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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 13:20 GMT
What exactly is going on at the Dandy?
If you've stumbled across the Dandy on the newsagents' shelves recently, it may well have come as a shock - it's nothing like the comic of old.

New Dandy
The face of the new Dandy
There's no familiar red logo, no Desperate Dan on the cover, no black-and-white comic pages inside - in short if it didn't say it was called Dandy, you would think this was something different altogether.

In its place, there's a glossy magazine, with skateboarding characters, cutesy TV-style animals, adverts for the Toon Disney TV channel, bigger pictures, and less text.

On pages between the cartoons, a character called Dermot (presumably modelled loosely on Dermot O'Leary) plays the role of TV link-man; in fact the whole comic now has the feel of a children's TV channel.

Three months ago, the Dandy introduced this most radical relaunch, trying to stem decades of declining circulation. Morris Heggie, editor for the past 20 years, says the decision was taken to make drastic changes after a realisation that the comic was out of touch.

"We had been practically unchanged since the 1960s," he says. "The only time things would change would be when one of our older artists retired and we so would need to change artists."

Old Dandy covers
The first issue, complete with Korky, left, and number 3007 from 1999

But aware of the deluge of media now directed at children, including films and games as well as TV, the comic's owners, DC Thomson, decided to go for wholesale change.

The new Dandy is about being brighter and livelier, says Heggie, as well as feeling much cooler, and being printed on better paper. "The Dandy was still fun for traditionalists - those children whose parents and grandparents had read it - but it wasn't fun for new readers. We were out of step with them and had to try to rectify that.

"We realised that if you watched any of the dozens of childrens' channels on TV there is a liveliness and a brightness that we were missing."

Initial reaction was mixed, he says. "We did get quite a lot of letters from children in their 40s and 50s disapproving of what we had done. But we got a big thumbs up from actual kids who are reading it." He estimates that circulation is up by 50% since the redesign.

Times have certainly changed, says comic expert Kev Sutherland. The days when there were dozens of general interest comics have gone, partly because newsagents can earn more money by selling glossy magazines for 3 than they can by selling comics for mere pence.

This may in part explain why the new Dandy costs 1.25.

Sutherland, who also draws the Bash Street Kids for the Beano, is not personally fond of the Dandy redesign, particularly because it has fewer comic strip pages in it. "But if I was in the Dandy's position, I can't say I would have known what to do instead. They had to address the situation."

Desperate Dan
Desperate Dan: Some things don't change, though
Heggie says that now the Dandy has decided to become current, it will have to make an effort to stay contemporary. So for instance Jak, the comic's current skateboarding cover-star, will see his fortunes rise and fall with the popularity of skateboarding.

In two years' time, characters will no doubt have changed again, says Heggie. But it seems that whatever changes may come, the Dandy will always have one element: Desperate Dan. Though he is no longer on the cover, the cow-pie-eating cowboy still has four inside pages devoted to him. Focus group testing of an issue without him led children to realise immediately that he had been left out - and they didn't like it.

Similarly, Bananaman - a refugee from Nutty comic - is also hanging on.

But the same cannot be said for fellow stalwart Korky the Cat.

In a recent readers' poll, Korky got zero votes - either as favourite character or as least favourite.

"It was like he didn't exist," says Heggie. This may explain a recent issue's black humour in what could turn out to be Korky's final appearance: having spent two pages talking about how much he was looking forward to a school reunion, Korky turned up only to find that not a soul knew who he was.

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