It started a year before The Beano and used to be the world's third longest-running comic. (Ahead of it were Il Giornalino in Italy and Detective Comics in the USA.) In the 1950s, it reached sales of two million copies a week. In other words, it's a big deal. It had mostly ditched its prose stories by this point, leaving a mix of comedy and adventure strips.
DESPERATE DAN (1937, Dudley D. Watkins, pages 7, 17-18, 50-53, 113, 141 and the back cover) = I never saw the point of Desperate Dan, cowboy and strongest man in the world. I agreed with Viz when they did Desperately Unfunny Dan. Here, though, drawn by his creator, he works.
Watkins's Dan can look rough. If you met him, you'd be nervous. He shaves with a blowlamp and eats girders. Also, brilliantly, his niece Katey and nephew Danny have his chin. This little girl who looks like a prize boxer is one of the funniest things in the book.
To my amazement, these are decent Desperate Dan stories. I'm not calling them brilliant, but they're functional in a way I hadn't expected from this character. Given the right context, I think Dan could be good. I'd like to try writing him.
KIT FROM THE WILD KARROO (1964, Jack Glass, pages 8-15) = Kit Cooper is a wild boy from Africa who's come to England and lives in the zoo. His best friend is a leopard called Leatherneck... and he's lily white. Hurm. Anyway, his enemy is Head Keeper Lumsden, who sets fire to his own zoo to try to catch Kit. It's reasonably exciting, but Glass's art is mediocre and the story's told through exposition text boxes. (Even dialogue appears in there, instead of getting a speech bubble.) This one has problems.
THE STINGING SWARM (1965, Jack Glass, pages 86-95) = clearly part of a serial, since Ted Drake and his sheepdog Shep don't catch those pickpockets at the end. It feels like an SF mystery, with the swarms of paralysing poison insects. You could turn it into a Doctor Who adventure.
CORPORAL CLOTT (1960, David Law, pages 43-45, 82-85, 97, 114-117) = I love David Law and this is a popular series that kept returning in later years, but I can't recommend it here. Firstly, Law's not putting much effort into the art. It's dashed off. Secondly, and more importantly, it's racist. Clott's serving in Africa. Law's portrayal of the locals is lazy and cliched. (They're not always even from the right continent.)
WINKER WATSON (1961, Eric Roberts, pages 21-28, 75-78) = lasted well into the 21st century. Watson is a clever, slippery boy at Greytowers Boarding School who's always playing tricks, helping friends and avoiding things he doesn't want to do. Unusually for a magazine like The Dandy, he also had ongoing storylines and long-running enemies. There's even a 1990s storyline where aliens invaded Greytowers.
This annual only has one-off stories, of course, but they're an eight-pager and a four-pager. Watson is indeed quite the mastermind. One of his schemes involves live rats.
DIRTY DICK (1960, Eric Roberts, pages 16, 47-48, 54-55, 81, 98-100, 128) = he's a likeable smartarse like Winker Watson. (Same artist.) They both come across as genuinely clever, too. I don't just mean the informed intelligence of a comics character who's merely got "clever" as part of the character description, but as people who see further and deeper than most.
Goodness me, though, that title. Words fail me. It's perfectly innocent, of course. Dick tends to end up covered in oil, treacle or whatever. Other Dandy strips over the years have included "The Magic Knockers", "Willie the Wicked", "Diver Dick", "Five Spunky Duncans", "Gobble, Gobble Gertie", "Mystery Dick", "Wee Willie King and his Magic Stings", "Spunky and his Spider" and "Plum Macduff (the Highlandman who never gets enough)". Meanwhile, the Beano has had "Wily Willie Winkie", "Cocky Jock", "Sticky Willie", "Thrill-a-Day Jill", "Black Flash the Beaver" and "Cocky Dick".
MOE AND JOE AND DADDY-O (1965, Eric Roberts, pages 56-64) = Chip Malone has crashed in the jungle and befriended some clothes-wearing chimps. Roberts loved drawing monkeys. Yet again, though, the stupid African natives are called "fuzzy-wuzzies", are insultingly drawn and say "um" instead of "the". Was that the house style or something? If it hadn't been for that, the strip would have been quite entertaining.
KORKY THE CAT (1937, creator James Crichton, here Charles Grigg, pages 19-20, 33-34, 49, 71, 111-112, 129) = I like Korky. He's an anthropomorphised cat who has simple, innocent adventures, but he's livelier and more relatable than his Beano counterpart, Biffo.
THE SMASHER (1957, Hugh Morren, pages 29-30, 38, 65-66, 96, 131-132) = imagine a fatter, more innocent Dennis the Menace. He lasted into the 21st century. His strips are fairly good, actually.
GREEDY PIGG (1965, George Martin, pages 31-32, 46, 72-73, 109-110) = a teacher who keeps stealing his students' food. This is quite good too. A thieving villain protagonist (albeit a harmless, cuddly one) puts a new twist on the children's comic staple of "children keep outsmarting their teacher".
BIG HEAD AND THICK HEAD (1963, the great Ken Reid, pages 35-37, 79-80) = this strip only lasted a few years. Reid draws magnificent faces, but I didn't find our anti-heroes that amusing. I think the problem starts with their slightly too generic names, but Big Head's nasty personality is off-putting and Thick Head's stupidity isn't funny.
THE 4TH ARROW (pages 39-42) = Sandy MacGregor protects the Scottish Nature Reserve from poachers. This is an adventure strip, not a comedy.
BIG BROTHER'S BOXER (pages 67-70) = an adventure strip. "Boxer" is a reference to the dog breed, while the villains get punished for treating animals badly. I approve of this strip.
BODGER THE BOOKWORM (Shamus O'Doherty, pages 74, 130) = feels like a refugee from an earlier era of British comics. The art's simple and the second story's plot is badly constructed. It's a modest, inoffensive little strip, though. I have a soft spot for the idea of a bookworm hero.
THE VENGEANCE OF THE ROARING ROCKERS (pages 101-108) = this is the book's only short story. And yes, that's "rockers" as in "mods and rockers", two British youth subcultures of the 1960s and early 1970s. They're bikers and they're trouble, but a sheepdog called Black Bob is a match for them!
JOE WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES (pages 118-127) = are circus performers. Goofy-looking baddies want to sabotage the show. This is another adventure strip, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was comedic.
BRASSNECK (1964, Bill Holroyd, pages 133-140) = is great. He's since kept returning again and again, quite rightly. He's a robot boy and the friend of (ordinary human) Charley Brand. What makes him cool is simply his design. He's a robot from a humour strip, with a little Pinocchio nose and a head made of geometrical shapes.
Overall, it's a good book, but often racist. (It's also tamer than the Beano.) Eric Roberts's work is interesting, while I was surprised to find myself liking Desperate Dan. I wouldn't mind reading more of this.