6 March 2008
Replying to something on Channel Mondo just now made me do a Google search for one of the great spin-offs of 1980s comic reading - the comic library.
There are a few on eBay, including the one pictured. I don't know how long they ran for as I was all grown out of DC Thomson's papery organs and buying Smash Hits and No.1 within about a year of their first release, but I do recall them being very good.
Basically, the Dandy and Beano released two of these per month as tie-ins to their weekly comics. They were square shiny paper books and contained much longer 'feature' tales of one of the main characters. These would often see them leave the humdrum surroundings of Beanotown and Dandytown (natch) and the elephant-hide slipper treatment and into something more glamorous.
The one which you're looking at now I do remember owning. Roger the Dodger taking on a young apprentice called James ("arise, Jimmy the Jinker!") and trying to teach him the ways of your top-of-the-range dodger. (Is this a spoiler alert? I suppose so, if you were intending to buy this issue from eBay). This glamorously involved Roger and his nervous but keen wannabe travelling the world pretending to be dignitaries and trying to see what they could get for free before being found out (so 40 knockabout pages on obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, then...). Roger dressed up as three fictional VIPs - one being a tribal leader called King Rogo (who ordered suckling pig and mango chutney from the expensive hotel restaurant) and another being JR Rogers ("straight from Dodge City") an alleged oil magnate. Can't remember the third... and I can't remember ultimately how the story ended. Better buy the library and find out.
One of the earliest Beano comic libraries featured Gnasher, the erstwhile dentally-gifted mutt of Dennis the Menace, leaving Beanotown to become a film star. This developed into a story of Gnasher in Hollywood, living in luxurious salubrious surroundings, citing Chaplin and Lloyd (hence the post from Channel Mondo) as his heroes (images of Gnasher hanging off a clock) and employing a butler ("you ordered juicy bones for lunch sir, but may I suggest this fine caviar instead?"). He eventually got homesick, ate his contract and expressed his intention to go home and "chase cats with the Bash Street Pups".
The Dandy libraries were just as good - they included stories of Desperate Dan trying to become a country and western singer, and Winker Watson winning a fishing contest by using "Granny's super-heavy dumpling" as ground bait. An issue had Korky the Cat constantly coming close to eating lots and lots of fish, only to have them taken away from him at the last moment each time. There was an interesting regressive one too, as the Burrd's comic library debut told the story of how he and his master, Gregory Peck (yes), ended up together, something which wasn't covered when they first appeared in the main comic. The spoilt arch-enemy with his own aviary was called - ready for this? - Albert Ross.
The only thing the libraries did wrong, to the nine year old pedant I was (now extended to a 34 year old pedant), was rewrite history from the actual comic stories. It really got to me when they announced at the front of a Jocks and Geordies library who was who, with each boy's name changing entirely from how we'd got to know them in the weekly comics. For the Jocks, they remained largely unremonikered (barring a mild confusion over who was Angus and who was Sandy), but the Geordies were all over the place - Percy was now Sidney, the proper Sidney was now apparently called Cedric, Specky was now Lanky and the proper Lanky was now some other middle-class public schoolboy nickname. Careless, just careless.
I do appreciate that the previous paragraph does not show me in an exceptional light, by the way.
Comics also used to spin off (ie, cash in) with their annual summer specials, as I recall. These would be much larger, full colour publications with all the characters enjoying a story which followed their beach holiday adventures. All I remember story-wise, however, was one where Ball Boy was banned from playing football on the beach because a pompous middle-aged couple had complained that he was disturbing their peace. Again, rather frustratingly, I can't remember the ending.
I always used to get the annuals at Christmas, and even bought a job-lot of older ones from a jumble sale which were from my toddler years or even pre-dated me. I remember the Bash Street Kids' teacher winning a flight to the moon in one story, but declining the prize, saying he'd be happy to send the kids along instead, but "pity it's not until 1985!" The annuals also had a nice habit of reviving characters who hadn't appeared in the weekly comic for a while, and in buying the older-than-me copies, I was also introduced to characters I'd not previously known, such as the ludicrously befooted Claude Hopper or the accident-prone soldier Corporal Clott.
I have friends and acquaintances who remain obsessed with comics to this day. I haven't picked up a Beano or Dandy for 20 years but I'd hazard a guess that Dennis is still in the Beano and Korky probably still in the Dandy. But clearly I have no idea. I do remember reading about Desperate Dan's planned removal from the Dandy in the national press and the 'outcry' which followed. Even I thought it was a ridiculous idea ... then I remembered I was a grown-up. It is that realisation which is now making me end this blog entry...