Review by Frank Plowright
Who doesn’t love a collection of classic Beano and Dandy creations like the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan, Jonah and Minnie the Minx? As ever it’s an instant transportation back to childhood for anyone who grew up in Britain from the 1950s to the 1980s.
In principle this is the same solid selection of desirable material in a reasonably priced hardcover as others in the series, featuring strips from star creators otherwise unavailable except in the original comics. The big four of Leo Baxendale, Davy Law, Ken Reid and Dudley D. Watkins are all well represented, along with other talents such as Malcolm Judge on Billy Whiz, Dirty Dick and Winker Watson from Eric Roberts, and David Sutherland on later Bash Street Kids. Watkins being a star turn since the 1930s means he signs some of his strips, both comedy and adventure, but as is so disappointingly the case in so many of these D.C. Thomson collections, there’s no thought of naming the creators who’ve ensured the popularity of their characters for decades. The artists can be identified, but the writers remain anonymous, although it’s known Baxendale wrote strips for others in addition to his own work.
Pretty well any characters loved at the time are supplied here, including some relative obscurities such as Reid’s Big Head and Thick Head, Dave Jenner’s squabbling brothers Punch and Jimmy, and the wacky end of the comics’ adventure strips. The sample art shows The Crimson Ball from Jack Glass, the weirdest of them, about a giant red ball chasing a young lad, but others feature a wooden submarine, a giant snail and alien red weeds. Sutherland’s Billy the Cat, though, still sparkles.
There’s a statistical anomaly for a collection supposedly covering the 1960s. No strips are labelled as being from 1960 or 1963, there’s just a single 1961 offering, and only three from 1968. Add together the strips from 1962, 1967 and 1969 and they’re around two-thirds of the content.
For all the quality and all the joy, the appreciation is severely hampered by the design. It’s far more experimental than on other Beano and Dandy collections, perhaps intended to reflect the experience of the 1960s. Strips have been cut up and reconfigured to accommodate the design, examples being the dozen panels of a Dennis the Menace strip being arranged around a clock face, or the panels of Bash Street Kids strip about teeth being cut into strips, slanted, and pasted into a design of an open mouth. Colour has been stripped out and replaced, sometimes with only the single character coloured in a strip, while one of Roberts’ Winker Watson pages has been shrunk so small to accommodate the design that it’s extremely difficult to read. Law’s Dennis the Menace sample is an example, additionally having Dennis sporting an uncharacteristic blue and black striped jumper. It’s repeated later, and he’s also seen in yellow and black.
In most cases the design wouldn’t impact on reviewing the content, but for A Spin Around the Sixties it’s so intrusive it impairs the enjoyment, and is reflected in the lower ranking of what’s otherwise solid material.