“I appreciate it’s almost a deliberately naïve venture into the unknown for a publisher who’s been cutting down trees for 75 years, squishing them flat and smearing ink over them.”
Ellis Watson, Managing Director of British publisher, DC Thomson is explaining the logic behind taking their oldest comic, The Dandy from a printed publication, to a digital one.
“We’re not super slick, we’re not silicone valley. What we are are some pretty talented animators and storytellers, that are really excited about seeing if we can introduce these wonderful characters to a couple of generations yet.”
Today marks the 75th birthday of The Dandy. It also marks the publication of the last ever print issue, and the launch of their brand new digital version. And for Watson and his team the culmination of an incredibly frenzied period, trying to cram months worth of work into just a few weeks, as David Baines, DC Thomson’s Head of Digital explains,
“When we talked about it, I was like, ‘we probably need six months to do this justice’, but it really was a fixed date in time. The fourth of December is the 75th anniversary, it’s going to be the last print edition, it needs to be the first digital edition ready for then. It’s been a lot of hard work, late nights, weekends to get there.”
Although they’ve been heading towards this point for a long time, with a steadily decreasing readership, it was in August that the journey truly began, first with speculation that DC Thomson may be closing down the comic altogether, and a few days later, with the news of the move to digital. Of course, it’s one thing to make the announcement, but its an entirely different matter to totally relaunch a comic, but Watson had a clear vision,
“We said right at the outset, the technology has to work, and that’s really, really important; we have to try and get the marketing right, but most importantly, the characters and the storylines has to be brilliant.
“I personally think the creative identity of some of the characters has slightly lost its way in the last five or six years, as we’ve tried to stay contemporary and tried to fight against the digital revolution.”
In response to this, Watson brought in former Dandy editor, and current DC Thomson Archivist, Morris Heggie to, as Heggie puts it, “take the classic look, and the classic feel of the comic, and propel it into the 21st century with the digital era”. This was achieved by Watson and Heggig tracking down former Dandy artists, whether they were living in the prairies of Canada, or stacking shelves in a supermarket in Dundee, and bringing them back into the fold, to work alongside some of the new stars of The Dandy’s creative staff, like Jamie Smart.
It also involved Heggie looking even further back into the Dandy’s history, to find other things that may be relevant to today’s readers, “When The Dandy was selling at its peak, adventure stories and little kitchen sink dramas were, perhaps, one of the most important thing in it, so we were thinking, ‘what can we do with this?’” The result was The Dandy’s new superhero strip, Retro Active.
Of course for all the digital bells and whistles – the stories include a small degree of animation and a rudimentary soundtrack, and the comic is distributed with several games – it’s still recognisable as The Dandy, as Baines explains, “It’s very much still a comic, it’s still comic cells, you still have to read it, it’s still balloons, and you’re effectively still reading a comic page, still at your own pace.” And when Baines was confronted with the suggestion that The Dandy might become educational, his response was telling,
“Absolutely not. We’ve been quite deliberate about that. We think The Beano and The Dandy have got the heritage, it’s all about fun, it’s about humour, a bit of mischief, a bit of pranking. We’ve been quite deliberate about making sure there’s very little, if any, educational element, with the exception of reading.”
To further emphasise the point, Watson chipped in, “Reading is an incredibly important thing, and bringing this alive through reading is the only educational entertainment thing we want to do. Except the very important aspects of health and safety with banana skins.”
Issue Zero of the new digital version of the Dandy is available now, for free from www.Dandy.com, and from first impressions of the extremely short strips included seems to be reasonably interesting, The first edition proper, in the form of an Android and iOS app will be available later this week, and the final print edition is currently in newsagents (although is unlikely to be there for very long). Check back on HeyUGuys later today for extended interviews with Ellis Watson and Morris Heggie