Capping off our coverage of The Dandy’s 75th anniversary is an interview with former Dandy editor Morris Heggie. Heggie edited the comic between 1986 and 2006, his tenure covering my entire span as a Dandy reader. As I reveal early on, I was something of a comic addict as a child, and so the interview becomes very geeky, very quickly.
That said, when I managed to calm down a little, we covered the reasons for Heggie’s return to editing comics, the stigma attached to adults reading the Dandy, and the reasons DC Thomson have never released single character comics
Morris Heggie: Did you get both The Dandy and The Beano?
HeyUGuys: I did. And the Beezer, and the Topper, and then the Beezer & Topper. I was a complete fiend.
You would be a Tom Patterson fan?
He did Calamity James?
One of the things that we’re pleased about with the digital Dandy, is we’ve got Tom Patterson out of retirement. Tom had self-imposed exile, given up his drawings, but we’ve persuaded him to come back to digital Dandy, and he’s working on a storyline called ‘Castle Bleugh’, which is the usual, DC Thomson’s nonsense, drawn by a crazy artist. You will see it.
I loved his background stuff.
This is why we’re using him, it’s the haunted castle, Castle Bleugh, and what happens in there. And a little subsidiary character is Crombie the Zombie, who simply lives there, and there’s a little strip about Crombie, trying to live a normal life, but it’s not so easy when bits of you fall off. It’s what Tom Patterson excels at.
You let someone completely change The Numskulls though, which is interesting.
I grew up with The Numskulls in The Beezer. The Numskulls started off life in The Beezer, drawn by a fellow called Mal Judge, and Jamie Smart is a huge Mal Judge fan, and knew exactly what I was talking about when I was talking about The Beezer numskulls. We’ve changed the whole storyline, because in the original it was all just in one man’s head, but in many ways, we’re going back to the fun that there was in his early ones. Mal Judge was a fabulous artist, and he made them his own, but he’s no longer with us, and you have to move on.
I’m curious to see how it plays out.
It’s a complicated story compared to the Numskulls that you know. There’s a lot of different facets, when there’s numskulls in the whole family, and they’re all different sorts of beings.
I’m curious what it was that drew you back.
Well, I was in an archive. I stopped editing the Dandy in 2006. It was going in a style that there were younger guys, better suited to handle it. But Ellis, who you’ve been speaking with today, wanted this thing, and I’m really so pleased about this, he wants the classic look, so he let me put together what we called the ‘old team’, of artists like we talked about, along with the cream of the crop of fellas working on the new Dandy also, because a lot of their stuff is fabulous. I don’t want to sound like some old luddite, a lot of their stuff is good.
For our main characters like Desperate Dan and Bananaman, there’s a classic look that you want to keep. The fun comes from that, so I was brought in to make that happen, and we’ve gone to great lengths to get these fellas back working again, because in the UK, there’s just not that much work for these cartoonists, so a lot of them are away doing other things completely. One of the main artists, Stephen White, who’s doing Brassneck and Keyhole Kate, was working in a supermarket. He’s now working in a supermarket part time.
It’s interesting that there is so little work, comparatively, because the American comic scene is huge.
And the continentals. Why the UK? One of the things is certainly in America, and continental Europe, it was quite acceptable for an adult to be seen reading a comic. It was an art form. We only saw it in the UK, there were graphic novels, but they never sold in big numbers, and I’m sure it wa basically seen as for kids. People like myself who would read them on trains and things, you can see how we were looked at oddly.
Could it not be to do with the fact that most of the comics produced in the UK are very short stories, and so don’t have the room for expansion dramatically.
To tell the story, you need space, and we never allowed that. You would have to be looking to do single character comics to give an artist and a writer the space to tell a story that an adult may enjoy. You couldn’t get that sold in this country. If you took that idea to a publisher, you’d struggle to – in fact you wouldn’t manage to do it. With Thomsons being mainstream, it just wouldn’t happen. They would say, ‘give us more of what you do’, and it is this thing, there is the perception that it was not worth going for that market.
Judge Dredd has that market.
John Wagner, I remember when he worked for us very well, guys like Pat Mills worked for us about where to go then. Thomsons were basically making money from what they were doing for the kids, they were not interested. Then you found out later, as you got further up in the firm, that the market didn’t want that from Thomsons, they wanted another thing, they had Thomsons pigeon-holed as the producer of quick-laugh funnies, or multi-story adventure comics like Victor or whatever else. That’s not what we did, and they didn’t want it.
But with the new format, will you be exploring any of that?
With the new format, if you look at – not even going to the adult books, I’ll tell you about that in a minute – you know the likes of Moshi Monsters, that has this massive selling comic on the go. The comic came from a very successful website, web comic, and then back to print. That’s a very interesting concept that the Dandy could come right round and come back to print. If we’re successful enough. One of the things we can do, with the marvels of print-on-demand, and the fact that we have this site, is we could look at collections, individual collections of characters. That would be, I would say, an adult market for sure.
Right at this minute we’re in the middle of a major, major scanning initiative, basically to scan every comic we have. We’re working on The Dandy and The Beano at the moment, but we’ll do them all. That then leaves us open to print on demand a collection. I can’t say a definite, but I think that would be one of the ways you could monetise a digital comic.
And one final thing, if you had the choice, which of the characters you now edit, of have edited, would you like to see made into a film?
Without any doubt at all, Bananaman. In my head I see Jim Carrey. I always thought, when you saw Bananaman in the five minute animations, I was always sorry they didn’t take it further, tell the big story.