Desperate_DanYes…”the Scottish Play”or “Macbeth”  …never to be uttered within a theatre lest it’s loosing leads to disaster.

As I write this, Scotland’s declaration is still blowing in the wind . We’ll not know whether they have decided to abandon the cosy nest and swaddling of the UK and decide to hitch their own kite to that unfamiliar gust and take off on a first solo flight of independence… for another few hours.. What we do know, and the Mighty Perk and I touched on a little of this recently in dispatches, is the undoubted influence that Scotland and the  Scottish culture has had on us all over the years.I’m not just  talking about the banshee screel of the strangled bagpipes, either  . My “country”  grandfather wrestled with those timorous beasties as a snowy -haired member of  the Ancient Order of Hibernians back in the 1950s. It was the thing to stride the main street of Blackwatertown village  on St. Patrick’s Day , his kilt and  shamrock fluttering in the breeze.I remember him pouring treacle and honey  into the bag to  season it  and keep it sweet, airtight  and supple.The Scots , the Irish and their pipes…

Ireland and Scotland shared much more than the pipes though.The Scottish publishing house of DC Thompson provided news and entertainment throughout the lands for the length of the 20th century.They had more influence than any political party and entered every home surreptitiously, like a thief, at least once , but more than likely , several times a week …every week of our lives.You see they were the publishers who produced the comics as well as a lot of the  popular newspapers and magazines . We were reading their comics as we learned to read. They had us in their merry embrace from the very beginning. They produced for mothers, fathers, teenagers and children.

These were not  just any comics either . These were iconic artefacts that grabbed the imagination of children throughout the land and which became something of an all-encompassing unholy cult.Most likely, had they appeared in the USA they would have been banned for sedition or at least blamed for  the upending of authority. There was always that ribald tweaking of pretension built into the storylines.

It’s a curiosity that these comics were born to a company of some real conservatism. The DC Thomson company had its origins in the late 19th century but really declared its intentions in 1905. The  publishing house  began in Dundee but soon spread to Glasgow, Manchester and London and from the start they would not bode Trade Unions nor would they employ any Catholics which gives some idea of the similarities between Scotland and Northern Ireland..My father , probably knowing too well their provenance and history  …never allowed any of the Scottish papers to cross his threshold. He would have been only too aware that himself and his friends on the building sites had fought long and hard to see “Wet Time” introduced and holiday pay for down- times.It would have been against his Trade Union and socialist sensibilities to support a company who treated their workforce so cavalierly or which supported any bigotry.,  His much younger brother, my uncle Paddy had  a shorter memory of such slights and therefore had no such qualms, readily introducing me to the weekly thrills of both the Dandy and the Topper and set me on that lustful road.  Forbidden fruit , you see. I had to spend my own pocket money to buy my own Beanos though.That fact made them even more special.

The times may have changed now with the final issue of the Dandy finishing its seventy year run a year or so ago .It’s presence is now largely digital. …. but not before this publishing empire entered virtually every home and influenced the lives of everyone who were touched by them. Thankfully the creators of much of the comics did not share their company’s original  personal  or political bias.If they did , it was not evident.

They produced  the Sunday Post, the Courier, My Weekly , Jackie, the Evening Telegraph, the Beano , the Dandy, the Topper, The Beezer, The Victor, the Hornet, the Hotspur,Shout, Commando and on and on and on….plus virtually all those Christmas annuals that filled every lucky child’s seasonal stocking.There were other substantial companies but none produced the iconic comic characters like Desperate Dan, Dennis the Menace , Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids. and so many more .They have become household names . They were surreal and anarchic and comically inventive . Most praise must go to the artists who provided these creations with a weekly pizazz and lusty life. The mainstay comic genius was a man called Dudley Dexter Watkins who was the most prolific in both quality and quantity and was the only one of Thomson’s employees allowed to sign his own work .You will see his distinctive  line on the cover of every Beano until his death in 1969. His particular take on surrealism had Lord Snooty’s castle sitting alongside the local gasworks  or Desperate Dan’s cowboy vista and his outlandish cow pie replete with longhorns and tail sticking out.

Watkins was a supreme draughtsman and had he worked in any other medium , say as a fine art painter , he would have been noted as an artistic giant. I dare say Dali or Picasso would have problems drawing Dan with such life and energy as Watkins employed on a daily and weekly basis.Had the comics pages  been produced as wall- sized paintings, they would have graced the galleries throughout the world.The comic skills of Ken  Reid as artist for Jonah and Roger the Dodger were largely taken for granted too.  Another artist was Leo Baxendale  who created the Bash Street Kids. His story has largely been forgotten because, like Jonah,  he jumped ship in the early 1960s ,over  a creator’s rights dispute or possibly a pay dispute  and has largely been written out of the company’s history.

Nevertheless, DC Thomson managed to become the most influential Scottish company in the twentieth century and their influence  still holds sway  although they have seeped so much into the everyday fabric of life in these islands that they have become   almost invisible to us.

They are  our earliest influences as children and are part of what makes each of us who we eventually become as adults.If you still  have the occasional  hankering for a plateful of cowpie , now you know the reason why…

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