FEATURE: ‘Hitchin is Beanotown – I always try and get the town in my stories' says talented comic-book writer Danny Pearson

  Posted: 05.08.20 at 18:36 by LAYTH YOUSIF @HitchinNubNews

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We all know our wonderful town of Hitchin is full of intelligent, creative people – but how many of you know we’ve also got a Beano contributor too?

The much-loved Beano comic is longest running publication of its kind in the country.

Printed by DC Thompson in Dundee, since 1938 it has thrilled generations of youngsters with its tales of loveable rouges such as Dennis The Menace, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids to name but three.

We all know the comic, with many of us in Hitchin having bought it at some stage in our lives.

You or your children may still buy it in some form, as it’s also the most successful children’s Christmas annual – beating off Dr Who, Star Wars and others.

But did you know Hitchin provides one of the writers for the publication that is loved and admired across the world?

Writing for The Beano comic is a huge honour says Hitchin's Danny Pearson.

Meet one of Hitchin’s finest creative talents, Danny Pearson.
……..

Danny was very much a child of the 80s – brought up on cult cartoons and movies before studying Art at North Herts college in Hitchin. From there he moved onto studying Art and Graphic Design at Leeds Metropolitan University.

After graduating with no real clue of how best to use his creative talents he found a summer job as a children's bookseller at Waterstones in Hitchin’s busy Market Place – where he found his love of books, including children's books.

We speak over a drink at Coffee Lab in Hitchin’s Sun Street. Here’s what good-natured Danny had to say about his unusual role.

………..

Danny Pearson at the V&A before lockdown in an exhibition which featured his work

“After I left Waterstones to start work in publishing, where I worked my way up to become a publisher, I fell back in love with comics – the Beano in particular.

“I just thought: ‘I’d love to write for the Beano.’

“I asked a few people in the know: ‘How do you get to write for The Beano? I was told it was ‘impossible’ but still to give it a go. So I did. It was a long process but I eventually got in front of the right person and they asked me to do a script.

“I didn’t realise it was a test at the time. Perhaps I should have, but it took the pressure off. At the end they said: ‘Right, invoice us for your work.’ I just said: ‘Wow.’”

It’s fair to say the Beano is one of the few print successes around. Prior to Covid it was thriving. During the pandemic, subscriptions went up and even after lockdown copies are flying off the shelves as young and old want a piece of the evocative comic.

Danny Pearson outside the legendary DC Thompson building in Dundee, publishers of The Beano since 1938

The comic has expanded along a few different avenues, but the website is off the scale.

The new CBBC series Dennis and Gnasher has been the No1 kids TV series. The new series came out recently and is trending at No1 already. It’s also huge in Australia and they’re trying to crack America.

At a time when printed newspapers are struggling, with many local efforts on their knees up and down the country, the Beano is a good news story writ large – with Hitchin’s Danny very much part of it.

Yes, as with all successful publications they have diversified across several platforms and genres. The Beano is not just a comic anymore. It’s all about apps, animation, films, YouTube clips, making gunge – it’s moved into the 21st century.

Modest Danny deflects praise, keen to stress the entire Beano team are the reason behind the comic’s success, as he analyses just why he thinks it’s a hit.

“With the comic it feels like it is a bit like Pixar,” he explains, as he becomes animated about his passion, explaining: “It’s pitched to kids but adults can understand the joke. Underlying jokes which are funny but become funnier because of the twist behind it – usually a film or book quote.

“On that level it’s a multi-generational thing. The cartoon itself is very funny but it is very much aimed at children. CGI graphics as well. They’re hitting the demographic right, they know which markets they need to go for.

“I met the team last year in Dundee and had a good laugh with them. They do an amazing job piecing together the words and images. For me it’s always about the illustrations and illustrators. We all try and get together for unofficial Beano catch-ups or Comic-Cons. Writers and artists and we swap stories.

“Writers always say it’s the artists that are the important ones, while the artists always say it’s the writers. Until I see my scripts illustrated I don’t think they exist. Because I work so closely with the artists I know how they work. Whether they’re best at drawing dinosaurs for example. Or fighting cats. That way you know you’re going to write a better script while getting the best out of them too.

“It’s a collaborative effort. The team in Dundee are superb. They do nurture a lot. If they think a better gag will go into my script they will suggest it. It’s happened a couple of times and it has enhanced the script. But they’d never just put it in. Everyone at the Beano is working towards one goal and that’s to do the best we can.”

..........

Self-deprecating Danny tells a story against himself.

At parties he never introduces himself as someone who writes for the Beano. But other people do. If asked, Danny will always say he’s a children’s book writer. Then, if pushed after that, he’ll say he’s a children’s comic writer – while bracing himself for plenty of questions.

Danny recalls his mate who works in the music industry - who looks after Ed Sheeran. Danny and his pal were at Wembley for Ed’s gig a couple of years ago and got introduced to everyone in the VIP room afterwards.

“The funny thing was, no-one cared my mate was with Ed Sheeran,” says Danny with a twinkle in his eye, adding: ‘They wanted to talk to me about the fact I work for The Beano!

“It was so surreal - my mate joked about the levels of interest: ‘No1 was Beano writer’, ‘No2 Premier League footballer’, followed by ‘No3, rock star.’”

Danny laughs at the absurdity of it all. But his notion very much rings true. Everyone loves a comic. And everyone loves the Beano.

