Bye Bye Beano

Reading & Writing

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.

11 comments on “Bye Bye Beano”

  1. glasgow1975 says:

    This saddens me, the last of the famous 3J’s Dundee was famous for 🙁 will they melt down Desperate Dan’s statue in the city centre for scrap now he’s obsolete?

  2. glasgow1975 says:

    (Do comics count as Journalism?)

  3. BangBang!! says:

    What a shame, I loved the Bash Street Kids. I was always very jealous of General Jumbo’s Army. How cool would that have been?!

  4. RH says:

    It’s The Dandy (£1.99 unpromoted) that’s being reviewed; The Beano (£1.50 unpromoted) still has what is nowadays a reasonably healthy circulation…

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for that Richard – The piece was culled from different sources, all of whom suggested that time was finally being called on old-style comics. What I don’t understand is why there should be a difference in circulation between the two titles, which are virtually interchangeable.

  6. DH says:

    Personally speaking the Dandy was always a bit wet. My sister read that while I read the Beano. With the exception of Desperate Dan, I don’t think I could name another Dandy character very easily.

    Also, Dennis the Menace had a TV cartoon series in the late ’90’s and ‘Dennis and Gnasher’ has just had a second series commissioned for broadcast in 2013 – those still of the comic buying age and their parents will be more aware of The Beano through these shows, perhaps explaining the difference in circulation.

  7. J. Folgard says:

    You’re completely right when you wish for artist-themed volumes, or maybe some ‘best of’. Republishing selected stories in book form has worked well for Commando those last few years, and it’s raised their profile. Plus, I’ve been earing some very good things about the current era of Desperate Dan, I’d buy that!

  8. RH says:

    Well, it could be an element of PR as well, as they announced a ‘review’ rather than a definite closure… I buy both, randomly, for my family as I’d like them to have the kind of enjoyment I used to get – but I prefer the more old school style Beano, largely because it sticks more to the drawing style I remember. The Dandy style is more modern, quite angular. Maybe I’m not alone in that daft prejudice/spending behaviour! My readers think The Dandy is funnier/cheekier tho!

    Once any mag circulation drops to the level the Dandy was on (it’s not declared now), the economics are unsustainable unless you can charge a premium price, usually with some degree of perceieved value in covermounts – which is always going to be a tough sell in the last few years/to this market, especially when parents have a rosy view of the price they used to pay in coppers…

  9. GLASGOW1975 says:

    I admit when I first heard this I did think it was a similar situation to the Salad Cream debacle a few years ago, where they announced it was being discontinued & there was much outcry & low Salad Cream was saved & much publicity ensued!
    DCThompson have had some success with retro ‘annuals’ of Jackie etc cashing in at Xmas with the nostalgia pound, so, as you say, why they can’t do a similar thing with The Dandy. . .?

  10. Gerry says:

    The difference is that the Beano has Dennis The Menace who winds up teechurs, parkies and the polis in all sorts of improbable but satisfactory ways and the Dandy has a comedy John Wayne bloke who shaves with a blow torch, shoots down Messerschmitt 109s with a pea shooter and eats a type of cow pie which shows very obvious signs that it may once have been an animal.
    If you were 9 years old, who would you relate to?

  11. J. Folgard says:

    It was officially announced today, the Beano is going digital only. I’m still hoping for at least a book reprinting the best of Desperate Dan, wether it’s artist-themed or mapping a particular era of the strip.

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