On the 30th of July 1938, a children’s comic from a Dundee publisher would make its debut. This weekly comic would become one of the most successful and longest running comics in British history. It introduced readers to all sorts of wacky characters including Big Eggo, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty, The Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, The Three Bears, Little Plum and of course their most famous miscreant, Dennis the Menace, who debuted in 1951. These colourful characters have entertained generations through weekly comics, summer specials, Annuals, television shows, videos and even DVDs. The weekly comic contains a series of short stories from each of the characters (usually up to no good), with their biggest stars, Dennis and Gnasher on the cover. Their hijinks included tormenting their parents (and getting the slipper in older strips), dodging chores, avoiding school and even travelling through time. The comic strips are simple, easy for kids to understand and have evolved over time to stay relevant to kids.
The Beano was not something new to my house. My older brothers had collected them but had gotten rid of them long before I became interested in them (there is a significant age gap between us). Instead, my first interaction with the Beano came in 1995. My mother had brought me up to the local shop to collect something and I loved to go through the magazine racks to see what they had. There was one that stood out. It featured a scruffy haired boy in a red and black jumper who had a pet dog. This was my first experience of Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. I remember walking home, flicking through the comic and being excited to read about the adventures of Dennis, Roger, Minnie and the Bash Street Kids. I can’t remember the exact stories that were in my first Beano but I do recall my niece wanting to read it and tearing the front page, which made me very upset. I do still have this Beano (along with all the others).
From that very first comic, I was hooked. Every week, my mother would buy me the new issue and every week I would race through it as soon as I got it. The Beano was cheap, especially when compared to the other magazine I wanted, Dinosaurs! The great thing about the Beano was that it was sold everywhere. If I went on holidays, all the local shops had it. If I visited my family in England, the local shops were well stocked with copies. When summer came along, I would get the Summer Specials and at Christmas I would receive the Annual. If ever we went to a car boot sale, I would search for a stall selling Beanos. They often had mountains of the weekly comic going back years, along with the odd Annual. There was one second hand book store in Wexford town I visited every week during the summer to see if they had any new Annuals in. I would pick up books from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Some had pages missing or doodles (they were children’s books after all) but I still loved reading them. I even have memories of reading my Annuals and comics in my tent with a torchlight.
The Beano is very British. A lot of the jokes, references and even settings are very British. As a result, I didn’t always get them but I didn’t care (I still don’t). I just loved the characters, I loved the mischief and I loved the artwork. As the Beano had several different artists working on different characters or stories, each character often had their own unique style. For example, Billy Wizz’s appearance was vastly different to Ivy the Terrible. Calamity James would feature a lot more text boxes relating to the background. Even when a character appeared in another’s strip, they would have a different art style than usual. It also meant that when an artist switch characters, it was fairly noticeable. This all added to the charm of the strips as everyone had their own style. There was also a Beano Fanclub but I was never a member. The comics often came with a free gift. They weren’t the most luxurious items but I never cared, it was just something else to enjoy.
My days of collecting the weekly comics are gone (I am old after all). However, I still receive the Annual as a Christmas gift from my parents. Since 1995, I’ve only missed one Annual. I can’t remember which year it is but I will pick it up one day. I do hope to eventually own every Annual, from the early days which starred Big Eggo, to the Magic-Beano Books of the 40s and even get my hands on replacement Annuals for the ones that are damaged. Sadly, the price of original copies can be expensive but the Beano do offer personalised versions of Annuals from 1940 onwards, so that may be an option for me. Oh, and yes, I do have the DVD box set of All-stars and Videostars. I just haven’t watched them in a while but I still remember Dennis attempting to escape from a “girlfriend”.
Did you collect the Beano? Who was your favourite character?