Tuesday's Book
The rumour that Desperate Dan was to be axed from the Dandy has been officially denied. It also coincided very nicely with the publication of this book: a celebration of a universally popular British cultural icon. But if he ever were to be dropped, his total weirdness would also make him quite irreplaceable.

While comic-strip heroes like Superman represent obvious dreams of wish- fulfilment, the appeal of dear old Desperate is more mysterious. Although he too is stupendously strong, more often than not this great strength lands him in trouble, with cars bouncing off him or aircraft sucked down from the sky when he draws breath. Domestically he is utterly unheroic, living alone with his Aunt Aggie and constantly scolded for his greed and bad table manners.

Uninterested in the opposite sex, his one consuming passion is exactly that: consuming. Many of his adventures end in an orgy of oral gratification in which he demolishes cow pies often bigger than himself.

Looking at his progress in The Legend of Desperate Dan, it is easy to see why he had to change after his first few appearances. Like Oliver Hardy before he teamed up with Stan Laurel, Dan started as a scowling heavy; no fun at all for young readers already with their own experience of unpleasant bigger people. But as soon as Dan's good nature appeared he became everyone's favourite uncle: contentedly unemployed and therefore always game for mini-adventures with his equally prognathic nephew, niece, or any of the other children of Cactusville.

This prairie town combines American scenery with British post-boxes and buses, ruled over by traditional bobbies and mayors always wearing full civic regalia. In this world of magical realism, slapstick-style, Dan is half infant and half superman.

The ever-popular fantasy he embodies of vast individual strength is made homely for young readers because, this time, it is accompanied by bathos and good humour rather than by the awe-inspiring heroics of other mythical strongmen. He is also cheap: this volume, available from newsagents rather than respectablc book shops, costs far less than other picture books the same size. Altogether, just the job for keeping children happily occupied over the holidays - including those who never normally read any book at all. With the government's current stress on literacy at any price, it's good news for everyone that Desperate Dan is still going strong as only he can.

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