Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Beano - still crazy after all these years.

Anyone who thinks that comics are old fashioned needs to see my two pouring over their copy of the Beano Annual. They also excitedly cheer when the postman delivers the latest set of comics from Grandma in the UK. Father Christmas provided both the kids with comic annuals – Audrey with ‘Barbie 2015’ and Eli with the celebrated ‘Beano Annual’. Of the two, The Beano has occupied both kids far far more and the comic-strip stories have been read and re-read.

I used to love reading the Beano comic as a kid and it’s been joyful for me to reconnect with some of my old favourites. The stories are timeless and still beautifully rendered.

Reading through it with a 2015-eye there are undoubtedly elements of bullying in the pages – Walter the Softy is still the target of Dennis’s menacing – there’s one story in particular where Walter gets knocked unconscious and then his arms and legs are moved from above like a puppet by Dennis – so macabre it almost reads like a David Lynch film. Walter and Dennis have had a strange, fundamentally bully/victim relationship over the years, with Dennis - the bully - the protagonist. There is also much in its pages to glorify kids getting up to mischief – Mini the Minx, Dennis the Menace*, the Bash Street Kids etc etc, but so what? – I really think the kids can see the distinction between real and comic behaviour and besides who would want prim Walter the Softy as their child anyway? Is it any more or less violent than wielding an ipad to chop up fruit with a samurai sword or getting angry birds to get rid of pigs.

I don’t actually think the two things are mutually exclusive but somehow the joy of sitting with a comic has got lost somewhere along the way.

Eli loves the Numbskulls – a story about tiny men who live in your head. I think that used to be one of my favourites too. There’s a story where they get trapped outside of the head and have to climb back in through the nose and in doing so get covered in snot – sure, not very educational but still good fun if you’re six. As with all comics the stories are typically short, irreverent, funny and easy to read. It’s a long way from being classical literature, but then, since the Beano has been produced for over 75 years I’d argue it almost is.

Eli has taken the Beano Annual in to show his friends at school a few times. I think we’re a long way off a comic revival, but good things like comics should never disappear from the playground.

* Dennis the Menace as in the UK Dennis, not the annoying American one

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