All images featured are copyright of respective publishers: DC Thomson/ Rebellion
Where Does Zzzap! Come From?
To properly explain where the fundamental ideas and concept of Zzzap! came from, we must start in December 1937 with the launch of a British children’s comic book called The Dandy.
Before The Dandy, comics in the UK were predominately a mix of: Story papers (with text adventure stories) such as The Magnet (featuring Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School), Adventure, The Skipper, The Rover, The Wizard, Hotspur, Boys’ Own Paper, The Champion, Chums, The Gem and The Modern Boy; black-and-white humour comics (with ‘comic strips’) in the form of Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, Punch, Judy, Comic Cuts, Illustrated Chips, Funny Wonder and Film Fun; and comics targeted at very young children including Rainbow. Main publishers before 1937 included DC Thomson and Amalgamated Press.
Examples of text story papers by DC Thomson
In the late 1920s DC Thomson started incorporated humour strips in the story papers and in 1936 launched a ‘Fun Section’ for children as part of its’ popular Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post, following the footsteps of The Daily Mirror (with the strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred among others) and the Daily Express (with Rupert Bear).
However, DC Thomson decided to target older readers by introducing two comic strips: Oor Wullie and The Broons. These strips were and still are extremely popular in Scotland, with Christmas annuals being published since 1940. The first main artist of Oor Wullie and The Broons was Dudley D Watkins.
Oor Wullie and The Broons Then and Now – Copyright DC Thomson 1936 – 2018
Dudley Watkins was recruited the following year to work on The Dandy, a brand-new colour comic by DC Thomson. His most famous contribution to the Dandy was Desperate Dan, at first a rough, tough cowboy with super-strength; but later became the clumsy, cow-pie eating cowboy from Cactusville.
Desperate Dan became the main mascot of the Dandy, even taking over Korky the Cat as the front cover star in 1984. Dan also had a ‘Pie Eater’s Fan Club’ which was extremely popular in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. After Watkins death in 1969, the strip was reprinted (at least in the weekly comic) until 1983. Peter Davidson, Ken H Harrison, Charles Grigg, David Parkins, Trevor Metcalfe, Steve Bright, John Geering, Jamie Smart and Nigel Parkinson among others drew Dan’s adventures for the next 29 years.
“Desperate Dan” through the years
Between 1937 and 1984, The Dandy’s main star was Korky the Cat – Korky was initially very similar to silent animated cartoon Felix the Cat, but started talking in 1940. The character like Desperate Dan lasted the weekly comic’s lifespan (from 1937 to 2012).
The Dandy was very successful – and as a result DC Thomson made plans for a ‘sister title’ in early 1938.
The Beano was launched in July 1938 and featured a wide variety of different characters like the Dandy. Notable examples in 1938 included Big Eggo (1938 – 1949) and Lord Snooty (1938 – 1991). Both characters have enjoyed revivals in recent years. Big Eggo was replaced on the front cover by Biffo The Bear in 1948.
Above: Big Eggo by Reg Carter (1938), Lord Snooty by Ken Harrison (1987) and the first Biffo the Bear by Dudley Watkins (1948)
With the success of the Beano and the Dandy, DC Thomson published annuals for both comics at Christmas and a third humour comic in 1939 called ‘The Magic Comic’.
Sadly, The Magic Comic was short-lived due to paper storages in the Second World War. The Beano and The Dandy during this time were published on alternative weeks and had a reduced page count. This continued until 1950. Plans for ‘a Big Humour Five’ as proposed by DC Thomson were immediately put on hold.
Just before the Magic Comic was launched, Amalgamated Press decided to compete with DC Thomson and published Knockout, their first colour comic. Popular characters included Our Ernie and Deed-a-Day-Danny. In fact, Knockout was popular enough to incorporate story paper The Magnet, which meant Billy Bunter became part of the comic.
Deed-a-Day Danny from 1941
Paper rationing stopped in 1950. As a result, more money and resources were put into production of magazines and comics.
Between 1945 and 1950, there was an unexpected baby boom. This in turn saw the Beano and Dandy get record sales and expand size for the first time.
Hulton Press (who published Picture Post and Lilliput) published two new comics: The Eagle and Girl. The Eagle was aimed at a more serious, older readership than the Beano and the Dandy, featuring the space-age adventures of Dan Dare.
Next page coming soon