Today is Battle of Britain Day, and the British blog Bear Alley takes the opportunity to investigate a bizarre bit of popular knowledge: That the editors of the kiddie comics Beano and Dandy were on the Nazis’ death list.
Beano and Dandy traffic in broad, slapstick humor, usually involving pies in the face, broken windows, and the eternal cycle of bullying and revenge. Most stories ended with someone getting whacked with a slipper, apparently the traditional means of restoring authority in postwar Britain. But according to local lore, in the late 1930s (Dandy was founded in 1937, Beano in 1938), many of the jokes came at the expense of Hitler and Mussolini. Aware of comics’ ability to lead youth astray, the Nazis put the editors of both comics on their list of people to be dealt with once they had successfully invaded Britain.
There is actually such a list—the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.—and anyone can read it, as London’s Imperial War Museum printed a facsimile in 1989, but apparently nobody bothered to until Bear Alley’s Steve Holland took the initiative. His finding: Although a number of newspaper editors appear on the list, along with playwright Noel Coward and novelist H.G. Wells, the Beano and Dandy editors, George Moonie and Albert Barnes, are nowhere to be found. The sole cartoonist on the list is David Low, the political cartoonist for the Evening Standard, who, not surprisingly, had been churning out anti-Nazi cartoons by the barrel. He was slated to be handed over to the Gestapo, but history dictated otherwise.
It’s not surprising that the British found this story credible, as both comics are beloved institutions over there, and the British themselves recognized the power of popular culture after the war by hanging Lord Haw-Haw, an American-born broadcaster who made Nazi propaganda broadcasts on German radio, for treason.
(Image from the pop culture blog The Daily Hitler.)
I have good news and bad news about the second volume of Garen Ewing’s The Rainbow Orchid, which was released on Monday.
The bad news is that it is still available only from British sources; like the first volume, it hasn’t been officially published or distributed in the U.S., although I believe you can purchase it as an import.
The good news is that you can read a fairly hefty chunk of both books online at Ewing’s site. Set in the 1920s, The Rainbow Orchid is a graphic novel for Masterpiece Theater fans; it features a distinguished professor, his audacious assistant, a movie star, a crusading reporter, and of course the wicked rival, all in a race to find the mythic rainbow orchid and take top prize in a plant show (although the stakes are much higher, naturally). It’s a familiar plot but done very well and drawn in a lovely ligne claire style reminiscent of (but quite different from) Tintin.
Ewing really uses the web to its fullest potential; in addition to the comic, his site has purchasing information, story details, even a blog with puzzle pages, all organized in a logical and easy to navigate fashion. It’s worth checking out just to see how much information he can include in a single web page without turning it into visual mush. Plus the comic is a lot of fun to read.
Don’t feel bad if the name Dudley D. Watkins doesn’t ring a bell—I grew up reading his comics and I never heard of him either. Watkins was a regular artist for the Scottish publisher DC Thomson, which published the children’s comics Beano, Dandy, Topper, and Beezer, and from 1925 until his death in 1969 he brought a variety of oddball characters to life, including Biffo the Bear, Smarty Grandpa, and my family’s personal favorite, Desperate Dan. The Scottish newspaper The Courier (“Taking you to the heart of Tayside and Fife”) has posted a generous sampling of Watkins’s works, and although I wish they were a bit bigger, they sure do bring back memories.
I was raised in the U.S. but spent stretches of time in both Ireland and Scotland (in fact, I lived in St. Andrews, which is in Fife), so I know from solid experience that British children’s comics of the 1960s and 70s were far more entertaining than their American counterparts. (I wrote about them for The Hooded Utilitarian and the former incarnation of this blog.) To this day whenever someone in my family goes over there they are instructed to bring back copies of Beano and Dandy, which are still delighting kids 85 years after Watkins first put pen to paper.
And that Treasure Island book? I own it. I got it in kindergarten and was utterly terrified by the Black Spot and other pirate antics. That Watkins, he knew what he was doing.
(Via The Forbidden Planet.)
Mike Perridge has posted a scan of half of the 1962 Beano annual to his blog, mpd57. Although it is a kids’ comic, the Beano is anything but saccharine; the stories have a bit of an edge to them, and the art is not far off from vintage underground comics (but relentlessly G-rated). The Beano is still in print, and still features many of the same characters—the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty and his pals, and the original Dennis the Menace—although the Native American Little Plum seems to have gone on to the happy hunting grounds.
Paul Gravett looks at the influence of the British boys’ comic Eagle, home of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, which was favorite childhood reading for John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Bryan Talbot, among others.
Casey Brienza isn’t just a manga reviewer, she’s a grad student studying paratext, the trappings of manga that make it manga. That’s more interesting than it sounds—check out her slideshow and brief writeup of the importance of trim size to American manga, and the way it was not only standardized but was used to define non-Japanese books as manga.
Faith Erin Hicks contemplates the uses of drawing as she compares Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy and throws in some thoughts on Kate Beaton for good measure.
Richard Bruton, who is not in the target audience by any means, picks up Twilight: The Graphic Novel and finds it… not terrible. Sean Kleefeld, meanwhile, finds some interesting parallels to a vintage comic (mainly, both seem to be incoherent).
Tintin dissenter Noah Berlatsky remains unmoved by The Castafiore Emerald, although his son loves it.
Kent Worcester reviews Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980, which is the sort of book that would make me stay up nights.