The Numskulls by Jamie Smart
by Laura Sneddon

The Dandy, a UK comic for children, is one of the oldest comics in the world, first appearing way back in 1937. Along with its sister publication at DC Thomson, The Beano, these comics are pretty much the main reason why the entire population of Britain knows how to read a comic, even if they never make the jump later to more adult fare. Earlier this year, there was a huge amount of press attention given to The Dandy, as it emerged that poor sales were leading to the publication ending its historical run.

But fear not cow pie fans! For The Dandy, that pioneer of British comics, was simply reinventing itself for the demands of its young readership. This week The Dandy Online has launched, bringing favourite characters including Desperate Dan, Bananaman, The Numskulls, Brassneck, and an all new team of classic British superheroes, Retro Active, to its fans.

Everything has been based around portability, with a dedicated app set to launch as soon as possible. Each comic has been created with screen size in mind, and the animation – when used – mimics the reading of a comics page. Pacing is set by the reader, with each panel finishing on the text, much as a reader would find when reading a conventional comic.

Desperate Dan

Some of the comics include little minigames that advance the plot, but equally are skippable if you don’t fancy them (or are re-reading). The website contains more content including puzzles and shorter comic strips, along with videos and projects to print out and make.

Issue Zero is free to read, and while there are obviously some niggles to iron out, I’ve had a peek behind the scenes (crikey!) and can confirm that there are some very exciting things coming up! Make sure to check out Jamie Smart‘s The Numskulls in particular, a clever reinvention of the characters I knew as a child, and keep an eye on Retro Active which is particularly interesting for old school fans – and fans of female superheroes!

I’m really looking forward to seeing the app come out for my phone, and as I’ve talked about elsewhere, I think the growing audience of children reading comics in the UK will be really into this once it is up and running in full. It’s wonderful to see one of the oldest comics in the world leading the charge into a new frontier rather than fading away, keeping the spirit of The Dandy alive but bringing it to where the audience now resides. Exciting things are afoot!

Retro Active


  1. I see Keyhole Kate has had a slightly more interesting looking makeover. But no Korky the Cat :(

    It’s nice to see the ending of the print edition being put in a positive light but The Dandy has had a web site (like all kids comics, including the very much older Il Giornalino) for at least a dozen years and a Dandy i tunes app was launched a year ago. I take it the app you’re looking forward to is different to that one. (If not isn’t that enough time to iron out ‘niggles’ ?)

    “(…) are pretty much the main reason why the entire population of Britain knows how to read a comic”. Hmmm well us fans of all the other comics that are no longer printed may be experiencing painfully raised eyebrows at this point. There are other UK kids magazines and comics, even today. And even ones not published by DC Thomson :)

  2. Dave – true on the latter, I had my age and Scottish goggles on there! Mind you, with The Dandy being the first, it did set the path for others to follow.

    The app is brand new yes, and very interesting but I’m not sure when the ETA is. This has all been a relatively new project, and I think the pay off will be worth the unplanned wait :)

    (Seconding the Korky the Cat love, I used to adore the older annuals and Korky was – in my opinion – way better than Dan.)

  3. 100 years ? Depends on your definition of comic I’d guess but that seems a bit too long. Story papers and part works specifically aimed at juveniles (‘Penny Dreadfuls’ with boy protagonists) date from the very late 1850s-1860s. Magazines with comic strips and cartoons specifically aimed at children date from the first decade of the 20th century. DC Thomson’s comics – like the very successful boy story papers it launched in the 1920s – were distinctive but neither original or unique.

    Of course arguably DC Thomson did have the first ‘Alan Moore’ in the form of Leo Baxendale :)

  4. Arguably(!) Ally Sloper was the first comic magazine in the UK (which was in the 1880s – I’m not a proponent of Northern Looking Glass having that honour at an earlier decade), but I’m pretty sure The Dandy was one of the first comic books, as comparable with the newly born US format that weren’t just reprints from papers etc.

    My own research actually extends beyond what is officially-sort-of-agreed-on as a comic, and includes the earlier comic strip artists and cartoonists. But generally, the definition of “comic” sets academics on fire :D

  5. another comics magazine for kids is Anorak, which is a rly well designed magazine. though its actually more of a hip and modern version of highlights its comics are eclectic in style(had some pretty good photo comics) and fun to read.

  6. As I understand it Ally Sloper’s publisher was inspired by the success of Funny Folks, which had began as a pull out supplement to a newspaper a decade earlier and had gone on to become a standalone publication, (Much like D. C. Thomson’s 1936 “Fun Section” in The Sunday Post which introduced The Broons and Oor Wullie and convinced them the The Dandy might be viable)

    None of those early comics (even up to Harmsworth’s Puck, the first colour comic) were initially aimed at children, although several saw their success with them and converted themselves in that direction. But by World War One and the launch of Rainbow, featuring Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys (still I think the longest running UK comic characters), there were publications which by any reasonable definition were comics, featuring original comic strips and aimed at children.

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