By Steve Galloway
It was New Year’s Day 1980-something, and whilst the bodies of hungover family members lay strewn across my nana’s house, we bairns were relegated to one of the bedrooms to sleep or entertain ourselves till the drunk and weary awoke. Whilst hanging off a bed with two other bodies – two pairs of feet almost up my nostrils – I glanced over to see a stack of books on a small bookcase. Stealing a look at them I was surprised to find a stack of black and white comic annuals, and further inspection revealed these to be newspaper-style comic strips written in scots: one set of books featuring a family called ‘The Broons’, and the second stack about a boy called ‘Oor Wullie’. I couldn’t tell you what time the rest of the household awoke on that first day of a New Year, because I was so engrossed in the books and the first day of a new stage in my comics reading life.
DC Thomson have been publishing the stories of Wullie and his neighbouring family the Broons for over 85 years and it’s that rare artefact: a comic strip which has never lost its charm. Aside from artistic changes you can jump between strips from decades apart and not notice or even contemplate the time divide that has permeated other comics such as the Beano or Dandy. What is this mystery super power? How does a rascal in black dungarees remain timeless and relevant to readers?
Simplicity in a slice of life comic – in this case Scots’ life – helps keep the strip ageless. Simplicity in storytelling, scenarios like “Wullies no’ taking a bath”, or “he’s been to the chippy before his tea of mince and tatties” allow the reader to relate, absorb and enjoy the joke without the emotional rollercoaster of a cliffhanger, a season finale, a crossover, instead just having a moment of happiness in a single strip before moving on with life.
It’s Easter 2022, in a charity shop in Lincolnshire 30 mins from Skegness, and I’m browsing the offerings for a holiday read. I’m drawn to a familiar looking red textured spine, and on pulling out the A4 sized book I’m presented with the cover to the 2000/1 annual of Oor Wullie. It’s a no brainer, an instant purchase: I’m excited to share this trip back to my childhood with my English wife and daughter. Pronunciation hysterics aside, the stories inside were thoroughly enjoyed, and the main aspect of these newspaper strips that struck me was the innocence and playfulness of each story. Regardless of Wullie’s shenanigans all was mended by the end of the page and he was still loved and adored by his family and friends.
Nostalgia and homesickness were brought on in heaps by one strip in particular that occurs near the beginning of the annual – the stories span from New Year’s Day to Christmas Day of the following year. Wullie is playing out his day to the words of Tam O’Shanter in celebration of Burns Night and the interplay of the poem’s verses with the characters of the strip is perfectly balanced and visually executed. Having grown up in Dumfries and drip-fed Burns work since entering school, as well as compering Burns Night events in Nottingham, it was like gazing through a portal back to childhood, your life playing out to the Bards’ tales.
‘Jing’s, crivvens and help ma boab!’ – maybe the simplest ideas are the best.
Oor Wullie Annual 2000
Written and drawn by various, inc Ken Harrison
Published by DC Thomson
Steve Galloway is a writer, photographer and critic based in Nottingham. For more of his thoughts, you can find Steve on Twitter here!
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