A ‘beano’ is a feast, but it looks like the party’s finally over. The Dandy, the UK’s oldest children’s comic and home to cartoon strip characters including Desperate Dan, the cow-pie eating cowboy, and its sister paper the Beano are facing closure after 75 years.
In its heyday between the 1950s and 1980s, the Dandy sold 2 million copies a week as young fans lapped up stories of Desperate Dan. Everyone was a fan of the Bash Street Kids, Beryl the Peril and Lord Snooty, and children’s comics were delivered to households with adult papers.
But their circulation declined as successive generations of children grew out of the habit of reading weekly comics, with their free time given over instead to watching TV, and more recently playing video games and surfing the internet. The strange and secretive DC Thompson, who published them, was a bit like Willy Wonka’s factory. It retained copyright and ran something of a closed shop. Now, as circulation falls, they must decide if they’re to target a new generation.
The biggest-selling children’s magazine last year was Moshi Monsters, a spin-off of the social network where pre-teens can adopt virtual pets such as Poppet and Katsuma. The magazine, which launched in February 2011, sold an average of 170,000 copies a month in the final half of last year, compared with 7,489 sales of the venerable Dandy.
With an average price of £2.99, kids’ comics now survive on short runs and constant innovation. Titles without a cover mount – a giveaway toy, gadget or collectors’ item – can’t compete. The first issue of the Dandy, in December 1937, gave away a free whistle. Ironically, the latest issue of Toy Story magazine (only No 37) offers a toy mobile phone.
The Beano, the Dandy and their like can’t survive on nostalgia alone, by why, for Heaven’s sake, have DC Thompson never capitalised on their appeal by issuing volumes dedicated to individual artists? Could this be connected to the way in which they’ve treated their artists over the years?
The illustration is from the terrific David Parkins, who brought updates Beano illustration with computer-generated cool while keeping the classical form.