Review by Win Wiacek
This splendidly oversized (225 x 300mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy, colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy throughout the years. Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent hardback annuals.
This particular tome is a collation of strips examining “Art” and packed cover-to-cover with brilliant strips. The mirth starts on the inside front cover with a psychedelic and fourth-wall rending confrontation between the Bash Street Kids and the ever-interventionist “Beano/Dandy artist” actually illustrated by David Sutherland, one suspects.
Sadly, as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but this review offers a best guess as to whom we should thank, and we would be happy if anybody could confirm or deny the suppositions.
When not in monochrome or full colour, DC Thomson titles were always extremely inventive in using their two-colour printing plate format, a “half-colour” process British publishers used to keep costs down. The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding. This book shows that pagination skill over and over again in strips exploiting the print process and deftly subordinating it to the narratives. What splendid fellows their printers must have been to go to all that extra effort.
The picture-in-picture gag cover of a Korky the Cat visual pun by James Crichton (sample art) or possibly Robert Nixon – segues into a monochrome Big Eggo strip from Reg Carter before indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins shines in black, white and red with magical lad Peter Piper animating pictures at an exhibition. Then Good King Coke (“He’s Stoney Broke”) seeks fame in a frame thanks to early art and orange tints from Eric Roberts.
So it continues, in specialised colour sections through which so many memorable creators shine. The incredibly prolific Watkins features throughout, and there are strips by Terry Bave, Gordon Bell, Ken Harrison, Bill Holroyd, Davy Law, Nixon, and Ken Reid, right up to contemporary artists such as Lew Stringer and Wayne Thompson.
The same through the years approach applies to the selected strips with all favourites duly present along with more obscure entries such as Julius Sneezer the Sneezing Caesar, Old Ma Murphy the Strong-Arm School-Ma’rm and Captain Whoosh.
A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents whose influence has made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.