Toon toon

Over the past century, Dundee has played host to the creators of The Dandy, The Beano and Grand Theft Auto. Fiona Sibley welcomes a new, special-edition comic and exhibition which celebrate the city’s animation heritage

A trinity of themes – regeneration, bioscience and video-gaming – are the unlikely heroes of a new, special-edition comic about to hit the streets of Dundee.

If the correlation between these elements seems elusive, they are, in fact, major threads in Dundee’s current design scene, and have been selected as themes around which three designers have woven an animated, fantasy history of the city.

As Scotland’s Six Cities Design Festival whirs into motion, Dundee is commemorating its animation heritage with a series of events, including this specially commissioned comic. See New Worlds is a collaborative work by graphic illustrators Lyall Bruce (of Sooper Double D), Victoria Baker and Stuart David Fallon, and it charts a young girl going back in time to save a computer game from destruction.

‘All of the locations are recognisable places in Dundee, and the comic tells the story of the city, capturing various significant moments, going right back to a visionary planner of the 1880s,’ says Bruce, the project’s lead illustrator. ‘The idea was to play on the history of visual storytelling in Dundee.’

Animation has been a big part of the city’s heritage since The Dandy was first published 70 years ago by publishers DC Thomson, followed by its equally iconic relation, The Beano.

The Dandy turns septuagenarian in December, but a more youthful, creative development in the city was the foundation of David Jones’s DMA Design, which designed Grand Theft Auto when it was located in Dundee before the company moved to Edinburgh and into Rockstar Games’s ownership.

Gaming is the method by which See New Worlds’s time-travelling plot unfolds, through frames drawn by black-and-white illustrator Fallon. Into these, Bruce has drawn characters and added colour, assisted by Baker, a student at Duncan Jordanstone College of Art. Starting in 2037, the plot also nods to the city being in the grip of a 30-year regeneration plan to turn its waterfront back from industrial to recreational use – expect urban scenes of a dystopian nature and an aesthetic that’s more Japanese manga than Desperate Dan.

Funded by the University of Dundee and the Six Cities Design Festival, 50 000 free copies of See New Worlds will hit the streets in mid-May. In addition, an exhibition – Biff! Bam!! Crikey!!! – will study the development of the comic and feature several of DC Thomson’s animations. A conference will also take place, where cult animator and Beano contributor Hunt Emerson will make a guest appearance.

‘Dundee stands shoulder to shoulder with New York, London, Paris and Tokyo as one of the great homes of comics production, and DC Thomson has had a tremendous influence,’ says conference organiser Dr Chris Murray of the University of Dundee. With a small but dedicated pool of illustrators and graphic designers still working in the city today, it’s a tradition that looks set to continue.

See New Worlds will be available from the Six Cities Design Festival information point, Design Park, City Square, Dundee DD1 3BA from mid-May. The exhibition Biff! Bam!! Crikey!!! runs until 2 June at the Lamb Gallery, University of Dundee Tower Building, Perth Road, Dundee DD1 4HT, with a conference on 25-26 May

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