Desperate Dan, you’re my main man

Desperate Dan made his first appearance in issue 1 of the “The Dandy Comic” in December 1937 as reproduced above. “The Dandy Comic” was arguably Scotland’s greatest contribution to 20th century popular culture at least until a single mother completed her book about a boy wizard in an Edinburgh café in 1995. “The Dandy Comic” changed everything in British comics and would become the model for all future British funny comics including “The Beano” which was launched the following year. Desperate Dan was the creation of artist Dudley D. Watkins. In 1936 he had co-created Oor Wullie and the Broons with D.C. Thomson editor R.D. Low for the Dundee published newspaper “The Sunday Post” and the instant success of both these strips showed there was a big market for humorous comics. The following year the two men would work on the launch of “The Dandy Comic” for D.C. Thomson and Co. Ltd of Dundee.

We are currently displaying issue number one of “The Dandy Comic” in the Treasures gallery in our main George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh alongside some related items. This will be followed by a display celebrating the work of Dudley D. Watkins in September. Watkins was a man who deserves the over used word genius. In a three-year period from 1936 to 1938 he created or co-created Oor Wullie, The Broons, Desperate Dan and Lord Snooty. They are some of the most enduring characters in British comics and continue to delight new generations. His genius was to combine the everyday with the fantastical. He set Oor Wullie and the Broons in a heightened version of the real Scotland. Walking around Broughty Ferry ,the Dundee suburb where Watkins lived, you would not be surprised if you bumped into Oor Wullie or Pa and Ma Broon. Desperate Dan was supposedly a cowboy in the wild west but his adventures featured very British looking post boxes. I suspect Dan’s hometown of Cactusville’s real location is at the end of a dusty road a couple of miles inland from Broughty Ferry, not Texas.

“The Dandy Comic” was an instant success selling 450,000 copies which was 100,000 more than “The Wizard” which until then had been D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd’s bestselling title. Within twenty years it would be selling an incredible two million copies a week. Today “The Dandy Annual” is a perennial Christmas bestseller and the edition for 2024 with Dan on the cover is in our display next to the first issue of “The Dandy Comic”. Currently you can come and see the first issue of a comic that is not just an important part of Scottish publishing history but has and continues to give pleasure to millions.

“The Dandy Comic” is the king of British comics. It has been celebrated, imitated and satirised by “Viz” among others for over 80 years, but still retains its crown. The weekly comic ceased publication in 2012, but “The Dandy Annual” and specials continue to be published and in Desperate Dan it gave Scotland and the world an immortal character. Since 2001 a life size (8 foot tall) bronze statue of Desperate Dan has stood in the High Street in Dundee, the city where he was created and published. It is that relative rarity, a modern statue that is loved by the public who line up to take selfies with Dan.

Our thanks to D C Thomson for permission to use this image