THE BEANO

David Bar­nett talks to the head of Beano Stu­dios Mike Stir­ling about reach­ing a new gen­er­a­tion

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Cel­e­brat­ing its 80th an­niver­sary next year, the quintessen­tially Bri­tish comic brand The Beano is ex­pand­ing into dig­i­tal plat­forms and TV at an un­prece­dented rate… but has pledged that the weekly phys­i­cal prod­uct will re­main core to its busi­ness.

The Beano is the UK’s long­est-run­ning comic, hav­ing launched on 30 July 1938, and it’s the home of long-stand­ing clas­sic strips in­clud­ing, of course, Den­nis The Me­nace, The Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Min­nie The Minx and Banana­man.

Ahead of the an­niver­sary, Dundee-based pub­lisher DC Thom­son has been busy launch­ing a raft of new me­dia projects… which might con­ceiv­ably raise fears for the print ti­tle from those who re­mem­ber The Beano’s equally ven­er­a­ble sta­ble-mate The Dandy.

The Dandy and its cast of char­ac­ters – in­clud­ing Korky the Cat and Des­per­ate Dan – stopped pub­li­ca­tion in 2012 and went on­line-only in a notso-suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment. But DC Thom­son has learned from that and The Beano is in a much stronger po­si­tion.

When The Dandy ceased print pub­li­ca­tion it was sell­ing 8,000 copies a week. Ac­cord­ing to the last-re­leased cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures for The Beano, which cover the whole of 2016, the comic was sell­ing al­most 35,000 copies a week – a 3.2 per cent in­crease year-on-year and the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive an­nual jump in cir­cu­la­tion.

Not only does The Beano have a newly launched web­site, beano.com, along­side a free tablet/smart­phone app – both of which pro­vide daily up­dated ma­te­rial and ex­clu­sive, in­ter­ac­tive con­tent – the new ini­tia­tive Beano Stu­dios has been launched to glob­ally push the Beano brand, with its first ma­jor project be­ing a top-grade CGI an­i­mated se­ries star­ring the much-loved flag­ship char­ac­ters, Den­nis the Me­nace and Gnasher, which is due to de­but later this year on the BBC’s chil­dren’s chan­nel, CBBC.

So is the writ­ing on the wall for the print comic? Ab­so­lutely not, says Mike Stir­ling, head of Beano Stu­dios. “Ev­ery­thing we are do­ing is hugely ex­cit­ing but it is all de­signed to com­ple­ment the comic, not re­place it,” says Stir­ling. “Our sales have been in­creas­ing and we see our­selves as cus­to­di­ans of a trusted comic that’s en­gaged gen­er­a­tions of read­ers. What we are do­ing is grow­ing our au­di­ence, and en­gag­ing with the next gen­er­a­tion of read­ers.”

DC Thom­son and the Beano brand in par­tic­u­lar has a solid out­reach pro­gramme that works with schools and reg­u­larly in­vites groups of chil­dren into their Dundee of­fices (they’ve just moved back into their re­fur­bished Mead­ow­side build­ing, the orig­i­nal home of the com­pany, af­ter a six-year sojourn at dif­fer­ent premises). This not only helps to pro­mote The Beano, but al­lows the editorial team to keep their ear to the ground with what’s ex­cit­ing kids to­day.

Un­like other long-run­ning comic brands such as, say, 2000AD in the UK and Marvel and DC

A TOP-GRADE CGI AN­I­MATED SE­RIES IS DUE TO DE­BUT LATER THIS YEAR ON THE CBBC CHAN­NEL

glob­ally, the bulk of The Beano’s read­ers aren’t made up of ‘legacy’ read­ers who have con­tin­ued to read the comic into adult­hood.

The Beano is aimed at six- to 12-year-olds and the suc­cess of the comic over eight decades has re­lied on the comic con­stantly en­gag­ing new groups of young read­ers ev­ery cou­ple of years. They walk a tightrope of main­tain­ing the idea of The Beano as a trusted brand which ap­peals to par­ents and teach­ers, while still of­fer­ing enough mis­chief and re­bel­lion to give its young read­ers proper own­er­ship of the comic.

That said, af­ter 80 years The Beano holds a huge place in the Bri­tish pub­lic’s col­lec­tive psy­che. “There’s ob­vi­ously a lot of nos­tal­gia,” says Stir­ling. “We see that in the high sales of our Christ­mas an­nu­als; they’re of­ten bought as nov­elty gifts for grown-ups.

“Adults like to see chil­dren read­ing The Beano be­cause they have such fond me­mories of it them­selves,” Stir­ling con­tin­ues, “and some­times those adults pass their old comics or the an­nu­als on to younger mem­bers of the fam­ily, and they never fail to en­joy them.” But tastes and meth­ods of con­sump­tion change, and comics have never had more com­pe­ti­tion for the time and at­ten­tion of chil­dren, which is why The Beano is now ex­pand­ing its on­line and me­dia of­fer­ings.

“Kids to­day are a lot more so­phis­ti­cated,” says Stir­ling, “and we have to re­flect that.” And while the days of Den­nis the Me­nace get­ting a solid slip­per­ing from an an­gry dad at the end of an ad­ven­ture are long gone, the strips still strike a bal­ance be­tween moral­ity and fun.

Stir­ling says, “Chil­dren can live out their own mis­ad­ven­tures vi­car­i­ously through the char­ac­ters, but they also see that there are bound­aries to be­hav­iour… just not a slip­per these days! By the same to­ken, char­ac­ters like Den­nis also show the sort of silly be­hav­iour that par­ents and adults can do, which kids like.

“The Beano is of­ten a child’s first step into read­ing comics, and later they’ll move on to other things like, for ex­am­ple, 2000AD. What we’re do­ing now is grow­ing au­di­ences and mak­ing the comic it­self stronger, and that’s good for us and good for comics in gen­eral.”

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