Wednesday, 23 January 2013

UNPUBLISHED JOURNAL ENTRIES...

 
 
Following my recent posting (here) of an unpublished article I originally
wrote for THE ILLUSTRATED COMIC JOURNAL back around 2004, I
thought readers might be interested in seeing the follow-up I wrote for
the planned subsequent issue which, along with its predecessor, never
actually materialised. (For a variety of unexplained reasons.) Here it
is as originally written, and as it would have appeared in the ICJ.
 
******

Last issue, I spoke at length about the relaunched, revamped
DANDY and I'm going to continue with that topic (or at least the
topic of D.C. THOMSON) in this column.
 
At the time of writing, we haven't yet received your opinions (if any) on
the matter, so we'll have to consider them at a later date. In the meantime,
however, let's talk about what I think needs to be done to inject new life
into an ailing publication.
 
This might be a totally radical, highly controversial notion, but why
not try and make the stories funny, just for a start? When was the last time
you actually laughed - not merely smiled - at a DANDY or BEANO comic
strip. (Assuming that you still read either of these titles, o venerated ICJ
subscriber.)
 
Chances are it was at something by TOM PATERSONNICK
BRENNAN or HUNT EMERSON. (And the editors of both comics
deserve a chocolate BLUE PETER badge for having the smarts to acquire
the services of these three gentlemen.) Am I right? Unfortunately, however,
more could be done - such as hiring LEO BAXENDALE as a scriptwriter
for other artists to illustrate. After all, it wouldn't hurt to ask. Has such a
possibility been explored? If not, why not?

I'd absolutely love to see Tom Paterson draw DENNIS THE
MENACE in his pseudo-Baxendale style - it would be magnificent.
In fact, let's consider Dennis for a moment.
 
I'm lucky enough to own every Dennis The Menace book ever
published. The early Dennis books were riotously, side-splittingly, gut-
wrenchingly, rib-achingly funny. The stories were funny to read and the
art was funny to look at. (Think of Leo Baxendale's WILLY THE KID
books and you'll have an idea of what I mean.)
 
So how do the present-day Dennis books compare to those early
masterpieces? To be honest, if not blunt, by and large, each new book
in the last few years has been but a pale shadow of the 'classic' ones from
the '50s, '60s and '70s. As the reprints became more and more recent, the
transformation of Dennis from a surly, contemptuous, unruly, roughly-
rendered, magnificent menace into a smiling, rounded, ever-so-slightly
mischievous, cutesy, cuddly little boy becomes increasingly obvious.
 
Absolutely nothing wrong with the art by any means, but to me this simply isn't Dennis
 
DCT have lost their way with the character, in my opinion. I can relate to
Dennis rebelling against authority in everyday situations, but flying around
in a red and black striped 'Menace-mobile' is a bit too much of a stretch of
the imagination. The character just isn't 'real' anymore - the strip has
wandered too far from its original premise.
 
Decisions on the strip's direction are now made on the basis of how
much publicity can be generated in the press rather than on doing any-
thing original. For example, the introduction of BEA - in what way is she
significantly different to IVY THE TERRIBLE?
 
I fact, come to that, in what way is Ivy different to MINNIE THE
MINX, Minnie to BERYL THE PERIL, Beryl to Dennis? (Apart from
being a girl, I mean.) Considering that Beryl is the direct female equivalent
of Dennis brings the similarities into sharper focus. The philosophy of D.C.
Thomson seems to be 'imitate' - not 'originate'.
 
Take Dennis's pets. First there was GNASHER - then came GNIPPER,
the result of which serves only to negate Gnasher's uniqueness. RASHER?
A pig too far, I'm afraid. Would Dennis really be allowed all these pets?
 
Dennis the Menace is a British icon - just as SUPERMAN is an
American one. When the MAN OF STEEL first appeared he was unique,
exciting, amazing! Then came SUPERGIRL, SUPERDOG, SUPERCAT,
SUPERHORSE, SUPERMONKEY and (retroactively) SUPERBOY and
SUPERBABY; not to mention the BIZARROS (a whole planet of them)
and thousands of potential superbeings in the bottle city of KANDOR.
Each new super-addition didn't open up unexplored vistas of creative
opportunity; rather it narrowed them until they withered on the
vine. Result? The strips became repetitive and boring.
 
Nowadays, writers seem to take the easy option. Have you noticed how
often they resort to a 'reader's voice' word balloon ("Where are you going
with that elephant, Dennis?") to ask a question that could just as easily be
asked by a friend, neighbour, bystander or passerby?
 
