From Tiger and Tufty to Bagpuss and Bunty, who could forget the anticipation of unwrapping the Christmas annual waiting under the tree each year?
Bigger and better than the comics released throughout the year, children's Christmas annuals tell stories much grander and more spectacular; they really were the gifts that kept on giving throughout the year. For our creative directors, Dan and Chris, these annuals represent their first encounters with masterful visual story telling - with each page packed to the brim with sumptuous illustrations that gave excited children even greater insight into the fictional worlds of their favourite characters.
Here they take on the tricky task of selecting their top five Christmas annuals. Some still in publication, they might just make the perfect Christmas gift for someone special this year.
Dan says: A Rupert annual is THE classic stocking filler in my opinion. Re-reading some of the annuals now with my children I can see how bonkers the stories are, but kids embrace all that magic realism without question. I remember being totally immersed in Rupert’s world, largely thanks to all the beautiful artwork: The endpapers of a Rupert annual were always particularly brilliant.
There are so many bizarre characters in Rupert, from the Professor and his little servant Bodkin, to Raggety, who was basically just a bad-tempered collection of sticks. But, as a parent, I find myself drawn to the tweed-clad, pipe-smoking Dads. They’re affable chaps who spend a lot of time reading the paper over their egg and soldiers, but occasionally get the opportunity to show off important 'Dad skills' like topiary and cricket. They’re all so perfectly human it’s hilarious that they’re animals really, but suspension of disbelief is everything in Nutwood.
Chris says: As a Scot, I'm particularly fond of The Broons annual - it was the first place I ever saw a story set in Scotland. It's a collection of stories about a family of 11, who live in a tenement flat in Glasgow. First created by R.D Low and Dudley D Watkins in 1936, every publication (even the more recent ones) does an uncanny job of transporting readers back to the thirties. But despite it feeling old-fashioned, it somehow never feels outdated. Although it's aimed primarily at children, its lessons about everyday family life speak to young and old. For me, to this day, unwrapping The Broons every other year is Christmas tradition.
Dan says: The boys sports comic has disappeared, replaced by gaming and TV tie-ins, bagged up with ‘free’ tat, and football mags that are all boots, haircuts and terrible font choices. I’ll admit that comics were too gendered in the old days - boys won cup finals and girls sewed on buttons, as far as I could see - but the action-packed world of sporting adventure was a rich genre that I really miss.
I used to get Roy of the Rovers weekly but, as a strictly football comic, it was pretty repetitive and lacked a bit of humour. Tiger took itself less seriously, especially in a Christmas annual where photos of your favourite stars larking about in fancy dress sat happily alongside some truly inventive characters and storylines. Forget conventional sporting heroes; Tiger had Philip Driver, a golfer cum secret agent with Bond-like gadgets in his club bag; the Slogger from Down Under, a mouthy Aussie cricketer who inherited an English country house; and best of all Splash Gorton, a San Francisco beatnik and long-distance swimmer with a pet penguin called Ice Chick. They just don't make 'em like that anymore!
Chris says: Created by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in 1953, Tufty taught generations of kids clear and simple safety messages. He certainly made quite an impression on me when I was little - in fact, I was such a fan I even joined the Tufty club!
My treasured Tufty annual was full of beautiful little illustrated stories, each with their own lesson on road safety. But they had so much charm and simplicity I never felt like I was learning. That is the power of pictures after all!
I'm still a total stickler for the Tufty kerb drill rules, much to my wife's annoyance. I just don't want her to end up like Willie Weasel.
Readers, take note:
1. Stop at the kerb
2. Look right
3. Look left
4. Look right again
5. If all clear...QUICK, MARCH!
Ivor the Engine
Dan says: Ivor lends itself well to the form of an annual, or The Year Book of the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Co. Ltd. to give it its proper name. Oliver Postgate was a master at constructing fun, gentle little five-minute stories and Peter Firmin’s lovely artwork rewarded repeat viewing (any annual should be read at least once a week until the following Christmas, after all).
Ivor the Engine was superior to Thomas the Tank Engine in every way, with a rich cultural identity and beautifully observed characters. But that’s probably what prevented Ivor rivalling Thomas as the world’s favourite steam engine with capacity for self-determination. I’m so glad there’s no CGI Ivor around today. The annual is a nice mix of illustrated stories, maps, diagrams and facts about trains. Firmin loves a rich picture - if he was 60 years younger I’d be busting a gut to hire him!