Boris and Dom may have gone their separate ways but their crazy antics live on, and this week they may finally get their comeuppance. Not yet in real life but in the Beano at least.
The 82-year-old comic will this week publish its first ever version aimed at grownups with a story that revolves around Sandra and Dennis Sr Menace, parents of Dennis, and the dastardly Wilbur Brown, father of Walter the Softy.
The cast list also includes Captain Tom Moore, Marcus Rashford, Greta Thunberg and, like an adult Dennis and Gnasher, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings.
It is a pullout section, BeanOLD, which both children and parents should enjoy, said Mike Stirling, the editorial director of Beano Studios. “We just wanted to cheer everyone up. One thing we noticed was that our readers were feeling a bit sorry for the adults in their lives.”
Stirling said the Beano had a team of kids they call “trendspotters” who form the Beano Brain and let the writers know what children all over the UK are talking about.
Both Johnson and Cummings have been huge subjects for the average 10-year-old, he said. One of the comic’s young trendspotters described the latter as someone who “broke all the rules. He got corona and got his kids to their grandparents … you’ve got to stick to the rules even if they are your own rules.”
Stirling said the Beano was well placed to tackle the subject of Cummings and his trip to Barnard Castle. “Although our characters are always really naughty and misbehave, our readers are very moral. When our kid characters break the rules there’s always a consequence for doing so.”
In the new Beano story, Dennis Sr loses his job at the Beanotown paperclip factory after a “restructuring” by owner Brown.
Cummings appears several times. “It’s like the rules don’t apply to him!” he fumes at the non-arrival of Santa. Later, Brown asks him to be the getaway driver for him and the prime minister: “Can you drive Dom? I can’t see very well!”
Stirling, who co-wrote the pullout, said they had tried to cram in as many references to the year as possible, whether that was video meetings, home schooling, the delayed Bond movie or toilet roll shortages.
It was not too difficult to write, Stirling admitted. “So many absurd things have happened, it was easy to build out a story and turn the Beano sense of humour on to it.”
That humour is one that, Stirling said, is “a little bit rebellious, a little bit cheeky but is a humour everyone can get on board with. It transcends ages.”
The Beano has been part of British life since 1938 with its first front page star an ostrich called Big Eggo (“Someone’s taken my egg again!”).
It has often addressed contemporary issues, notably during the second world war when Lord Snooty and his pals took on Adolf HItler.
In one story they sent him a morse code message that translated as “Dear Herr Hitler nobody has heard of you in Britain”, prompting fury. “Sniff! Sniff! This is der terrible,” shouts a bent-double Hitler. “Why has he not told der British pig-dogs about me?”
The Beano’s golden age was the 1950s when its stories, often with literal lashings of corporal punishment, brought weekly sales figures of nearly 2 million.
Today’s readership is closer to 40,000 weekly but Stirling said there had been a significant increase during lockdown, probably down to people craving familiarity and security in uncertain times.
“We could all benefit from thinking a wee bit more like kids,” said Stirling. “I would say that because I get to do it every day, but I really think it is a powerful thing … the optimism, hope and moral worldview that kids always have.”
The one-off comic is very much at the gentle, poking fun end of comedy. It is not meant to be Viz or indeed anything else people might think of. “We were very careful not to call it an adult edition,” stressed Stirling.