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When summer was special…


In times when all seems ‘comical’ I take refuge in small boxes. Not the small boxes in the cupboard, to where I often retreat, to finger tweed jackets and mouldering mothballs; as most middle-aged men do (it comes with the passing of the years as sure as night follows day, like prostate issues, and a tendency to harrumph at littering). No, the small boxes in question here are the comics of my youth. Yes, ‘comics’, not comic books – this isn’t America.

“But Col, comics don’t come in boxes?” issues forth the cry, no doubt accompanied by the pained expression of a confused labrador. But hey, the lexicographers, etymologists and ontologists can go fuck themselves – which incidentally was the title of an ‘under-the-radar’ track by little-known Scottish new wave punk absurdists, Spiked Tureen. For the boxes in question are those of comic strips; as presented in good-old fashioned Dundee-order.

Dundee Order: great indie band, blighted by scurrilous rumour that they entertained nativist tendencies. But I digress.

Yes, the comics I’m talking about are mostly those from the DC Thomson stable. We’re all familiar with the Old Firm of said publishing behemoth: The Beano and the Dandy. But much as there’s a place for the Motherwells, St Johnstones or Kilmarnocks of football, there were many many more comics to be enjoyed as a nipper.

We’re talking 1970s/ 1980s heyday. Those days when the inky fingers of a ten-year-old carried the kudos of a heavy smoker’s yellow digits – it said: “I have a serious comic habit, and like ‘em unfiltered”. That’s silly, of course. Comics aren’t ‘unfiltered’ – and they had no need to be. They were innocent pre-smartphone times. But silliness was actively encouraged; it was the lingua franca used across the tribes of passionate comic collectors.

And boy were they passionate! I can vouch for it first hand for – tee-hee readers! – I was one of those collectors. Less tribal admittedly. I played the field. To pick up again on the football analogy, the comic league table was headed up by the big two, Beano and Dandy. But back in the 70s and 80s, a whole new crop of contenders was raised in quick-smart time. Such fecundity. Dundonian comic garrets must have been a hellscape of Raynaud’s and RSI claims.

Beezer, Topper, Nipper, Nutty, Krazy, Cor!, Champ, Buster, Shiver and Shake… not all from the city of the three Js (there were some contenders from elsewhere, intent on mining the rich seam). But just a snapshot though. These were ‘comic’ comics, full of daft characters, hi-jinks, scrapes and scampishness – Bash St Kids, Minnie the Minx, the Gaswork Gang, Numskulls and Beryl the Peryls and so on. Then you had all the war and footie comics too…

I won’t dwell on those. For this screed is directed by another aim: a celebration of the ‘summer special’ editions of these titles. They didn’t have quite the substance of your shiny ‘annuals’ at Christmas time of course. But during a car journey, your hooter replete with the smell of hot faux-leather seats, Dad’s Silk Cut, and maybe a bag of Kola Kubes on the go, well… a comic ‘summer special’ was exactly that: special. A whole world of distraction.

Distraction is everywhere now. We need distraction from distraction most days. Could be said that we’re diminished by it all. So, yes - through rose-tinted box-shaped spectacles admittedly – I yearn for the simple distraction of being plonked down with a summer special comic, some e-numbers, and a lick of vinegar on my hair (brings out the blonde, said Mum) to get lost in a world of ‘yukkas’, ‘chortles’, ‘guffaws’, ‘snorts’ and ‘cackles’. Maybe a ‘titter’.

Nostalgia is such seductive poison, eh? In reality, I was probably shivering on a litter-strewn beach, with a skint knee, a snottery sleeve and the smell of damp disappointment in my nostrils. Truth be damned! I’ve had enough of it for the moment. For we are low on the chuckle count (I know, I know, forever the prognosticator of doom. But you really do struggle to see past the cartoonish shitshow – especially during this wretched election cycle).

‘Aye, but there’s the Euros to look forward to!’ aver some. Yeah. I guess so. A sporting spectacle that – as a one-time footie fanatic, who could kick a baw reasonably well (ask the Editor; we used to team up as a pair of marauding wingers back in the day), I do feel the hum of expectation around Scotland at the tourney. But it offers up a different kind of ‘putting people in boxes’; bullshit nationalism given licence to flourish on the verdure.

Oh, I forgot. Depends on the country. For much like comic strips, everything now is reduced to good guys and bad guys, creaky well-worn narratives (we hate them/we love them), and paper-thin tolerance of anything or anyone who doesn’t buy into the simplistic trope-stuffed groupthink. Still, it will all unfold as it should. Much as the summer specials did on my lap back in the 70s and 80s.

And I will always think on them fondly, with an inky, smudgy smile. ■

Panel of The Dundee Tapestry depicting D C Thomson’s comic characters


Silliness was actively encouraged; it was the lingua franca used across the tribes of passionate comic collectors


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