Originally created by the legendary Leo Baxendale under the alternate title When the Bell Rings!, and later illustrated by the equally key David Sutherland for a staggering 3,000-plus strips, The Bash Street Kids begin their 70th anniversary celebration in the latest issue of Beano this week (#4222 for the record – take that once again Marvel numbering!). A remarkable run from a true phenomenon of British publishing and one very much deserving of the six-part serial that starts in these pages.
The Bash Street Kids by Andy Fanton and Nigel Parkinson
For the uninitiated the strip, a fixture of the long-running British kids humour anthology, centres on the eponymous group of schoolkids who have made up Class 2B at Bash Street School for the last seven decades, constantly making the life of the economically named “Teacher” a fairly miserable affair. In recent years this group of mostly white schoolboys including favourites like Danny and Plug, has become one that is far more diverse and representative, with certain characters renamed to remind us that it’s currently 2024 not 1954. These positive moves, as will come as a surprise to pretty much nobody in comics, have not always gone down very well with a certain demographic of ageing white comics “fans” but are an admirable move from publishers DC Thomson to represent the world as it is today.
Minnie the Minx by Andy Fanton and Laura Howell
While the line-up may have changed, the frantic, frenetic fun of the strip remains firmly in place. In Andy Fanton and Nigel Parkinson’s 70th special story the kids are delighted to hear that Teacher has vanished. But when they discover that the Mayor now has other plans for them and the school they begin to realise that they need to find their missing tutor and reset the status quo before it’s too late. Fanton and Parkinson ably set up this mystery/quest while never skimping on the requisite witty characterisation, comedic timing and (in this case) custardy slapstick. To mark the occasion the characters appear in a number of the other strips in this Beano issue, whether in cameos or as catalysts for events.
Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed by Nigel Auchterlounie and Nigel Parkinson
It’s incredible to think so many of these characters have been around for decades and feel fresher now than they ever did. Speedster Billy Whizz (first appearance 1964) is getting to grips with social media in this issue in a story that builds up to a great punchline from the Ned Hartley/Wayne Thompson team. The Numskulls (who first appeared in The Beezer in 1962) are still controlling the actions of their human host from inside his brain, now with Nigel Auchterlounie (whose work I first discovered via Blank Slate Books a lifetime ago) finding ever more inventive ways to exploit this ingenious premise. Meanwhile Beano’s most recognisable duo Dennis and Gnasher continue to get up to tricks, this time around in a tale by Auchterlounie and Nigel Parkinson that gives us a neat message about the importance of appreciating friends but without diluting any of the feature’s mischievousness.
Har-Har’s Joke Shop by Hugh Raine and Emily McGorman-Bruce
Beano continues to underline how important it is for all kids to see themselves represented in fiction with characters of colour like Jem Jones, Ghost Hunter! and wheelchair users like Rubi in Rubi’s Screwtop Science given prominent places. It also gives off the feeling that readers are part of the proceedings, especially with interactive features like Make Me a Menace, Want to Be the Beano Boss?, and Be More Beano which undoubtedly give the readership a sense of community and belonging. It’s also impressive to see a page dealing with wellbeing and mental health awareness included herein.
Dangerous Dan by Andy Fanton and The Sharp Bros.
Where this issue sadly almost trips itself up is in the inclusion of a Harry Potter-themed competition. Given the author of that series of books’ toxic views and the deeply problematic make-up of the cast of her books – at complete odds with what we now see in Beano – that seems a curious and totally misjudged choice of promotion. Still, in every other regard this is a wonderful issue exemplifying everything the Beano team have been doing in recent years to ensure all of their younger readership feel welcome. Not just a British comics institution but a genuine national treasure.
Nigel Auchterlounie, Ned Hartley, Hugh Raine, Andy Fanton, Danny Pearson, John-Pail Bove (W), Nigel Auchterlounie, Wayne Thompson, Emily McGorman-Bruce, The Sharp Bros, Laura Howell, Leslie Stannage, George Gant, Barrie Appleby, Nigel Parkinson, Mel Prats, Hugh Raine, Rianne Rowlands. Hunt Emerson (A) • DC Thomson, £2.99
Review by Andy Oliver