The colourful characters who inhabit Dundee streets have proved to be a source of inspiration for one of the city’s best-known exports – comics.
The colourful characters who inhabit Dundee streets have proved to be a source of inspiration for one of the city’s best-known exports – comics. Now this has come full circle, as the characters step back off the page and are immortalised in bronze.
It says much about the stature of the firm that gave us these creations that its name, DC Thomson, is as recognisable as Desperate Dan, Dennis the Menace, or Paw Broon.
When the family newspaper publisher moved into the world of children’s entertainment in 1937, its first comic, The Dandy, already showed innovation. Instead of dialogue being written below the picture panels, characters now spoke to the reader through speech balloons.
If you met a Dundonian who said that they worked as a “balloonist” for a living, they probably didn’t take to the skies on a daily basis but put words in Korky the Kat’s mouth.
The Beano followed the next year and was joined by The Beezer, The Topper, Starblazer, The Victor, and The New Hotspur – a comic-style relaunch of a boys’ story paper that had been running since 1933 – and many more. There was also the still-popular Commando, which has been licensed by other countries, and has been a huge success in Finland.
If the boys had derring-do and sporting heroics, girls could rush home from school and escape into the world of ballerinas, ponies, and boarding schools, all available in the pages of Bunty, Mandy, Judy and – for the little ones - Twinkle.
These were the foundation of a comic and magazine family that entertained the nation through good times and bad. Even during the Second World War, The Dandy and The Beano brought smiles to little faces, alternating publication weeks due to wartime paper rationing.
However, all of these had been preceded in 1936 by Scotland’s most iconic comic creations, when super-scamp Oor Wullie and ample family The Broons first appeared in the Sunday Post.
Today, the comic family has many of its own creations, but DC Thomson has also being entrusted with creating magazines for some of the biggest names in children’s literature, including Jacqueline Wilson and Noddy.
During the 1960s and 70s, even teenage magazines such as Jackie were a source of beautifully drawn picture stories, only being replaced with photo-stories in the 1980s. The recent clamour for beautifully produced reprints of stories from Bunty magazine offer more than just nostalgia – they are a combination of excellent writers and talented comic artists working together to deliver a story to engage young (and not so young) minds.
The appetite for comics, graphic novels, and all forms of illustrated storytelling is strong. And where better to research and study this global phenomenon than the University of Dundee.
The Scottish Centre for Comics Studies, under the directorship of Professor Chris Murray, has not only pioneered the academic study of the art form, but also provided a hub for everyone who works in the industry. This is a place where researchers, teachers, students, archivists, artists, writers, and publishers, can exchange ideas at conferences, events, and workshops.
In 2011, the University was the first in the UK to offer the MLitt in Comics Studies, with the School of Humanities and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design also offering modules. This year they cemented their commitment to the development of the field by appointing the first professor of Comic Studies in the world, Professor Murray and a new comics lecturer (Dr Golnar Nabizadeh), both in the School of Humanities. Phil Vaughan, at the School of Art and Design is also an expert on comics, and together this team deliver a Masters in Comics Studies, which is shared between the two schools.
There are also undergraduate comics courses, and currently 10 PhD students working on comics projects at Dundee, making Dundee the world leader in this emerging discipline.
The comics team is involved in interdisciplinary research, working with psychologists to examine comics reading using eye-tracking technology as part of an ESRC funded project, and they are working with various colleagues and students to produce medical information comics dealing with issues such as organ donation, heart disease and bullying, in projects that are supported by the NHS and the Leverhulme Centre for Forensic Science.
Part of the unique nature of comics teaching and research at Dundee comes from the fact that research intersects with creative practice, with several of the teachers and students producing comics that illustrate the findings of their research as part of a public engagement and impact strategy that links critical and creative work. The result has been comics about Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, and British superheroes. These are mainly published through UniVerse, an imprint set up to help publicise the work of comics students, helping them to gain work in the industry - a strategy that has seen some notable successes.
Dundee has a thriving comics scene, and the University is very active in supporting it, but is also making a considerable impact on the world of comics, and comics research and teaching worldwide.