Next week marks the 75th anniversary of The Dandy, when it will be published in print for the last time before moving entirely online. Justine Halifax takes a look back at its heyday with the family of the Halesowen cartoonist who drew characters such as Korky the Kat.
Charles Grigg loved drawing from the age of six, but little did the Halesowen pensioner know that he was destined to develop into one of the nation’s most celebrated comic cartoonists.
For while you may not know his name, you can’t fail to know his work.
Charles, or Chas as he has always signed his artwork, was the man behind Dandy’s Korky the Kat for more than 20 years, as well as a host of other comic cartoon characters, including the iconic Desperate Dan himself.
Just some of the other characters the 96-year-old drew during his long career include Kat and Kanary and Prince Whoopee for the Beano; Splodge and Shortie Shambles for Topper; and for Judy, The Ring that Winks and Kimi Kami.
On Tuesday, The Dandy’s 75-year legacy as one of the world’s longest-running children’s comics in print, that he was so much a part of, will come to a sad end.
Its publisher, DC Thomson, has confirmed it will stop printing the title, which will be commemorated with the release of a special edition. But the Dundee-based company has insisted the move will not spell the end of The Dandy or its characters as it has revealed what it describes as “exciting” online plans for the comic.
The move away from print comes after sales of the comic slumped to 8,000 a week from a high of two million in the 1950s.
But it was in its heyday that Charles, who began his career drawing cartoons for local newspapers while he worked as a toolmaker for a Black Country factory, worked for DC Thomson.
He took over drawing the cover for The Dandy Comic on January 20, 1962.
He was so good, it was a job he would do for the next 22 years – and for 21 of those years (from 1966 to 1987) he also illustrated all the Dandy Annual’s covers.
Son Steve, aged 62, of Halesowen, who is now sole carer for his dad who suffers from dementia, said his father would be devastated to hear that The Dandy, which he was so much a part of, would be coming to an end in print.
So much so that he plans not to tell him.
Steve says: “Dad has vascular dementia so he has no short-term memory, but he still has an amazing nature, he is a really jolly old fellow.
“But if I was to tell him The Dandy was coming to an end in print, then he would be disappointed.
“He would have forgotten five minutes later and the next day he would have the same disappointment, it’s a bit like Groundhog Day for him. So I think it’s best I don’t tell him.”
Chas’s time on The Dandy is something he still takes great pride in.
Steve adds: “We still have some of his original artwork and he’ll look through that on a daily basis.
“Ten years ago we got dad to write down his life story and he did in long hand and in pencil, so we have a record and it’s a very interesting life story. He’ll read through that most days too, which helps him to remember what he did.
“After starting out as an engineer he got into artwork. Dad started work for The Dandy so I really have grown up with it.
“It was such a part of my childhood, and of other people my age, not just because what dad did. I’ll be really sad to see it go in print too.
“I remember the way it would work with The Dandy. Publishers DC Thomson in Dundee would send dad the scripts of what would be included in the next story, say of Korky the Kat, and dad would do a draft drawing in pencil.
“He would then send the drawings off in tubes that had been used to store badminton shuttlecocks and then they would come back with the editor’s comments on and dad would then do them in Indian ink and send them back to the offices where the colour would be put on.
“But as he got more confident in his work he would just do them in Indian ink straight off.
“We’ve still got over 400 Dandys – dad did over 1,000 front covers and drew Korky the Kat for 20 years.
“Dad also did some of the famous saucy Bamforth’s postcards and we have copies of over 200 of these printed cards.
“It was always very special to have my dad doing the job he did. People were always fascinated to hear about it.
"As dad worked from home in a little box room I would go in to him and watch him drawing the comic strips so I could see what was going on in the story.
In Charles’s handwritten life story, which he did in long hand and in pencil just as he would have drawn his characters in draft, he recalls his first encounter with DC Thomson.
He states: “I began working as a freelance artist in February 1951.
“This came about through the editor of the Oldbury Weekly News (Herbert Cater) sending off some of my work to a London agency. I was contacted by them with the information a Northern Publishing Company – they didn’t tell me who – had seen my work at the agency and would I go for an interview with them in London – all expenses paid! Would I? I couldn’t get there fast enough! And so on the following Saturday, 2nd October, 1950, I boarded the train at New Street Station, bound for London.
“I arrived in Fleet Street at the offices of DC Thomson & Co of Dundee, the Publishers of The Dandy, Beano, Topper and a host of other children’s publications. I was just a bit overwhelmed!
“The representatives of the company were R D Low (Editor in Chief) and A W Barnes (Dandy Editor) who became a great friend in my time with Thomson’s.”
Father-of-two Chas, whose first job at 14 was apprentice woodworker at the Birmingham Railways Carriage & Wagon Co, remembers the dilemma and leap of faith he faced when deciding whether to give up a good job to become a full-time freelance artist.
He goes on to state: “I was now faced with the decision of my life. I had a good job with a reasonably good wage – I was married with two children. So what was I taking on? I was to be a freelance artist – relying on my own skill – not really knowing much about the company DC Thomson – no actual knowledge of how much I could earn – it seemed to be a great risk!
“But – I wanted to be an ARTIST. I wasn’t happy to spend the rest of my working life in a factory. I loved drawing, but I had to make a decision. My wife Margery was a great help in this situation as she had been through all the weeks and months before – she said “Go for it – it’s what you want to do – you won’t be happy if you don’t do it, so do it. So I did it!”
He later adds: “But I suppose the real break for me came towards the end of 1961. Albert Barnes, The Dandy editor sent me a script for the FRONT PAGE of Dandy. The original artist, Bill Crighton, had been taken ill so would I take on Korky until he recovered?
“I said of course, not knowing that I had taken on the front page of Dandy for the next 20-odd years.
“My first cover appeared on 20th January 1962 No.1052. My youngest son’s birthday. To say I was pleased is an understatement. The cover of The Dandy – I was over the moon, to coin a phrase.”
Son Steve continues: “He was a very modest man and wasn’t one to blow his own trumpet even though his artwork was so amazing and it was always received well at school too.
"But my mum, Margery, was the opposite of dad, she was a bit of an extrovert, she was never short in telling people what dad did, but I guess that’s because she was proud of him.
“She had a great sense of humour and lots of the jokes on the saucy postcards were based on my mother’s jokes. She died four years ago but she was a real character.
“Dad was asked to take over drawing Desperate Dan when the original artist, Dudley Watkins, died because the then editor-in-chief was so fond of my dad.
“Drawing Desperate Dan on top of his other work proved too much work in the end and he would only draw Desperate Dan in the annuals, which came out at Christmas – he did these from 1964 to 1984.
“But I grew up reading The Dandy, the fact we got it for free doesn’t matter, everyone had The Dandy, it was a real part of our childhood. At its peak I think it sold two million copies a week.
“We’ll all be sad to see it end in print, but I suppose that’s progress.
“A few years ago dad returned to The Dandy offices of DC Thomson in Dundee and they showed him their records of his artwork and were really affectionate towards him.
“Because his artwork was so good they did genuinely say how much they valued the work he had done for them.
“And I think that’s borne out by the decision by The Dandy editor-in-chief, Albert Barnes, to recruit dad to take over drawing Desperate Dan. Actually it’s that editor that they based Desperate Dan’s features on because of his prominent chin.”