From the Comical to the Comic, the Ridiculous to the Sublime
A night dedicated to Dundee humour will take place in The Byre Theatre in St Andrews on Wednesday 4th April. Starting at 7.30pm this event will begin with a talk on William McGonagall, Dundee’s much maligned unofficial poet laureate, delivered by Eddie Small (University of Dundee). In the latter half of the evening Dr Chris Murray (University of Dundee) will discuss the legacy of DC Thomson comics, encompassing the beloved work of Dudley D. Watkins on The Broons and Oor Wullie and the comedic genius of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid in The Beano and The Dandy. This will be accompanied by the launch of a new exhibition of original artwork from the DC Thomson archives, complete with a gallery talk by DC Thomson’s own Morris Heggie.
Chris Murray, Head of the English programme at the University of Dundee and leader of the new Comics Studies postgraduate degree, said “Eddie and I are very happy to be bringing a bit of Dundee humour to The Byre, and hope that the talks will be both entertaining and informative – if not we fully expect a barrage of rotten tomatoes and cow pies!”.
Eddie Small, who delivers Creative Writing classes at the University added “how can a night that brings Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx and William McGonagall together be anything less than amazing?”.
Both halves of the evening will include Powerpoint slides. The Byre Theatre, for the first time in their history, are allowing the chucking of missiles (rolled up paper which they are even supplying) to recapture the way McGonagall was treated in his performing days in Dundee.
The exhibition will be in The Byre for a further two weeks.
William McGonagall was born into poverty, lived a life of relative poverty, and died, probably at the age of 77, in 1902 in poverty. His birthplace, whilst a source of contention, is unknown to us, and his place of interment is an unknown and unmarked paupers’ grave. The plaque, in Greyfriar’s Cemetery in Edinburgh, which commemorates his life and death, was placed there as recently as 1999. It is, apparently, the second most popular ‘attraction’ in the cemetery after that of a memorial to a dog named Bobby.
Whilst his Spartan existence and financial hardships would have been mirrored by that of 90% of Dundee’s population at the time, his chosen way of life, his teetotal stance, and his unshakeable self-belief set him very much apart and conspired to make him the butt of ridicule and jokes. In Dundee, difference was always a matter of diffidence.
Eddie Small will look at the ‘blossoming’ career of McGonagall, from his days as a self-trained, and self-proclaimed, actor and tragedian to his relatively late discovery of his unique talent for writing ‘poetry’, and will plot the changing and heightening levels of abuse and rejection to which Dundee and its ‘audiences’ subjected him; who got the last laugh is a very moot point.
Scotland has a long tradition of producing comics, and one that we are not nearly proud enough of. Dundee in particular has long been one of the great powerhouses of comics production, not just in the UK, but internationally. The publisher DC Thomson is at the heart of the city, with its long running comics, The Beano and The Dandy, and a host of beloved characters, including Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan, the Bash Street Kids, and hundreds more.
What appeared in DC Thomson’s comics in the 1930s was a raucous humour, and working class characters, which defied the traditions of British comics, but as Dundee’s comics became more popular, these trends came to dominate and define British comics. Dr Chris Murray will explore the innovations and inspirations that lay behind the success of these comics, and will consider how the particular brand of humour in these comics developed. The original artwork displayed in the exhibition will illustrate these points, and will be further discussed by Morris Heggie in a short gallery talk.
Posted: 26 March 2012