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Let's all Have a Beano!
The History of the Beano: The Story So Far - Morris Heggie
Member Name: SWSt
The History of the Beano: The Story So Far - Morris Heggie
Advantages: Lavishly illustrated, with some wonderfully reproduced strips
Disadvantages: Entries can be a little superficial, expensive
With the recent sad demise of The Dandy in print format, the Beano (albeit in a very different form) is the only surviving British comic out of all the wealth of titles that sprang up in the 1940s-1960s. This book, published in 2008, celebrates the comic's 70th anniversary and takes you through a decade by decade look at how the comic has moved with the times in order to ensure its continuing popularity and survival.
The first thing you will notice about this book is that it's not one you are going to want to carry around with you - it's huge and very heavy. In fairness, it's not really designed with that in mind and is the very definition of a coffee table book - a large, liberally illustrated book that you will want to plonk down in a central place so that you (and others) can flick through it at leisure.
There's no doubt that this is a book that encourages browsing, as it looks superb. Text on each page is kept to a minimum (usually just a few short paragraphs) with the bulk of each double spread page is taken up with illustrations, as befits a book about a very visual medium. A particular delight is that the book contains full page reproductions of original comic strips, so you can read them in full (very often these sorts of illustrations are shrunk down so that the text becomes unreadable). This offers a rare opportunity to read (or re-read) a whole host of stories from the Beano's past that you might never have seen before, or to meet characters you never knew existed.
There are plenty of other illustrations too to break up the pages and add to the variety, including some behind-the-scenes photographs of influential people and places in the Beano's history. These offer the reader a glimpse into a side of the comic which you rarely get to see and give an interesting insight into the background to the comic and how it was put together.
If there is one disappointing aspect it is that the text entries are very short. As noted above, they are usually limited to just a few short paragraphs and there is only so much information which can be conveyed in the 200 words or less that is normally available. It's obviously a fine line between bogging people down in too much information and not providing enough, and for the most part, the book gets that balance right. There were, however, a few times when I would have liked just a little bit more information about people, places or characters that I was not familiar with. You do sometimes feel that there is a very rich history here behind 75 years of The Beano and these entries are only scratching the surface.
On the plus side, the text is very well-written. Most of the entries are reasonably informative and written in a readable, light-hearted way that captures the spirit of the original comic. It's clear that the author really knows his stuff and that is writing this book from the perspective of a life-long Beano fan, rather than it simply being a job to do. There is no evidence of this being the cheap hack-job we too often get with this type of tie-in/celebratory book and everyone involved has given their best.
The book is arranged in a very logical and structured way. It is split into a series of chapters, with each chapter covering a decade in the comic's history. The opening chapter, for example, covers the 1930s and provides some context as to what the comic scene was like in that decade, prior to The Beano's arrival; whilst the final chapter looks at how comics have evolved to survive in the internet age. This chronological approach gives a real sense of history of the comic, whilst also allowing the reader to see how drastically it has changed from its text-heavy beginnings - virtually unrecognisable as a comic to today's readers - through the Golden Age of comics in the post-war period down to today's more modern (and modest) offerings.
There's also a couple of nice indices in the back of the book. One provides a chronology of key characters and stories, the other a list of Beano artists down the years. This means that if you are interested in what the book has to say about a particular artist or a favourite character, you can leap straight to that section without having to read anything else.
D C Thomson (The Beano's publisher) are rightly proud of their comic and the fact that it has now been bringing joy to children for over 70 years. This book is a fitting tribute to that achievement. Gorgeously illustrated and sympathetically written, it's a must-have book for anyone with fond memories of reading The Beano as a child. It's not cheap - a new copy will cost you around £15-25 and it's not that much cheaper second-hand, but if you want that nostalgia buzz that will bring happy childhood memories flooding back, then it's a very worthwhile investment
The History of The Beano
Waverley Books, 2008
(C) Copyright SWSt 2013
Summary: A warm blast of nostalgia for anyone who has ever read the Beano
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