It has been enjoyable working through the Beano scripts. Writing jokes or puns and crafting little silly scenes isn’t particularly easy but it is fun. It probably helps that both my sons are addicted to Tom & Jerry and other old cartoons on Boomerang; each one is a teeny master class in cartoons and punchlines. And punching as it happens.
My youngest asked me why Pepe Le Pew was smoking the other day. Squinting at the screen I was actually more disturbed at how much of a sex pest Pepe is. Never mind Everyday Sexism that bloody skunk needs a restraining order and I’m sure I’m not the first to make this observation.
I find the slapstick of these old cartoons to be quite bracing in general compared to most of the offerings on kids telly. Amongst the Disney sass and moralistic fluff there are however some clever modern kids cartoons to be found; Gumball I like, and Oggy & The Cockroaches certainly carries on the Tom & Jerry tradition of retributive justice via the medium of pickaxes and anvils.
In terms of comics I was probably more of a Whizzer and Chips / Buster fan as a kid but I certainly read the Beano a fair bit. My favourite strip in the Beano is and was Calamity James. You can see the first strip here. The little squidgy things which follow him around with captions, and the articulated sound effects still make me laugh and the artwork is exquisitely evocative of my childhood. Those strips don’t look like anything else.
Writing one liners is an interesting process. Yes you can mine a million of these off the internet and joke books but once you have written a certain volume of content you just see the same gags coming round again and again. At some point you have to buckle down and invent some. I feel like Alan Partridge recommending a book by Nigel Rees but I have his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable which has provided me with a lot of punchlines and you basically work backwards. It’s inelegant but it results in the kind of word play which I think kids like. Gold dust as Alan would say.
What makes a good joke for children? I’ve read a lot of joke books for kids (one of my favourite books as a kid was the Ha Ha Bonk book). Often they contain very old jokes and as an adult you roll your eyes and think “money for old rope” (tweetabix… oinkment… pull yourself together etc). These old chestnuts are however beautifully clear and unambiguous and perhaps as much a part of our oral tradition as Little Red Riding Hood (and there’s another story that’s been sanitised into banality, The wolf ATE granny he did NOT hide her in the cupboard. The woodcutter KILLED the fox he didn’t shake his sodding fist at him)…
So I’ll let the old jokes off but it bugs me more when I see jokes still circulating even though their frame of reference has long since gone. What’s the point of a punchline about a man setting “a new world record” in relation to music when music hasn’t been on “records” for thirty years? If I showed my children an LP they’d think it was a tablemat. I’d also be a little wary of using the term “new world record” in a punchline to a generation of small children who have grown up without Norris McWhirter… but that’s probably overcautious.
Often you get expressions used in a punchline which haven’t dated as such, but which just aren’t in a kids frame of reference; ha on that topic: Why did the picture go to jail? Because it was framed. Being “framed for a crime” isn’t a phrase kids are likely to have come across unless they are from Chicago. In the 1940s.
Of course part of the fun of jokes is learning stuff through the word play. Another favourite book of mine was the Whizz Kids Handbook and it used the word “Dossiers.” quite a bit. The word fascinated me. Perhaps I am guilty of double standards here. I have stated that I don’t like bland kids telly but by removing tricky references in jokes am I saying that I prefer to anodise jokes to make life easier?
I guess my cautiousness springs from having to explain to my children a million punchlines which weren’t instantly crystal. I’m certain these explanations were aiding my children’s understanding, use and dare I say even love of language but… NOTHING kills a joke stone dead like having to explain it.
I’ll finish this entry with my favourite joke:
What’s the last thing that goes through a fly’s mind when it hits a window?