell, but it sure looks like
the beginning of the end.

******

And sure enough, the writing was on the wall - on the very cover
of what was, in actuality, the real 'last' Dandy, which, over the course
of the next six years, then had to suffer the humiliation of undergoing
three desperate, drastic changes which destroyed the identity that
had stood it in good stead for most of its published life.

8 comments:

Mr Straightman said...

Looking back at the 1981 Dandy annual really brought it home to me how sloppy the final two years of the Dandy were in terms of art, storytelling, writing... everything.

Kid said...

Looking through the Dandy at the top of this post, I was surprised to see just how many strips were veering away from the traditional style. It sems that the more 'radical' and 'with it' the comic tried to be, the more its circulation declined.

You'd have thought the editors would've noticed the connection, eh?

Anonymous said...

Sales were bombing. That's why it had the first re-vamp.

Kid said...

I think you'll find I mentioned that in the 8th paragraph. However, these then-current sales would have been more than enough to keep the comic afloat today. None of the revamps seemed to halt the decline, and, in the long run, may have hastened it to its doom. They'd have been better spending the money on publicity.

Anonymous said...

They'd kept it as oldstyle as possible for as long as they could. It wasn't working anymore. The comic was given several of re-vamps over the years, putting Dan on the cover, absorbing Hoot, Nutty, changing its look... nothing was halting the inevitable.

If it wasn't for the re-vamps giving it a sales boost it may have ended years before it did. Still 75 years is nothing to be sniffed at and it beat all the competition.

Kid said...

The revamps boosted sales only in that they drew attention to the comic. Once people saw what it had been turned into, they drifted away again. If they had kept it recognizable as The Dandy and given it a publicity boost from time to time, it would have had the same effect - and the temporary sales increase which sprang from people's curiosity may have been longer lasting.

However, as you say, 75 years ia nothing to be sniffed at, but some bad decisions were made in the last few years.

Mr Straightman said...

"Some bad decisions were made in the last few years" - Nicely understated.

Kid said...

I must confess - even I was in awe of my restraint.