Tales from Dundee … The Beano. Photograph: DC Thomson & Co. Ltd
The Beano by Danny Wallace
The comedian and author on how the comic celebrates storytelling and the joys of a joke
Friday 3 April 2015
ecently, I was at a big party where I found myself standing between two rock stars. The kind of people to whom you want to ask questions – not because you want answers, but because you want stories. We all want stories.
And then a man I recognised walked past. His name is Mike Stirling. “This man has the best job in Britain,” I said, importantly. “He is editor-in-chief of the Beano.” The rock stars immediately forgot themselves. They were children again. One asked Mike if he knew “the password” (if you’re not in the Dennis the Menace fan club, I’m afraid I can’t tell you), and of course Mike did. Of course we all did.
I was born in Dundee, just like the comic. The Beano helped me find an enthusiasm for reading. But it taught me much more, too: how stories work, and the joys of getting a joke and then wanting to tell it. On some level it taught me about the logic of a world – and how important it is in storytelling to stick to it. It seemed amazing to me that the characters I adored – Dennis, Gnasher, the Bash Street Kids – all came to life somewhere in my city. I always wanted to visit the office and meet the editor.
A couple of years back, I did. On a freezing, rainy Dundee January morning, there was an older man waiting for me in reception. I say “older”. He was perhaps 80. In his hands were several rolled-up sheets of A3 paper. I slowly realised it was Dave Sutherland. Dennis the Menace looks a little different as times change and style changes with them, but this man was the person who drew the Dennis of my childhood. He was still drawing in pencil and ink at home on paper and then hand-delivering it to the office. No stylus needed. No email sent. Just an idea for a story and 50 years of experience. He was the Beano. I was his reader.
We all want stories. This comic, still lovingly crafted in Dundee, was the first time stories really felt made for me. And I know I’m not the only one.