But does Danny think being from Hitchin has helped his creative juices? Indeed, does it even inform them? Is Hitchin his ‘muse’ for Beano story ideas?

“The town of Hitchin has helped my work as it is a town with such talented, creative people,’ he answers, immediately and emphatically, adding: “This town is so cool.

“I went to London Bridge the other day on the train to see a mate. No one was around. We had a pint near the river. I said ‘you need to drag yourself up to Hitchin – that’s where things are happening.

“Windmill Hill is almost like the hill at Glastonbury at times when it’s sunny.

“Everyone sitting around vibing and having a good time. Last time I was there, some dude pulls out a purple wheelie bin from nowhere and turns it into a portable ghetto blaster full of Ibiza house tunes.

“It was good. There was a sweet spot when everyone was coming out of lockdown and wanted to talk.”

Danny explains how Hitchin inspires his work by recalling a talk he gave in the town to a large number of youngsters, eager to learn about the Beano and the man who writes for them.

“I did a talk at Hitchin library a while back,” he remembers, adding: “It was boiling hot. I was invited to do the summer reading challenge about the Beano.

“Each session had 30 kids and I did three of them in a day. Becca the library manager said we needed three more hour long sessions as there were still so many children who wanted to learn more about the Beano.

“I told them inspiration is everywhere. I showed them some scripts. I showed them pictures of Jess [Danny’s adorable pug]. Then they realised what I meant. I had scripts with Jess jumping on the furniture, burping and barking for food.

“So, yes, I draw upon Hitchin for my Beano stories.”

.........

During Hitchin Town’s memorable FA Cup run a couple of seasons ago, they were drawn against Solihull, in a match which was televised by the BBC.

Influenced by the Canaries’ heroic run, Danny penned a football script and asked the Beano artist, Barrie Appleby, very nicely if the away kit and fans scarves could be green and yellow to match the team from Top Field.

With interest in the Canaries - and the town itself - reaching fever pitch following their run to the first round proper of the world’s oldest cup competition, with the team making headlines around the world, the club readily agreed.

So Danny shared his Beano story with the Canaries official Twitter feed - which has more than 10,000 followers – in a move which boosted considerable interest in all parties.

Danny continues on the theme of his Hitchin ‘muse’, saying: “Another story from our town which ended up in the Beano was based around the fact there is always a large queue around Hitchin Swimming Centre on sunny days [prior to lockdown] to get to the open air pool - so I did a script about how best to dodge the queues and get in quickly.

“I have drawn on Windmill Hill too. Kids love sledging down it when it snows, so I did a piece on that. For me Hitchin is Beanotown. I always try and get Hitchin in my Beano stories.

“The swans fighting the ducks for food in the River Hiz outside St Mary’s Church.

“That story will be in the Beano in a couple of months.”

“This is what it should look like: You have to be inspired about where you’re from and without a doubt Hitchin is a cool place to live and visit. On a normal year you’re never stuck for events. Simply walking around town gives me four or five ideas every time without fail.

Danny is Hitchin born and bred. He was one of the last babies to be born at the old Hitchin Hospital before everything switched to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage.

He then attended William Ransom primary school in the town, before going over to John Henry Newman in Stevenage - while having loads of friends at Hitchin Boys’ School and Hitchin Girl’s School.

Similar to us all, lockdown has been challenging for Danny, but, equally there have been new opportunities and new horizons.

“Lockdown has been interesting. I actually handed in my notice for my job in January - a decision I’m still happy with as it would have been challenging working for them during lockdown.

“I’ve now got three kids books coming out early next year. I also write for Hidden Hitchin magazine.

“New opportunities have come my way through freelance writing because content is still needed. I’ve also started writing for other publishers of kids books – and of course The Beano which has kept me fed through lockdown.”

When Danny is asked which Beano characters he writes for [Roger, Gnasher and Gnipper and Rubi Von Screwtop], he is keen to stress he replies by saying he doesn’t write for a character, he simply ‘looks after’ them - as he insists he’s only a custodian of the much-loved characters.

Danny’s adorable dog Jess the pug is also his muse.

Three quarters of his scripts come from taking her for a walk he admits, adding that, if he’s ever stuck for ideas, or has hit a creative block, he’ll take her for a walk, finding inspiration in a few short moments.

Danny explains his thought processes, saying: “Roger [The Dodger] is a cunning little fox. It’s basically task avoidance. It’s whatever I don’t want to do today.

“It’s usually remembering your childhood in getting out of doing your homework. How do you ‘lie’ to your mum and dad in such a way it’s not a lie it’s a ‘dodge’.”

Humble Danny adds: “I’ve been very lucky, I’ve also been able to work with Bananaman, Minnie The Minx, Billy Whizz, Ball Boy and Rasher the Pig. I’ve written for the Dandy and their annuals. But all my focus is on the Beano. It’s still their best seller. It beat the Star Wars annual the Dr Who annual. It’s still top of the comic food chain in my opinion.”

With a smile on his face and a quiet pride in his voice, he concludes: “The Beano isn’t just another piece of writing. It’s the Beano.

“It means something to so many people. Especially the annual. That’s the big one. It’s printed for life. Everyone raises their game for that. It’s forever.

“I loved The Beano before but I appreciate it even more now.”

So say us all.

Follow Danny Pearson on Twitter


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