Panic at the Pumps!

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swirlythingy
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Panic at the Pumps!

Post by swirlythingy »

Well... maybe not.

But this week the DC Thomson stable of comics definitely crossed some sort of fart gag event horizon.

Forum members have bemoaned before now that the Beano, and indeed modern kids' comics in general, are full of 'trumps and gross stuff' (with the not-so-implicit subtext invariably being that this is unquestionably a poor substitute for whatever publication was current at the particular point in time when the author was growing up). In the past, I've generally dismissed such complaints as the preoccupations of curmudgeons and prudes, as (with the notable exceptions of Toxic and Dandy Xtreme) I saw any such trend as both less pronounced than it was made out to be, and, where it did exist, more likely one of many mundane reflections of the wider changes in society since the uptight, repressed 1950s.

This week's Beano, BeanoMAX and Dandy are making me seriously reconsider that position.

The Beano kicks things off with a statement of intent, and a cover picture devoted entirely to farting - with a sampled picture of Walter lending some added atmosphere to the masthead, just in case the main picture wasn't already pungent enough.

The main Dennis story inside is just as predictably obsessed, with a splash panel of a similar size and smell to the cover picture (although that itself was recently shrunk down to a shadow of its former self) dominating its final page, and two equally piquant smaller panels rounding things off for good measure.

On the opposite side of the same sheet of paper, the Ratz punchline is almost completely identical, in flavour if not in wit.

An advert on page 15 reveals the cover of this month's BeanoMAX. It is... yes, you guessed it - a big picture of Dennis and Gnasher accompanied by copious amounts of posterior gas. In fact, the weekly Beano cover bore so little relevance to the actual storyline of the strip it accompanied, and so much to this picture, it's hard not to imagine the BeanoMAX cover being a rejected early attempt at the weekly. I haven't bought this month's BeanoMAX, but maybe someone who did could hint how its content compares to this week's Beano.

The Bash Street Kids is themed around Olive's school dinners but uncharacteristically refrains from straying into toilet humour, and Bananaman was written before fart jokes were so fashionable, but we're by no means out of the woods yet.

On pages 24 and 25, Fred's Bed takes a trip to a bucolic farmyard where Fred meets some chickens. He hopes to acquire some eggs, but gets distracted by the chickens themselves. Then the farmer turns up, with the intention of eating one. Can you see where this is going...? Yes - it's another fart gag! We are treated to a whole page of nothing but farting chickens, seemingly out of absolutely nowhere. The script rumbles along, but then comes to a halt somewhere near the middle, reverses, swivels around and hares off right in the direction of a previously-unmentioned sack of sprouts and its inevitable consequence of rocket-powered chickens. This somehow constitutes the plot's resolution.

It's beyond parody, really.

Even Gridlock and Massivebill, in their bi-weekly corporate puffery slot, have a panel featuring somebody running towards the nearest toilet (in the course of extolling the joys of signing up to become a McSlave).

The Dandy, as one might expect from a comic with far more of its artists writing their own strips, hasn't suffered nearly as badly as the Beano (and presumably BeanoMAX), although between Ratz, both Dandy covers and the contents page, I did detect a bit of a cheese theme emerging alongside the bottom-burp one. However, one of the few staff-written non-reprinted strips is Bad Grandad - and, sure enough, right there in panel three, somebody farting. Admittedly it isn't another whole punchline, but a pattern's still a pattern.

How did this come about?

Although I often feel the Beano's largely staff-written content, and even the staff-written minority of the Dandy's content, pales next to the originality, madness and hilarity offered by the likes of Wilbur Dawburn, Nigel Auchterlounie and Alexander Matthews (this week's Nuke Noodle was especially good), this is something else.

Beneath the endless banks of unearthly green-tinged fog, I can see writers panicking.

It's an open secret that the Beano just isn't very funny. It has occasionally come out with absolute crackers and one-liners which made me laugh out loud, but I can count them on the fingers of one hand. Historically, I've played to the charitable assumption that it isn't really my sort of humour (I'm quite hard to make laugh as it is), but in recent times something happened to make me seriously question that assumption. I refer not to anything the Beano did, but to the 2010 Dandy revamp, which really opened my eyes to how it should be done.

While the Dandy raced ahead, the Beano chugged along at its same old slow pace of progress, and while I have noticed a slight change for the better in the tone of some strips (which I strongly suspect is a direct consequence of Alan Digby's departure, if the scripts of Ivy the Terrible's last days were any indication), the improvement is marginal. New Dennis might have been awful, cringeworthy and unfunny, but while his post-2011 replacement is indubitably much better and less of a national embarrassment, the fact remains that it's still not all that funny.

