Jings! Have ye seen the new Broons book? It’s awfy!


Quick note: UK readers north of Tyne will know what a “Broons” book is.  They’ll probably also be familiar with “Oor Wullie”.  Both are comic strips that have been running since 1936 in the  Scottish weekly newspaper, The Sunday Post, and republished in annual compilations.

The latest one, though, is truly shocking.

When I was a boy, I read them endlessly.  I was familiar with the strange, slightly archaic Scots dialect sprinkled throughout – “Jings!”, for example is an expression of surprise, as is “Crivvens!” and “Help ma boab!”  (You can still hear these expressions in Scotland, but they are sometimes said a little ironically.)

Best of all, though, were the drawings by the wonderfully skilled and hugely prolific comic artist, Dudley D. Watkins.  He drew both The Broons – a large family living in a tenement)  – and Oor Wullie (“Our Willie”) about a mischievous wee lad.  Not only those, though: he drew a weekly Lord Snooty And His Pals for the Beano, plus Desperate Dan in The Dandy, Ginger in The Topper, various “adventure” strips (Jimmy And His Magic Patch was one of my favourites) and loads of others.  From about 1946 onwards Watkins was allowed the unusual privilege of signing some of his strips.  It is still uncommon.

Watkins died in 1969, when I was only six.  For several years afterwards, D C Thompson, publishers of The Sunday Post, continued reprinting his strips, and the books kept appearing in my Christmas stocking.

Then, one Christmas, some of the drawings were different.  An artist called Tom Lavery had been asked to reproduce Watkins’s style.  These new strips were mixed in with classics, perhaps so that we wouldn’t notice, but we did.  Bob Nixon, then Ken H Harrison replaced Lavery a few years later (and was accorded the “signature distinction”).  These were, in my teenage view, better than Lavery’s but still disappointing.  Harrison did the job for a long time.  The strips are now drawn by Peter Davidson.  None of these artists – excellent and accomplished as they are – could match Watkins’s skill and the mysterious, elusive charm of his drawings.

For a while now, DC Thomson have published various annual collections: regular Broons and Oor Wullie books, featuring the strips taken from the previous year’s Sunday Post.  Additionally, there are “classic” collections – The Broons At War, for example – with Watkins strips.  Nowadays, I don’t bother with the contemporary editions.  I find the stories tiresome and the drawings do not delight.  Bur I do like the “Classic Collections”.

Which is why I eagerly bought this book on Amazon last week.

I think I literally recoiled in horror when I opened the package.

For a start, there’s the cover.  Garishly-coloured, with oddly-proportioned 3-D-style characters, it is only the start.

Inside, the jaunty, two-line couplet that introduced each strip has been ditched – why, I cannot fathom.

Worst of all, though – much, much worse – are the strips themselves.  They look as though each one has been shoved into a cheap scanner by the work-experience kid.  They are printed smaller than they first appeared, with much of the detail becoming smudged and fuzzy.  Each strip appears as a grey block on the white page.

It is a truly appalling book: a thoughtless, careless and cynical misuse of an artist’s legacy.  Quite how DC Thompson – who have the reputation of guarding Watkins’s artwork and legacy jealously – allowed their subsidiary company Parragon Books – to produce such a substandard offering is beyond me.

It is truly sad.

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