Why Jon Burgerman was let loose on The Beano

Allowing an external illustrator to play with your brand could prove risky. Gordon Tait explains what prompted much-loved comic The Beano to hand its precious style guide over to Jon Burgerman.

While sitting at home watching footage of Jon Burgerman on YouTube, I saw a promo about snowboard apparel that featured the illustrator's distinctive character art. My first thought was, "Wow, I really like this. It would be great if we could create similar patterns featuring The Beano chums to concept up for our agent to present." Then it hit me. Could we interest this artist, who had no previous professional connection to The Beano, to give us his take on our brand?

When I joined the Consumer Products department at publishers DC Thomson, all of our creative was developed in-house, working with our wider family of long-term freelance illustrators. We have a mainstay of comic artists who have worked with us for many years, and who know all the characters inside-out.

However, over the past year, my team has engaged with design studios and individuals like Burgerman to freshen things up. In a fiercely competitive industry, the real challenge is to be creative and innovative with the brand's potential - a few bold steps and some experimentation can only be a good thing.

Bringing in an outside artist to work on a product with 75 years' worth of heritage to protect comes with certain responsibilities. As new product development manager, I need to ensure that the products have a consistent, 'on-brand' look and feel. The assets are delivered in the form of a style guide PDF, consisting of rules and visual references for all the character art, packaging and design options.

So how does bringing in these new contributors sit with the role of looking after the brand? First, there is always a brief - we never hand over total control. Consistency can still be upheld by adhering to the brand values. In The Beano's case, these are quite straightforward: mischievous, funny, kid-centric, smart, adventurous, imaginative and energetic.

Working with third parties on projects should be approached as a collaboration, and not be viewed as an opportunity to offload work. The point of engaging other creative teams is to have them bring a variety of ideas to the table. Jon was already a big Beano fan when we got him on board - in fact, when he came back with his original designs, I had to encourage him to go even more 'Burgerman' on them.

Jon's a true original, and that's how I feel about the talented artists who have provided artwork over the years for The Beano. Jon is a more obvious choice than he might seem - look at the work of David Law (the original Dennis the Menace artist) and imagine how that must have first appeared. I can see the same innovative, energetic approach in Jon's artwork.

In my opinion, the success of The Beano - both in terms of the illustration, and the writing - is based on the fact that it's the product of highly original and imaginative minds; game-changers who, like Jon, enjoy throwing out the rulebook.

Words: Gordon Tait

Gordon Tait is new product development manager at DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. He is responsible, amongst other things, for ensuring brand consistency within a portfolio that includes The Beano, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, The Broons and Bananaman.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 222.

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