Never has the contrast between the two comics been starker than before today. While the Dandy is piled just as high with silliness and amusement today as it was in 2010 (somewhat higher, when you consider its celebrity-ectomy), the Beano has reached a smelly stalemate. It now appears that DC Thomson's writers are operating on the default setting of, "When in doubt, insert farts." For a company fond of bragging about its ridiculously-named Youth Insight Dept., the Insights it has gained seem to be limited to the logical fallacy, "Children find farts amusing, and farts are therefore a legitimate substitute whenever you are unable to think up amusement." This might work on a two-year-old, but otherwise, no.

It's still possible I've got it wrong somehow. Maybe this week's comics aren't as representative as I thought. Maybe it's National Intestinal Gas Awareness Week. Maybe a staff writer lost a bet and was forced to work farts into every single script they wrote for an afternoon. Or maybe farts really are the golden goose - a stock joke which never gets old no matter how often you wheel it out. Maybe, in future, comedians will recite their pre-prepared material to the best of their abilities, but if ever they accidentally forget one of their punchlines, instead of standing there blushing and sweating while the audience grows restless, they'll squeeze a wet one out instead and watch the audience collapse into giggles, day successfully saved.

I hope I'm wrong. Because otherwise, what this points to is a company, which built a juvenile empire on the backs of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids et al., having forgotten how to make kids laugh. They paper over the cracks with word balloons saying, "Hey, look over there! Somebody farting!", but sooner or later it becomes all too apparent that the Beano - and, to a lesser extent, the Dandy - is an castle built on sand.

It's not all pumps and trumps these days. The Numskulls did a very good job this week of demonstrating in far pithier terms than I could manage that it now basically has only one shtick. The punchline of the Bash Street Kids is frequently either unoriginal and shoehorned-in (as in this week), or absent altogether. New New Dennis, even when not flying the flag for the new corporate strategy, tends to be heavily unbalanced in favour of talking heads as opposed to actual mayhem (this week, for example, there was only one real incident in three pages). Minnie is one of the better multi-pagers, but even there entire pages can be wasted on two characters talking about nothing whatsoever.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, this week Nuke Noodle indulged in some inspired subtitle-related silent film randomness, Bananadog met Meloncat, Sneezy Rider took us on a crazy and not entirely logical ride to laughter, supplemented by a splendid array of quarter-page gags - that is to say, gags which occupy a quarter of a page, and not gags which should have occupied a quarter of a page dragged out to one or even two pages cos protocol said so.

I've been banging on about this more or less continuously since 2010, but I'll say it again: the Beano needs a revamp, and not another pseudo-revamp with added reprints like the one in 2011, or a conscious attempt to make the cover appeal less to children and more to their nostalgic parents (who, as I've explained before, will promptly read it, hate it and cease to buy it) like the one in 2012. It's now got so stagnant it's visibly starting to run out of punchlines.

The Dandy, instead of battening down the hatches and weakly pleading with the ever-diminishing audience of people who still remember its glory days (note I'm referring to the comic here, not the annual, which did the exact opposite - and wrong - thing), innovated, made a bold break with its less-than-glorious recent past, and genuinely tried to offer something new. Yes, it was punished with the grand old Dandy tradition of plummeting sales figures, but the Beano was outselling it by two to one even before that, and unlike the Dandy, is able to get away with trading on its unparalleled brand recognition alone (hence all the history-mining merchandise now coming out, in addition to the new cover).

That same commercial strategy is what is sustaining the Beano in its present state. At first glance, the current approach seems to be more or less working, so there's no incentive to try anything new, or even venture outside the comfort zone of a lazy stereotype of a lot of adults' opinions of kids' comics demonstrated this week. But, slowly but surely, as the family traditionalists and foolhardy loyalists like me drift away and the comic fails to attract new readers in its own right, and as the well of ideas runs drier and drier and new sources remain untapped, and as every last punchline gets progressively replaced with the juvenile equivalent of a loud klaxon and a red sign saying "LAUGH", the comic will follow its sister into the abyss - and we'll still be looking towards the Dandy of 2012 and wondering what could have been.

tl;dr version: The Beano has taken up substituting punchlines with lazy pictures of people farting, and this is not a good thing.
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Lew Stringer
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Lew Stringer »

swirlythingy wrote:How did this come about?
The popularity of Viz being read by kids too young to officially buy it, making them jaded towards more innocent comic humour, and children's publishers finding that Johnny Fartpants was about the only Viz strip safe enough to imitate to try and win them over.

