British comics bring mischief to the iPad

I grew up reading British comics, but because I lived in the United States most of the time, I couldn't just trot down to my local newsagent to get the latest Beano or Dandy. My aunts used to send me bundles of them every now and then from Ireland, and the arrival of these big rolls of comics, wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string, was always a special event in our household.

The Beano and The Dandy featured one- or two-page stories, mostly about mischievous kids punking their parents, their teachers, or the local bully, and they had a goofy sensibility that was missing from the smoother, blander American titles we got at home — Archie, Richie Rich, Little Dot.

While they are less exotic than a package from a foreign land, the brand-new Beano and Dandy iPad apps still deliver the goods. Both apps offer the full weekly comic at a reasonable price ($1.99 for most issues, 99 cents for one of the Dandys), plus a handful of back issues for free. The Beano is almost unchanged from the days of my youth, with old favorites like Roger the Dodger and the Bash Street Kids still causing rather mild trouble for all around them, while The Dandy is a bit edgier, with more short strips, fart jokes, and a comic called The Bogies that's about boogers. (It's funny and not particularly mucus-oriented but ... eew.) However, it also features the very talented Jamie Smart breathing new life into the classic Desperate Dan (about an enormous cowboy who doesn't know his own strength) and contributing a delightfully goofy newer strip "Pre-Skool Prime Minister."

I learned of the apps via the blog of British artist Lew Stringer, who remarks that newsstand distribution has become less reliable of late. Both comics recently raised their cover prices, but for American readers anyway, they are cheaper than print, priced at $1.99 rather than £1.99. And they seem to be published the same day as print, too. I don't know much about the British comics distribution system, but this seems to be less of an issue there than here.

The apps are well done, with straightforward navigation, although some of the Dandy pages seem to be cut off at the bottom. I would say the target audience for these comics is boys between 7 and 10 or so — the core fart-joke demographic — but there's a lot for girls to like, too. And while it gets a little gross from time to time, there's nothing offensive in either comic. In fact, they have gotten blander since my day, when there was a lot more slapstick violence. And of course, there's nothing wrong with adults reading these — some of the cartooning is quite good, and those gag strips and crazy characters are still funny, even though some of them are over 70.

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