Feature

Sep 2008

Celebrating The Beano

The Beano

More than 3,000 editions of The Beano have appeared since it was first published on July 30, 1938, by DC Thomson. The company was founded in 1905 and David Coupar Thomson became sole proprietor in 1917. The firm quickly flourished and became the third 'j' in Dundee's trio of traditional industries jam, jute and now journalism.

Today the company produces more than 200 million comic books, magazines, and newspapers every year.

But the most famous one is The Beano. And it wasn't just published in Scotland. Many of its best-loved characters were created by legendary Scottish comic artists. Edinburgh-born David Law joined DC Thomson in the 1930s and created Dennis the Menace, of The Beano, and Beryl the Peril, Dennis' female alter-ego for The Topper. When Law became ill in the early 1970s, another Scot, David Sutherland took over the cartooning duties on the Dennis strip. Sutherland was also responsible, along with creator Leo Baxendale, for The Bash Street Kids, a strip portraying Class 2B of Bash Street School, Beanotown. The characters in the gang were inspired by the view from DC Thomson's office windows, overlooking the playgrounds of the High School of Dundee.

"It was quite a revelation to discover it was made in Scotland. Because it was so cool and naughty and fun I thought it must be American."

So said Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit, after he fulfilled a life-long dream by guest editing a special 70th anniversary edition of the comic that inspired him to become an Oscar-winning animator.

Oor Wullie

"Jings! Crivvens! Help ma boab!" would be the possible reaction of another lovable scamp, William (or Wullie in Scots), if he knew he was the subject of an academic study. The mischievous hero of the long-running Scottish cartoon strip, Oor Wullie, has been entertaining Scottish readers of the Sunday Post newspaper since 1936.

A young German academic devoted her doctoral dissertation in sociolinguistics at the University of Heidelberg to the exploits of the spiky-haired Scottish scamp. She even presented her findings in San Diego in July 2008 at the annual Comic-Con convention.

Anne Hoyer first came across Oor Wullie when she was 16 years old and spending a year living with a family in Scotland. One of the little girls she was looking after was a big fan of young Wullie and his unrealistic get-rich-quick schemes and would ask Anne to read the popular cartoon strip to her at bedtime.

Anne decided to study Wullie and his exploits when she moved from Berlin to Heidelberg in 2004 to start her dissertation under the guidance of Professor Beat Glauser at the university's Department of English and American studies.

She was particularly interested in Wullie's use of Scots patter, or language. Scots was the national language of Scotland until right up to the end of the 16th century. But the use of Scots has been on the wane over the last few centuries while Standard English has been gaining ground. Anne's study of Oor Wullie and its sister strip, The Broons, reflects this pattern Scots usage in the cartoons has been diminishing for decades.

The Broons

The 11-strong Broons family moved into a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in Auchenshoogle the same year Oor Wullie rolled into town.

A mother of eight bairns (children), including a toddler actually called The Bairn, the long-suffering matriarch, Maw Broon, has toiled for over 70 (cartoon) years running every aspect of the Glebe Street household and keeping her husband, Paw, in check. With so many mouths to feed, mealtimes at the Broons could be bedlam but Maw's traditional Scottish dishes always went down a treat.

Maw even took on British celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson at their own game and published a rather tongue-in-cheek recipe book in 2007.

It reached number two in the Scottish best-seller list.

Maw's recipes may have kept her family going for this long, but, if you're looking to shed a few pounds or go on a health kick, it's perhaps best not to adopt the Broons' diet!

Lobey Dosser

On the subject of eccentrics, there's a funny little bronze statue on Woodlands Road, in Glasgow's west end, directly facing the Halt Bar. A pint-sized, whiskered cowboy straddles a two-legged horse, while a sinister-looking, long-faced crook sits glowering behind him. The little sheriff is called Lobey Dosser, his trusty steed El Fideldo (or Elfi for short) and the nasty character in his custody is arch villain Rank Bajin.

The statue is an enduring symbol of Scotland's, and particularly, Glasgow's affection for the work of the innovative cartoonist Bud Neil.

Neil's hugely popular serialised cartoon strip, , ran in the Glasgow Evening Times and Sunday Mail newspapers during the 1950s and 60s. It followed the adventures of a sheriff from deepest Partick, or Calton Creek to be specific, a supposed outpost of Arizona where the inhabitants spoke with thick Glaswegian accents. Neil spent his childhood on the Ayrshire coast watching early Hollywood westerns at the Troon Playhouse. These formative experiences fuelled Bud's vivid imagination and inspired the outrageous puns and surreal drawing of all his cartoon strips but particularly Lobey Dosser. The character names and patter drew heavily on the Glasgow vernacular and were often only comprehensible to Glaswegians. But the cartoon strip has endured over the years, and gained a cult following worldwide.

Some of Neil's original drawings were included in a 1979 exhibition, , and Ranald McColl began republishing many of his best-known cartoons, including , in 1992.

Contemporary Scottish Cartoonists

But Scottish comics are not all about impish children, eccentric families and surreal sheriffs who speak in a thick Glaswegian brogue and gallop about on two-legged horses.

Have you ever heard of a maverick, futuristic law enforcement officer called Judge Dredd? Or, a certain Dark Knight, a so-called superhero, referred to by those in the know as ? The former was created by a Scot and some of the latter's greatest adventures in comic books were written by one too.

Enter Alan Grant, John Wagner and Mark Millar

Grant is another legendary alumni of DC Thomson. Like Nick Park, he was inspired by reading The Beano as a child and became an editor at the Dundee firm in 1967. He left three years later to forge his own highly-distinctive path in the comics industry. Grant moved to London to work for publishing giants IPC before returning to Dundee where he met fellow-Scot, John Wagner, another former DC Thomson editor. Wagner was helping put together a new science fiction comic for IPC with the at the time futuristic title, . It was the beginning of the pair's highly successful writing partnership. Grant and Wagner co-wrote , a tough cop in a violent city of the future, inspired by Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies. first appeared in the second issue of the comic in 1977, and has been running ever since.

In the 1980s, Grant and Wagner moved into the American comic market and wrote Batman stories for DC Comics. Grant stayed on and hit the jackpot writing Batman comics at a time when Tim Burton's movie blockbusters were box-office gold. Wagner moved on to become a prolific writer of his own graphic novels, such as Button Man. His 2005 graphic novel, A History of Violence, was adapted into an award-winning film, directed by David Cronenberg.

And how does an Oscar-winning Hollywood actress feature in a story about Scottish comics? Coatbridge-born graphic novelist Mark Millar is the answer to that particular pub quiz question. Angelina Jolie recently starred with Morgan Freeman and another Glasgow boy, James McAvoy, in the big-screen adaptation of his hugely successful series.

Despite the fact that he could walk down the streets of Glasgow and passers-by wouldn't give him a second glance, the award-winning Scot, 37, is the biggest-selling British comic book writer in America this decade. With a host of well-known titles under his belt, including , and and , Millar is continuing to fly the flag for Scottish comics and cartoonists 70 years on from The Beano.

See the Beano in all its technocolor glory

D C Thomson - Beanotown