The Scottish city of Dundee is famous for many things, from its football teams, its achievement of becoming the UNESCO City of Culture in 2014, to its dormant volcanic plug which nestles beneath Dundee Law. However, there is far more to Dundee than just these few well-known accolades. As far back as the 13th century, the iconic Lord Protector of Scotland and scourge of Edward I, William Wallace actually attended school in Dundee. And he is just one of many famous faces that are connected to these sunny (for Scotland anyway!) North-Eastern shores.
Cox’s Stack, a chimney from the former Camperdown Works jute mill
Dundee was once nicknamed ‘Juteopolis’ because Dundonian businesses owned the majority of the jute mills in India in the 19th century and the city’s textile industry employed over 40,000 people. ‘Juteopolis’ is one of the three famous Js that Dundee was renowned for at the time: ‘Jute, Jam and Journalism’, and the industrial focus on these three disparate industries remained throughout the Victorian era. The second ‘J’, of course, refers to the cities propensity for jam! There is a legend that it was a Dundonian woman, by the name of Janet Keillor, who actually invented marmalade in the 18th century. Whether she invented the now ubiquitous condiment is not known for certain, however what is known is that her son founded the famous Keillor jam factory in Dundee. This made jam another major industry within the city. Finally, the 3rd and arguably most important ‘J’ is journalism. Whereas jute and jam are no longer such powerhouses of Dundonian industry, Dundee remains world-renowned for its contribution to journalism and literature and within this arena, Dundee is most respected for its comics.
There is one individual who undoubtedly supersedes all other famous Dundonians in terms of his legacy, and that is R D Low. Low was born on 25th August 1895 and died as an octogenarian on 13th December 1980. Born the son of a jute mill mechanic, the family therefore covered two of the three famous Dundonian Js in their business endeavours! Low began his career as a journalist at DC Thomson Co. It was here that he created ‘story papers’ for children and teenagers; the Adventure in 1921, the Rover in 1922, the Wizard in 1923, the Skipper in 1930 and the Hotspur in 1933. These were hugely popular, perhaps providing entertaining escapism to the troubling political climate of the 1930s and the escalating tensions in Europe at the time.
Following the success of the story papers, Low flexed his creative muscles once again, this time with the help of artist Dudley Watkins. It was these two comic geniuses who first created ‘Oor Wullie’ and ‘The Broons’, which became staple reading material in all Scottish homes! Written in the Scottish tongue they became hugely popular, even being made into annuals. I myself grew up reading these hilarious and charming comics. So popular, in fact, that these two literary masterpieces have been published in every Sunday Post newspaper since 1936. And it is said that the character of ‘Oor Wullie’ was actually based on Low’s own, slightly mischievous, son Ron.
Statue of Desperate Dan in Dundee city centre
Dundee has become so synonymous with comics that you can even undertake a Master’s Degree in Comics and Graphic Novels at Dundee University, voted Scottish University of the year 2017, and it is the only University to offer such a course. There are also undergraduate modules in comics that you can undertake as part of a wider undergraduate degree. Dundee hosts a ‘comic day’ as part of a larger literary festival and celebration. There are also those who have been greatly inspired by the works of DC Thomson, such as Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot and Frank Quitley, whereas those such as Pat Mills, John Wagner and Grant Morrison actually started their careers at DC Thomson. The impact that DC Thomson has had, not only on Dundee, but on the world of comics and graphic novels is undeniable, and who would have thought that the cheeky characters of the 1930s would have made it into international fame in the 1990s and beyond!
By Ms. Terry Stewart, Freelance Writer.
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