|Jamie Smart's wonderful cover to the Jubilee issue of The Dandy|
There are situations which can be made funny, and situations which simply are funny. Comedy creators will invest their lives crafting quips to bring well-worn scenarios to life; “lovers quarreling over breakfast”, “criminals caught red-handed at the scene of the crime”, and so on and on. But the idea that’s so audaciously daft that it sparks off chuckling almost regardless of what’s been done with it is a far rarer phenomena. Andy Fanton’s CIB: Cavemen In Black is a prime example of the kind of apparently good-for-nothing silliness which smart cartoonists train themselves to recognise and run with. What might flit briefly across the minds of the rest of us – and that’s if we’re lucky - before disappearing forever as an idle and worthless conceit can serve as the glitter of a gag-spinning motherlode to those up to recognising the signs. Zealous, incompetent stone-age secret agents hunting down harmless dinosaur illegal immigrants? And with these Agents B and C dressed in bedraggled jaguar-black skins and wearing slate-lensed sunglasses too, in what’s the very opposite of the sweatless cool of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones? If Fanton had done nothing but set up that premise, and he does more than that, then it alone would’ve made The Dandy worth investing in.
Yet CIB: Men In Black was only the point at which I felt compelled to concede that The Dandy is anything but a relic. There’d already been several considerable involuntary laughs before that. But I’d not read The Dandy for almost forty years, and I was never was a fan of it in the first place. It was always a given that it was a staid, archaic grind of a little kid’s comic, as obvious as it was predictable and backwards-looking. Whether that was a fair judgment or not, it’s the opinion I’ve long had filed away in that place where assumptions calcify into prejudice. And prejudice being what it is, the obvious absence of what I was expecting to see initially appeared far more noteworthy than the sequence of always-lively and often-ingenious strips I was unexpectedly encountering.
The truth took a while to dawn. At first, I thought that the determinedly contemporary style guide which seems to influence everything in The Dandy from logos to often dialogue-dense frames might be masking the heritage industry storytelling I’d been anticipating. Yet the evidence that that’s simply not so was there on Jamie Smart’s surreal cover wink to the Jubilee, in which Desperate Dan fights to hold onto the illusion that he’s a king celebrating a public anniversary while insisting that the pig at his side is a corgi. From that point onwards, the evidence piled up as one sharp-minded, all-ages strip followed another. There's Smart’s own Mega-Lo Maniacs strip, featuring a portable tyrant of a sea-god reliant on the youthful Rory to ferry him to the beach and his chance at world domination. And there's Wilbur Dawbarn’s exquisitely cruel Mr Meecher The Uncool Teacher, presenting us with a picture of a thoroughly depressed and anxious young servant of the chalkface which seems worryingly close to my own initial experiences at the front of the classroom. As I say, it's hard maintaining a bias in the face of all this inconveniently compelling evidence.
I certainly wasn’t anticipating such a determination to avoid patronising the audience. The comic's clearly targeted primarily at kids, but the working assumption is obviously that they’re bright and curious readers rather than passive, dull-minded consumers. (Adults who've managed to avoid that state of passivity and dull-mindedness will find much to enjoy here too.) Alexander Matthews' Nuke Noodle kicks off with what’s clearly a Jewish rabbi creating a Golem in 16th century Prague, the Dr Who parody in Nigel Auchterlounie’s The Bogies begins with a paean to the pop culture highlights of 1963, while that man Smart’s The Arena Of Awesome features a cryogenically-preserved Einstein, Zeus, and a chimp homage to Godzilla. There's also politics of an admirably progressive kind to be found here too. The word balloons alone from Steve Bright’s wryly feminist Beryl The Peril can be read off the page to a nearby meal-making Splendid Wife and inspire a genuine chortle.(*1) And while I'm mentioning aspects of The Dandy which were unexpectedly impressive to this exceptionally occasional reader, then there’s certainly a great deal that other comics on both sides of the Pond could learn from the positive and yet entirely unhectoring representations of race in both Dreadlock Holmes and Superball!
*1:- Or so she assures me. (The strip is, of course, even more entertaining if both the art and the words are consumed together.)
Today’s Dandy is a smorgasbord of bright, vigorous, canny strips, and a reader more used to consuming the thin fare served up in most American superbooks may find that they lack the stamina to work through all that’s on show in one sitting. (They might also, however, find themselves pleased by the appearance of various parodies of Marvel superheroes in the book, with Thor, Hulk and Wolverine all receiving brief but fond tips of the hat.) Though there’s an obvious editorial intent to ensure that the comic appears kinetically 2012, there’s still a range of storytelling approaches on display from the relatively sedate and good-humoured Bananaman to Jamie Smart’s purposefully crowded, thick-lined, and exuberant designs. Only the persistently bland logos seem to lack the sense of wit and determination which otherwise consistently characterises the comic’s pages. Indeed, it’s only when a reader notes that The Dandy’s biggest disappointment lies in its mostly only-adequate logos that its success becomes obvious. For if that's the worst that a finicky reviewer can find to say about it, then it seems that The Dandy really is worth a second glance from even the most cynical reader.