Press release

Comic editor draws from family experience to gradu-eight

Published on 29 June 2022

When Dr Calum Laird crosses the Caird Hall stage to officially receive his PhD, it will mark an incredible eighth qualification for his family from the University of Dundee and its predecessors.

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When Dr Calum Laird crosses the Caird Hall stage to officially receive his PhD, it will mark an incredible eighth qualification for his family from the University of Dundee and its predecessors.

Calum, former editor of Commando, began his own relationship with the University in 2011 when he enrolled on the MLitt Comics Studies course. He then went on to complete a PhD on British War Comics in 2019, although his graduation was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Lairds’ connection to Dundee is long-standing, however. Calum’s father, Gordon, received a diploma from what is now Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design while his mother, Sheena, graduated from Queen’s College, Dundee, the direct forerunner of the modern University.

Calum’s wife Liddy qualified as a dentist after studying at Dundee, while their three children – Duncan, Catriona and Mairi – between them have a Biology and two Illustration degrees from the University.

Having worked at DC Thomson since 1979, rising to become editor of the legendary war comic Commando, a second career in academia was not what Calum (65) expected when Chris Murray, Professor of Comics Studies at the University, invited him to apply for the Masters degree course 11 years ago.

“I got to know Chris from him coming in to look at our archive at DC Thomson and it was him who encouraged me to do the MLitt, which I thoroughly enjoyed,” he explained. “Despite working in the medium for years, it was only when I did my Masters that I fully appreciated the range of subjects that comics could cover and in ways that hadn’t been done before.

“I had already started my PhD when I took early retirement from Commando in 2015. It was hard work, especially for someone over the age of 60, but I got there in the end and passed my viva in late 2019. I was due to graduate the following year but obviously Covid happened.”

Calum is one of thousands of 2020 and 2021 graduates who will be returning to Dundee for their long-delayed graduation ceremonies between Tuesday 28 June and Friday 1 July. He will have his PhD officially conferred upon him at a ceremony on Wednesday 29 June.

As well from continuing to write for Commando and other publications on a freelance basis, Calum is an occasional panellist at various Comic Con events and hopes to continue with the research and teaching that fell by the wayside during the pandemic.

“I look at comics in a completely different way to how I did when I was working full-time on Commando,” he said. “When you are dealing with deadlines, your priority is to get the publication out and for it to be as accurate as possible. Now I look more at what lies behind the storyline. Partly that’s because I have more time as a freelancer and partly because of what I’ve learned.

“I play with the script more and look at the motivations of characters in a wider context. For example, I wrote a story about a Polish soldier who was unable to go home after WWII and looking at the circumstances that had led him to be in Britain in the first instance. This was at a time of polarised debate about immigration and Brexit but comics give us the opportunity to explore these issues in more nuanced ways.

“That wasn’t always the case, however. Looking at war comics in the post-war period things were very black and white and there was a definite continuation of the type of anti-German and Japanese propaganda that we saw in wartime publications. Although things varied from publication to publication and publisher to publisher, the language was derogatory and characters stereotypical.

“It wasn’t until the 1970s that stories began to be explored from more than one side, and when anti-war sentiments began to be more commonplace in comics. Suddenly there were shades of grey, differences were drawn between Germans and Nazis, for example, and former enemies could be heroes.

“Cold War geopolitics, German and Japanese consumer goods, and the counterculture and punk teaching people to challenge what they had been taught all played a part in changing how other nationalities were viewed. This is represented in comics of the post-war era and the tides of pro or anti-war sentiment they expressed.”


Grant Hill

Senior Public Affairs Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768