Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why kids don't read the Beano

A Random Beano cover

Apparently there was a survey published a few weeks back that said kids no longer read the Beano. Initially I was surprised. I don't know what the sales figures are on the Beano but Steve Holland offers up a figure of 74,000 a week based on figures released by the publishers. for 2007. Apparently that's down some 15,000 on the same period in 2006. Still, 74,000 is a figure most US comics would kill for and this is weekly. I think it's probably fair to say The Beano's readership is slowly shrinking but it's a long way from being written off yet.

I decided then to have a look at a recent issue,3427, to see what sort of state it's in and I wasn't impressed. Thematically The Beano appears to have stood still since it's inception some 70 years ago. Artistically it's still a fine comic, true there's no one to replace the likes of Dudley Watkins or Leo Baxendale but there's a 4 pages strip by Hunt Emerson,Mini the Minx by Ken Patterson and Nigel Parkinson's slightly amateurish but kinetic artwork on Bea. The best art is superb, unfortunately there's work like Tom Paterson's on The Numbskulls which looks like a second rate version of the dull art that fills a lot of "how to" books and is a terrible disappointment.

There's a mixture of New and old characters. Dennis the Menace (the real one) is still there as is Mini the Minx and Billy Whizz and The Bash Street Kids which mostly fair well. Newer characters fare less well artistically. Ball Boy (around since 1975) suffers from stiff drawing and uninspired and outdated character designs. The teacher looks like he stepped out of an early 1970's Play for Today, the lead and his best mate are identical with different hair and the supporting cast look like rip offs of the Bash Street Kids and "Pirates of the Caribeano" has a strange, Hanna Barbera style art. Laura Howell's Johnny Bean from Happy Green is the finest addition is the best new strip as far as art goes, and looking at her website she is obviously holding back and drawing in a Beano style. The artists all remain close to a house style but show a degree of individual style.

The writing however is largely by the numbers and so the writing is the problem for the Beano, plots have not moved on much since 1938, there's the occasional bit of vomiting and farting but really it's still 1938. In theory that shouldn't be a problem, with good writers and a regular turn over of readers stories of naughty kids should be still as fresh as ever and for a long time it was. Unfortunately the writing is the problem. Mini the Minx and the last Dennis the Menace story are fresh takes on traditional stories and the fathers in each story get past the ineffectual authoritarian slipper wielder and gain a further dimension. Fred's Bed is genuinely funny, working for both kids and adults and Emerson's Beanowatch is a charming and gently funny riff on Bill Oddie's Springwatch. Ball Boy has an excellent punchline with Stonehenge being used as a goal. Roger the Dodger, Ivy the Terrible and The Numbskulls are , sadly, terrible. They're hackneyed reworkings of stories that were stale 40 years ago.

74,000 sales a week is not to be sniffed at but loosen up on the house style in art and writing, recognise that the world has moved on and look for some inventive writers and Beano could be doing 100,000 plus a week again.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Thats a real shame, Ivy the Terrible was always my favourite, it's sad to hear that the quality isn't as good, but I suppose things change when different artists take over.

I've been flicking through some old Beano's I still have and I still enjoy reading a lot of the strips, even as an adult, and Ivy the Terrible really was superb.