THE Dandy’s barrel-chested, be-stubbled, cowpie-guzzling Cactusville cowboy Desperate Dan was easily my favourite, but I was horrified to learn that he celebrates his 70th birthday this month. Yikes that makes me feel ancient.
Yup, it’s true. Still entertaining young (and old) readers all over the world, The Dandy is the world’s longest-running comic.
The first issue featured the five foot tall feline, Korky the Cat, on the front cover and inside were strips staring such memorable characters as Keyhole Kate, Hungry Horace, and the great Desperate Dan.
Tucked inside it was a free gift, an "Express Whistler", and it hit the newsstands on Friday December 4, 1937.
It cost 2d (0.83 of a penny). In an auction in October 2004 that sent comic collectors crazy, a copy of Issue 1, complete with its free gift, sold for a staggering £20,350.
Was it an investment? Probably. This remains the highest price ever paid for a single comic in Britain.
There are rumoured to be only 10 remaining copies in existence.
Had I the money, would I have bought it? Probably not, but to the comic cognoscenti, the first issue of any great title is always something of a holy grail … and they don’t come holier than The Dandy.
Inspired by early children’s magazines like Comic Cuts as well as the popularity of their newspaper, The Sunday Post’s own Our Wullie and The Broons, publishers DC Thomson envisaged a brand new, fun cartoon title.
The Dandy itself was in instant success, paving the way for other fun titles like the Beano, Beezer, Topper, Cracker and Sparky.
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 was a significant time for The Dandy, as it was involved in propaganda for the Allied war effort, boosting morale among the millions of children whose families had been enlisted into the armed forces.
Desperate Dan was a hero of the hour. He would regularly sink German u-boats, or disable enemy planes with a peashooter.
Created by Dandy editor Albert Barnes and acclaimed artist Dudley Dexter Watkins, Dan was conceived as a rough, tough, no-holds-barred desperado from Cactusville, Arizona.
His feats of superhuman strength could be funny, imaginative and sometimes dangerous. Dan would brush his teeth with a power drill, and shave using a blowtorch.
He quickly became the most popular character, synonymous with the comic itself. Legend has it that Watkins based the burly outlaw’s trademark facial fuzz on Barnes’s chin.
The post-war years brought what has since been regarded as the title’s golden age, and the issue dated April 22, 1950 sold a staggering 2,035,010 copies, making it the most popular edition ever.
- In its 70-year history, The Dandy has had just four editors: Albert Barnes (1937-1982); David Torrie (1982-1985); Morris Heggie (1985-2006) and Craig Graham (2006-).
- To date, silly superhero Bananaman is the only Dandy character to appear on television – starring in his own cartoon series in 1983, and featuring the voices of popular comedy group, The Goodies.
- July 10 1999 brought issue 3007, which proudly proclaimed itself a record-breaker – for publishing the most consecutive editions of a UK comic ever.
- In July 2001, a specially commissioned, eight foot tall, bronze statue of Desperate Dan (and faithful pet pooch, Dawg) was unveiled in Dundee High Street; proving that Cactusville’s favourite son has his spiritual home in the North East of Scotland.
By now the comic was firing on all cylinders, with some great slapstick material inside its inky pages.
The comic has maintained its popularity with children ever since, and still had huge circulation figures right up until the 1980s and beyond.
It went full colour in 1993, giving the still surviving title a brighter look. However, sales were starting to dip as they did for comics in general, as the likes of video and then latterly DVD, and computer games offered other forms of interactive activities for kids.
As the new millennium dawned, it was clear that traditional comics would have to move with the times in order to survive.
The Dandy got a slick, glossy look in October 2004, and a further revamp came in August this year, with the now fortnightly comic rebranded as Dandy Xtreme.
It has features on computer games, movies, sports and all other stuff that modern kids adore, as well as free gifts and a pullout "comix" section.
Current editor Craig Graham said: "When we looked at making such a radical change, we were really concerned that our regular readers – and their parents and grandparents who had read the Dandy before them – shouldn’t feel that their comic had forgotten them.
"So we sat down and made a list of all the things that had made it such an icon over nearly 70 years, and we made sure those values were still going to be right at the forefront of the new comic: Dandy readers are irreverent, mischievous, fun-loving and they like to get away with it!"
Today The Dandy is on sale every fortnight, priced at a somewhat unfunny £1.99 but go and price a bar of chocolate – 35 pence is seven shillings!
Will today’s issues become collectors’ items? Well, with the passage of time, I guess they will. Who knows what The Dandy will look like in another 70 years.
In the meantime, perhaps we should start searching out old back issues and obviously the older the better. Condition needs to be absolutely mint and copies with the free gifts still intact attract a premium.
One good source (and also where to sell them) is Scarcecomics.co.uk, an online auction business launched by collector Ashley Robinson, whom I have written about here before.
He said: "Snowy titles are much more collectable, Christmas issues, New Year issues and those that mark other festivities such as Easter."
So, perfect timing then.