Probably.
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Phoenix
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Phoenix »

swirlythingy wrote:The Beano has taken up substituting punchlines with lazy pictures of people farting, and this is not a good thing.
Wow! I think it's up to you to take up the cudgels now, Digi, and rush to the defence of your favourite comic.

A genuine question here. Roughly when did the farting theme start to become generally accepted in children's comics, and who was to blame? Thomsons easily managed to produce text and picture story papers for 80 years (1921-2001) without needing to offend its readers with such rubbish. My elder son Andrew's only British comics were Tiger and Roy of the Rovers, and they weren't contaminated. My younger son Russell was a reluctant reader so, as I wasn't going to put up with that, I showered him with comics every week. Any port in a storm. Basically he took to them but, as there were so many, I didn't have time to read more than a fraction of them with him, so maybe the fault lay in the fact that he wasn't bringing me any fart-laden comics for us to read together. One thing is certain, though. He used to enjoy going into Liverpool with me, and he would often spend his pocket money in a joke shop in Dale Street on fart gas. His mother and I were quite indulgent and amused at the same time as we were telling him to go and play outside and manhandling him towards the front door.

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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Lew Stringer »

Phoenix wrote: A genuine question here. Roughly when did the farting theme start to become generally accepted in children's comics, and who was to blame?
Possibly just after Dennis the Menace's sister Bea debuted in The Beano around 1998? I know I've been using the theme in Team Toxic (in Toxic) since 2002, mostly with the character Bog using his farts to deter alien invaders, mad robots and other baddies. But I think I've only used it as the punchline twice in ten years.

Then there was Stinkbomb, one of the pupils in the Super School strip I drew for The Beano.

Personally, my thoughts are if the farts are shown to be wildly exaggerated mushroom-cloud effects with the strength to smash objects then it becomes too absurd to be repulsive. (But hopefully, so absurd that it's funny.) After all, it's not like the comic is treated with a scratch and sniff chemical, so no one should feel offended. Of course, repetition does dilute the comedy effect of anything, so bottom burps should be used sparingly and wisely.

Oh, and I tend to use Thrrrup!, Frapp!, or similar sfx in my strips. Lettering "Fart" as a sound effect is too obvious IMHO.
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Jonny Whizz
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Jonny Whizz »

I think toilet humour only really seemed to become commonplace in the Beano around about 2003 - I don't remember there being many fart jokes when I first started reading it in 2002. Certainly, I'd struggle to think of any Bea strips before 2003 that featured toilet humour - in fact, remarkably, in one issue (in May 2002, I think) the word 'fart' was actualy censored in a Bea story. It would be nice to pinpoint it to a certain issue, but I suspect this may be somewhat difficult given that trends in humour tend to take quite some time to become apparent.

In the case of Bea I think there must have been a clear change in direction in terms of scriptwriting at some point (again, probably around 2003). Although in some strips this was used quite creatively, it soon became very predictable, which was a shame as many of the Bea stories from 1998-2003 were more entertaining and original than the strips up until the merger with Ivy in 2008 (after this point the situation improved, although toilet gags were still used fairly frequently).

I do think this week's Dennis strip took things a bit far (the joke with Mrs Creecher in the final frame was, in my opinion, in poor taste). The others weren't so bad, though definitely not as good as the more creative strips like Minnie the Minx (my personal highlight of this week's issue).
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by philcom55 »

I'm not sure what to make of this. As far as I can remember young children in every generation have always found farts and poo irresistibly funny - only to grow out of it as puberty suddenly equips them with an adult capacity for embarrassment; this is one of the fundamental rites of passage in growing up.

Yet the odd thing is that all us sophisticated adults thought the embarrassing noise made by the chair in Reggie Perrin's boss's office was absolutely hilarious - so much so that the audience would invariably laugh with anticipation before Reggie even sat down! I think the key to all this is that children actually enjoy causing embarrassment in others (especially their parents), while adults empathize with the idea of anyone else's humiliation - simultaneously feeling a sense of consolation from the knowledge that everybody is capable of looking like a fool, coupled with sheer relief that it didn't happen to them!

To paraphrase LP Hartley, 'Childhood is a foreign country: they do things differently there.'

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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Phoenix »

philcom55 wrote:'Childhood is a foreign country: they do things differently there.'
Yes indeed! At least once every single day I wish I could go back there.

