Woke 'sensitivity readers' overhaul The Beano
The creative director of The Beano has opened up about hiring sensitivity readers to adapt to the modern age ahead of the comic’s 85th anniversary.
Mike Stirling, 49, has revealed that new Beano characters are vetted and written with the help of Inclusive Minds, a consultancy that recently eliminated so called offensive material from Roald Dahl’s novels.
Inclusive Minds have been hired by Britain’s longest running comic to provide a digital focus group of children and act as advisers seeking to “embed authenticity” into the strips.
The iconic Bash Street Kids have had their ranks bolstered by the additions of new pupils.
The class of 2023 characters include Khadija Raad, a talented artist who wears a hijab; Mandira Sharma, a girl battling anxiety; Jemima Jones, a ghost hunter who is black; and Rubi, a ginger haired scientist who uses a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, familiar students Fatty and Spotty have been rebranded as Freddy and Scotty, with a mind to protecting youths from feeling insecure about acne, blemishes or weight issues.
Stirling told the Sunday Times that he is comfortable with the prospect of being branded “woke” by some readers.
He said: “We have never seen that as a pejorative term. It’s awareness and being awake to things.
“What would be easy to do would be to sleepwalk and keep The Beano the way it had always been done for ever.
“When we make a new character, [Inclusive Minds] connect us with an ambassador who advises us. That allows us to get the details right in terms of clothes they are wearing and cultural celebrations their family might get involved in.”
He added: “The Bash Street Kids were completely anachronistic. There were ten kids. Nine were boys and one was a girl.
“All of them were white. The make-up of that class was OK in 1954 but it had to change.”
Stirling reasons that older characters are not being canned but rather new characters added to cater for a growing audience that wishes to see itself represented on the page.
Despite changing Fatty’s name to Freddy, Stirling promises that the character will remain rotund but this will be seen in a positive light.
Stirling said: “Kids are all different shapes and sizes and we think that’s brilliant. What we don’t want is for a pejorative nickname being put out there loosely.”
Stirling noted: “We never get too battered and beaten when older people say, ‘I don’t like this’ because as long as the kids like it, it’s golden.”
Published every Wednesday, the comic sells about 40,000 copies but many more children interact with the brand online.
The Beano’s rebrand is also retroactive, with reprints from the comic’s heyday, when the strip sold about a million copies a week, having offensive sections excised and branded with warnings.
In previous years, parents and teachers were portrayed as villains, chasing the school children around with a slipper or a cane.
Stirling said: “I was always a bit spooked and scared about going to school, but my kids don’t think that way.
“It’s a chance to see their pals and teachers help them if there is a problem. We reflect that in the comic now. Similarly, the mums and dads have become characters in their own right, rather than just disciplinarians.”
The special 85th anniversary commemorative issue will feature King Charles and Camilla alongside celebrities such as Stormzy, Harry Styles and David Attenborough.
Other notable stars to make it into the milestone Beano include Lewis Hamilton, Tom Holland, Jill Scott, YouTuber KSI, and Rose Ayling-Ellis.
The Beano’s anniversary edition is out July 26.