This constant reminder to the reader that he's reading a comic ruins the
sense of internal 'reality' required to make a strip believable. (Even 'funny'
strips require an element of reality to accentuate the humour of the piece.)
The inclusion of a 'reader's voice' word balloon can sometimes be used to
good result in certain instances, but it loses it's ability to surprise, amuse
and entertain when it's resorted to as a matter of course rather than for
a specific and surreal effect.
 
Anyway, that's my feelings on the matter. Think I'm talking a load
of pants? Write and let us know at once - we want your letters.
 
Next issue, Kid Robson examines the differences between the ambition
to work in the world of comics publishing - and the reality. Be here.
 
******
 
So, that was my impressions almost ten years ago. The Dandy is dead
and The Beano seems to have improved recently, but writers shouldn't get
complacent. I can't remember if I ever got around to writing the finished
version of the subject mentioned in the last paragraph, but I touched on
it here. If you're interested, click on the link and give it a read. 

13 comments:

Mr Straightman said...

The introduction of Gnipper (with that fupping triangular tooth) was a low point in the Beano's history. As for Ivy the Terrible, I think she was based on a Beano staff member's daughter - still no excuse for introducing a character who, as you say, isn't markedly different from Minnie the Minx. Rasher's 'Pig Tale' Comic Library was pretty good fun, I'll say that for the hairy porker.

Kid said...

Rasher could've worked as a character totally unconnected to Dennis. It just seemed that a pig and two dogs (and didn't he occasionally have other pets?) were just far too many. Apparently Dennis doesn't have a pig called Rasher anymore, but his gran has one called (I think) Harvey.

DeadSpiderEye said...

The thing about Dennis is that he represents that portion of the British Genius that has suffered the greatest decline over the decades. The irreverence, the hostility to authority, the bloody minded determination to ridicule that which so ripely deserves ridicule. We just don't express that spirit to the same way as we did. It happened fast too don't ask me why. Once, years ago, I tried to explain Denise to an American friend,"...and they sell these comics to children?" was his appalled response.

It should be said though that when I saw the drawing above it gave enormous satisfaction and audible laugh to see that the artist has sneaked in a drawing of Minnie the Minx, about to kick the trampoline away, YESSSS!! It's still there you see, it's just that it's hiding.

Kid said...

It's hiding pretty well, DSE, because I don't see Minnie about to kick the trampoline away - I see her either just arriving on the scene, or about to step onto the trampoline herself. Funny thing, perceptions, eh? In days of old, of course, it would be Walter the Softy on the trampoline and Dennis would be sprinkling a box of tacks on it.

Oh, for days of old, is all I can say.

Anonymous said...

The Dandy isn't dead though is it?
http://www.dandy.com/

Kid said...

The Dandy as we knew it - a comic paper - is dead. That thing on the internet is a completely different bag of spiders.

Anonymous said...

It's still the Dandy, with Desperate Dan, Brassneck, Winker Watson, Keyole Kate,....

Kid said...

The Dandy was a specific type of product. The thing that is now called The Dandy is a different kind of product. Same name, two different things.

Harry Rickard said...

Thought I'd just mention the artist you mean is Nick Brennan and the artist of that Dennis picture of him on trampoline for the Beano 2011 Annual is actually the work of Jimmy Hansen.

Harry Rickard said...

I must admit that I do agree with your comment on the "Reader's Voice". It just doesn't work with this alternate comic reality which is meant to exist. I like it when it's used for humorous effect (for example in Bananaman where the reader is sarcastic to Bananaman in the Eric to Bananaman transformations) but when the reader's voice is used just as a cop-out to ask the character a question - that's when things are being taken too far.

Kid said...

I transcribed the article from my 2004 handwritten notes, which probably said Nick Brennan, but my eyes aren't what they were back then, hence me misreading it as Mike. I really should wear glasses when reading and typing.

As for the cover, that's weird, because I seem to remember asking Nigel Parkinson why Dennis only had three fingers (and a thumb) when I first saw this cover, so I must be mixing it up with another one. I'll amend the text. Have to say, it doesn't look like Jimmy Hansen's style to me 'though.

Harry Rickard said...

Ah, that makes sense. It's common to sometimes mix up names besides - I know I do at times!

As for the cover, it certainly is odd but that is Jimmy Hansen's artwork on the front there (although it's nothing on his old work). Jimmy never seemed to work well with the awful 2009 revamp of Dennis.

Kid said...

The more I look at it, Dennis's face looks as if it was drawn by Hansen, but none of the other characters seem anything like the way he used to draw Buster and his pals. His style has certainly loosened up. Some artists don't suit some characters. The mighty Robert Nixon just didn't seem to suit The Broons and Oor Wullie.