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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Raven »

swirlythingy wrote: I hope I'm wrong. Because otherwise, what this points to is a company, which built a juvenile empire on the backs of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids et al., having forgotten how to make kids laugh. They paper over the cracks with word balloons saying, "Hey, look over there! Somebody farting!", but sooner or later it becomes all too apparent that the Beano - and, to a lesser extent, the Dandy - is an castle built on sand.

It's, as you intimate, lack of inspiration. When Leo Baxendale and co. wrote Match of the Week they never needed to do a Farters Vs. Bogey Flickers or the like, because they had fertile comic minds that never ran dry. Comedy was their natural medium, and boundless imagination was their gift. There were no signs of desperation. The decision to have things written by in-house staff rather than by comedy writers is probably much more a financial one than an artistic one, and you're probably seeing the results. Inspired comedy writing isn't easy and those who to whom it presumably doesn't come naturally tend to fall back on easy choices, which you see being repeated ad nauseum. It all seems a bit cynical and joyless, doesn't it?

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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Jonny Whizz »

I'm not aware of D.C.T. having ever used comedy writers to write strips for their humour comics (apart from maybe a couple of one-offs). However, i think it's interesting how often strips written by the artist who draws them are better and funnier than those written in-house.

If you think of the strips that have been written and drawn by the same person in the Beano and Dandy over the last decade or so, most of them have been consistently funny - there's plenty of examples in the current Dandy, but you can also point to Mike Pearse and Kev F's stories in the Beano, as well as Gary Northfield's Derek the Sheep and even Ratz (when Hunt and Laura were writing it - although the strips are still usually good, personally I felt it hit its peak around 2007-2008).
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Digifiend
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Digifiend »

Phoenix, I'm going to wait a day or two to pass comment on this as I haven't read this week's issues yet - the only Beano in the shop I went to today had a smudged cover, as if it had got wet or something, and they don't sell the Dandy.

Although the fact that my favourite strip, Roger the Dodger, is a reprint, says a lot I reckon.

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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Raven »

Jonny Whizz wrote:I'm not aware of D.C.T. having ever used comedy writers to write strips for their humour comics (apart from maybe a couple of one-offs). However, i think it's interesting how often strips written by the artist who draws them are better and funnier than those written in-house.
Well, they used to use freelancers (most of whom would probably write for DCT and IPC over the years), but artists can also, of course, be comedy writers - though artists are not always (and often not) the best writers. However, they did used to have much better writers on staff, who seemed to be natural humorists; I think the guy who wrote Puss and Boots (probably their best written strip) was on the staff, and I think the writers who supplied Leo Baxendale with scripts for his Beano strips would also have been staff, but that's all going back a long way. Nowadays the best stuff seems to come from outside. Derek the Sheep was one of those that really stood out (in a good way); not formulaic or strained.
Last edited by Raven on 20 Jun 2012, 22:45, edited 1 time in total.

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swirlythingy
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by swirlythingy »

Just to make myself absolutely clear: I don't have anything against toilet humour, so long as, just like all other kinds of humour, it is used only in moderation.

(As has been pointed out, Bea was a series notable for violating this rule.)

But five times in a single comic is completely silly.

And when, as in the case of Fred's Bed, it appears to be randomly deployed in lieu of a punchline, presumably to save the writer the effort of thinking of one, that's the time to start worrying.
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stevezodiac
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by stevezodiac »

Perhaps they're working toward a tie-in with Heinz Beanz or Heinz Beanoz. Good for your heart.

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Tin Can Tommy
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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Tin Can Tommy »

On a semi-related note, there is a dietary supplement (that's what Wikipedia describes it as) called Beano which supposedly reduces flatulence.

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Re: Panic at the Pumps!

Post by Lew Stringer »

Raven wrote: It's, as you intimate, lack of inspiration. When Leo Baxendale and co. wrote Match of the Week they never needed to do a Farters Vs. Bogey Flickers or the like, because they had fertile comic minds that never ran dry. Comedy was their natural medium, and boundless imagination was their gift. There were no signs of desperation.
It's more to do with reflecting the times. I'm sure that if "gross humour" had been in vogue in the media in the 1970s, and freelancers were asked to include it, they would have.

I've been writing and drawing Team Toxic for ten years. Gross humour was part of the remit, but I hope my stories have shown imagination as well as I've had the team travel through time and space and other dimensions, and defend their own home town of Spud City from mad robots, flying feet, hopeless vampires and more. Despite the theme of this topic, modern comics aren't all full of wind.
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