Friday, 14 December 2018

1975. The Dandy was gross and it was bleak.

I got two Dandy annuals, 1975 and 1976. I kept the ’75 and scrapbooked the ’76 which is the main source for this blog. 

(despite looking identical, Smasher is not Dennis)

(a winsome nymph with orange background)

(excellent checking on the suit)

I enjoyed the print styles and the colour contrasts : as you turn page to page and one orange-and-black mix switches to a blue-and-black-and-grey page, then the next is more subtle black-yellow-tan and then a darker, bolder, but always clear-lined, clear-edged style. 

(rival gangs unite to beat an adult gang)

(more excellent check-work)

(some lovely knobbly knees)

The Dandy of that era has a satisfying comic form: neither too idiosyncratic and confusing, nor too bland. So that was the first impact in the charity shop purchasing moment, and then on the trains home the first proper read brought on nostalgia and I loved remembering characters I had lost touch with. I liked some elements of drawing style too – the depiction of fluid running movement in the cat, the crowd-cameraderie of the kids in Robin Hood’s Schooldays (presumably by Ken Reid, whose collected Faceache strips I do intend to buy).

(part of Robin Hood's gang, she reminds me of my old housemate)

(fluid cat strokes)

(& smooth lively movement)

But overall, the Dandy is a rotten place to be. The Beano always had more heart than the Dandy, and it presented a less lonely, bleak and less depressingly violent universe. From the distance of 40 years the Dandy’s repeated violence / threat of violence / satisfaction at a violent ending / acceptance that violence is the only next step is surprising. I don’t miss it. Most of the strips centre around bullies and bullying. Often it’s ‘baddies’ doing the bullying and so you could argue the resolution, where they get beaten up and humiliated, returns us to an ok, safe world. But in general there are no attempts to get better than the bullies. The heroes, villains, passersby, figures of authority and rebels alike are all essentially scumlike : they love inflicting pain on others, they have no empathy or respect or qualms, they do not try to learn any lessons: they are the sort of people you would be terrified of having as neighbours.

(someone always laughs when violence is inflicted: in this example, it is the narrator)
(people good at violence are always congratulated)

(this is the Haw-haw! attitude)

The most satisfying of these bully scenarios are when the figure of authority is the target of the bullying : Sheriff of Nottingham, blame-worthy due to greediness and his own bullying mentality, and most usually teachers such as Greedy Pigg, blame-worthy due to greediness and cowardly sneakiness, or Creep, blame-worthy due to cowardly sneakiness and class status (ie. less privileged than the boys at the school). When a conspiracy of schoolboys robs, humiliates and causes violence to these folks (& destroy their treasured possessions) we all sort of enjoy it. But those schoolboys are totally growing up as nasty bullying bastards: the next generation of psychos, abusive partners, corrupt officials and, in essence, our enemies. They are honing their skills at both the psychological and literal destruction of others.

(the Tory cabinet laugh at their lower-middle-class training specimen)

(a standard move)

(look at that defeated teacher face)

Friendship is formed, sometimes in these packs (which typically have a leader, such as young Robin Hood), but most touchingly between one boy and another ‘boy/non-boy’. The other boy/non-boy is an alien or a robot, and crucially not another boy. The boy who has formed the close alliance, and goes wandering in that substitute-gang, despising the wider community but assisting the forces of law and authority – is one of the most disturbingly psychotic characters, in my opinion. I cannot imagine child readers actually bonding, mentally, with them as a sort of hero, unless they themselves were disturbed : the characters are weird, they are lonely, they are cunning and heartless, and somehow vapid - they have no opinion or aims in life aside from getting one over others. 

(this is a typical story arc: boy and alien pal wander in unpleasant, unsafe society)

(for their intended dodge, wild beings' natural instincts are used against them)

(bit of ongoing violence to gain control)

(and here the enemy gang/outlaws walk into a trap)

(with a satisfying violent resolution)

(then the end scene: the heroes are enslavers, mockers, vindictive overlords)

So I’m happy that this set of characters has disappeared. You can still read them, but in a better version, in the mocking parodies of Viz. Viz models most of its supposed adventure-strips on the Dandy and its DC Thomson stable-mates, so Bully Beef became Biffa Bacon, Brassneck becomes Tin-ribs, etc.

(the seed of many a Viz story)

(contrast that the friendship of the rival gang with this weirdo's world in which self-validation only comes by defeating an 'other')

(bish bash bosh coming up)

It adds depth to Viz if you have read these originals, so do pick up a Dandy annual when you are next in a charity shop, for that reason alone.

(this is the plot)

(this is the middle of the plot)

(this is the satisfying end of the plot - as underlined by mocking laughter of the hero)

Exceptions to story arcs and universes based on the gang-culture of boys / bully-versus-gangs / getting one-over on the local bully? They come in perhaps four minority formulas of comic strip. 

One is the Desperate Dan form (and his canine version, Desperate Dawg) which is less vindictive and brutal (the storylines are based on his extreme strength), but his big-chinned nephew-and-niece also spend most of their mental activity trying to work out how to get one over him or thieve things, in accord with the wider Dandy universe. 

The second type is in forms of an inventor, who makes mistaken or malfunctioning machines (Dan and Clott both also do this sometimes). 

The third type is a stand-alone quest-type or a redemptive plot such as Lucky, in which an American Indian boy is blamed for some shit but then kills a bear so is redeemed. 

My favourite however is Corporal Clott. I like Corporal Clott. Not because of the plot or wit or art style : it’s pretty stupid, dull, and lacking in detail or variation. But because people mostly smile and seem content in their world, unlike in the edgy streets and unsatisfied rage of the rest of the Dandy. 

(maybe I like Clott because like me he is a coward in retreat from this world)

(Elsewhere in the Dandy: more normal male-to-male interaction)

(bully behaviour resolved up the scale by bigger bullies)

Corporal Clott's
simpleton smile doesn’t disallow the shouting faces, bullying and abusive attitudes of Clott’s boss and colleagues, or the introduction of thieves, threats and selfish nastiness to create an easy plot device. But unlike the majority of strips where the dystopian meanness and antisocial lack-of-hope predominates and affects every panel, the dominant feeling here is of a sort of stupid happiness. Imbeciles in the army : safe place for them to be. I suppose it is a Sgt Bilko – inspired strip. I wouldn’t buy it, but unlike the majority of Dandy strips (Chips, Willy Winker) I feel okay with the human culture that generated it. The rest of the Dandy comic universe makes me feel miserable.

(Boris Johnson's education)

(evidence of leadership in the army)

(the reward feasts are an enjoyably repeating ending)

Last to mention, Corky the cat. I can only picture Corky the cat being gruesomely tortured, because of people nowadays self-consciously developing the weird, sad, tortured nature of Corky’s life. Corky’s life WOULD end in suicide. His only victories are temporary – theft of apples or fish from an authority figure, violence given back to a bully and boasted off to the next generation of kits – and the meaning of his life is really very dismal. 

(the standard plot)

(the lesson to the next generation)

(the standard tit for tat)


This is the big problem with the Dandy. Almost all of its heroes are destined for adulthoods based on (a) psychological abuse of their juniors, or (b) of a hollow, alcohol-fuelled self-hating trail of self-destruction. No wonder Viz draws on it for so much of its own universe. And a lot of the time I would rather live alongside the Drunken Bakers than the likes of shithead Willy Winker. They are more self-conscious, and have deeper reserves to draw upon. Whereas Willy Winkers are out to get one over someone, and are best annihilated from the comic form, and from the real world.

(I relate most closely to Ollie the Octopus)

(this is my youth)

(and this depicts my increasingly aging self)