The Beano
The Beano: random 1990s issues
Medium: comic
Year: 1990-1999
Country: UK
Keywords: The Beano, UK kiddie comic
Format: 20-page weekly UK newsstand comic (occasionally 24 pages)
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 20 January 2021
I'm still buying those random Beanos:
No. 2478, 13 January 1990
No. 2567, 28 September 1991
No. 2604, 13 June 1992
No. 2923, 25 July 1998
No. 2976, 31 July 1999
There were multiple revamps in the 1990s. It changed from "okay" (1990-92) to "screamingly, painfully shit" (1998-99).
It's normal Beano-as-usual. Sometimes it's funny, but there's also plenty of sludge. Biffo and Snooty are still hanging around, which is pleasing in a traditionalist sort of way even though they're not funny. Ball Boy, Number 13 and Les Pretend are all a waste of space, but none of them are as dire as Fatty Fudge. Robert Nixon's still annoying me by drawing Ivy the Terrible (with some shockingly lame punchlines) and Roger the Dodger (although it's possible that only Ken Reid could make me like that character).
On good form, though, are Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids. The former made me laugh just by eating a sandwich, while the latter get a cooking class from Olive. "We'll start with an Irish stew. You can put almost anything into it, kids!" Jotter, ink, false teeth, socks, etc. "Super!" says Olive approvingly. "And don't forget a pinch of salt!"
Teacher and Headmaster are bright green for the last third of the strip. "Well, they're both still alive so you'll all pass the cookery class test, kids!"
Dennis the Menace does reasonably well too. I've always loved his pet pig, Rasher, while I was amused by Walter the Softy becoming queen for a day. (Yes, you read that right.) Astonishingly, also, Lord Snooty becomes good in a crossover with Ball Boy. (Threatening to have Ball Boy beheaded is his best joke ever.) I also quite liked the old-school accuracy with which Snooty's gang is drawn in his own strip.
Above all, though, Calamity James is still there. A policeman charges him with littering because he's just had his teeth smashed out, for instance. Apparently the Beano's market research found that Calamity James was either seen as the comic's best strip or absolutely dreadful, with no middle ground. (I'm in the former category.)
There are some new faces, e.g. Binky the invisible Gremlin. Pansy Potter has returned, of all improbable characters. (She dates back to 1938.) It's a mixed bag, but there are enough readable strips to keep you going.
For starters, it looks wrong. Dennis the Menace's revamp has improved the stories, but I can't accept his new look. "My" Dennis is tough. This Dennis is a child who'd says he's tough. (As often happened, the redesign was done partly to fit in with a BBC TV show.) Meanwhile, the colour versions of Billy Whizz and Ball Boy hurt my eyes. What the hell's happened to Billy's hair? This is 1990s computer colouring, so it's gaudy and ill-judged. It's nowhere near as ugly as the coloured versions of DWM's comic strip in this period, but it's still hardly pretty.
The magazine's also putting big clunky borders around some of its strips, carrying messages like "DASHER SAYS - GET CAUGHT UP IN THE BEANO WEBSITE!" It's not a full-blown Dandy Xtreme, but you can tell it's considering that direction.
Then we have the actual stories.
Roger the Dodger needs slapping in #2823. Les Pretend is like a sub-Viz character, if you can imagine that. (I love Viz, but the whole point of its humour is that it's deliberately random and shit.) Dean's Dino is painful. Bea Ginnings, naaah. Ball Boy, ugh. Ivy the Terrible... stop it, stop it, stop it. Crazy for Daisy has good art by Nick Brennan, but the stories don't work.
The Beano's always been a grab-bag, but these issues don't have a good enough hit rate. Issue #2976 breaks down as follows:
No, stop it = 12 pages
Okay = 10 pages
Adverts, readers photos, competition to win Star Wars phonecards, etc. = 10-ish pages
I was happy to see Little Plum return. They've dropped Calamity James (criminally), but picked up The Numskulls (arguably the best ever idea for a children's comic). I could perhaps, on a good day, be bludgeoned into grudging approval of the changes to Dennis the Menace. Nonetheless, though, there's a fair amount I hate and at best a few pages I don't mind. It's a pretty toxic Beano era, as far as I'm concerned.
The start of the 1990s seem quite good, though.