Introduction

The Comic Creators Project at the Cartoon Museum in London has original artwork from the Danger Mouse comic strip that appeared in Look-In magazine in 1982. The artwork was done by Arthur James Ranson (b. 1939) and the script was written by Angus P. Allan (1936-2007). It features two consecutive pages, but only one of them is usually on display at the Comics Gallery in the Cartoon Museum. This blog post offers additional information on the history of publication of this comic and on one of the greatest cartoon characters ever created in the UK: Danger Mouse!

Before Danger Mouse became a comic strip, it had already been delighting children (and adults) as an animated television series. The creation of Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove for their production company Cosgrove Hall Films, Danger Mouse debuted on ITV on 28th September 1982 and it lasted until 19th March 1992 with a three year break between 1987 and 1991. In the UK, Channel 4 considered Danger Mouse to be one of the 100 Greatest Kids’ TV Shows, beaten only by The Muppet Show and The Simpsons. It also became immensely popular all around the world, shown in over 20 different countries in Europe, America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia/New Zealand. What is even more astonishing about Danger Mouse is that it became one of the first British animated series to break successfully into the US market with the cartoon being syndicated from coast to coast. This is a testament to the great appeal that this show had for the general public.

2398502-look_in_v1982_198221_pagecoverIt was not long before Danger Mouse crossed over media, and on May 1982 it began to appear in the children’s magazine Look-In: The Junior TV TimesThis magazine was owned by ITV (with Alan Fennell first and Colin Shelborn later as the editors and with Angus P. Allan as the script writer) and it was conceived as a vehicle for kids to find out what was on their network. This included highlight listings for the different regions as well as additional content that would appeal to their targeted audience. The magazine featured interviews, crosswords and competitions, as well as many pictures and pin-ups of the TV stars and music idols of the time. Moreover, it also focused on children’s pastimes such as skateboarding, yoyoing, BMX, or sports. Still, what really differentiated this magazine was that it also included many comic strips of the children’s favourite television shows from the ITV network. Look-In ran from January 9th, 1971, to March 12th,  1994. The Danger Mouse comic strip lasted until November 1985, which meant that it had a three year run in the magazine. Luckily, Danger Mouse was also syndicated and he turned up in other magazines, by other hands,  including Marvel Comics’ Count Duckula, where he featured from #3 in 1988 with his own back-up stories. Of course, this is kind of ironic since on the TV show it was Count Duckula who made his first ever appearance in the episode titled “The Four Tasks of Danger Mouse.”

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Detail of original art of Danger Mouse by Arthur James Ranson. Look-In, 1982. The Cartoon Museum, London.

The adaptation of Danger Mouse as a comic strip was put in the hands of Look-In script writer Angus Peter Allan (1936-2007) and artist Arthur James Ranson (b. 1939). Cosgrove Hall was so impressed with the work that these two did on the comic strip that he awarded them an “Oh Goodness!, Oh Crikey!” award in appreciation of their services. As a matter of fact, some of the stories written by Allan were later on adapted for the television show (although if you read the credits, Allan appears as Angus Allen due to someone’s carelessness in spelling his name). Ranson’s skill in translating pictures across different media by using a Grant Projector (a device that projects an image up onto a glass plate, on which one places tracing paper), allowed him to achieve the accurate likeness that typifies his work. This is really evident in the two original pages that the Cartoon Museum owns of Danger Mouse. Ranson mentioned that it seemed important that the characters looked as much like their TV counterparts as possible in all his strips for Look-In. With those skills, he was also called in to design some of the backdrops for the animated series itself!

 

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Promotional Poster of Danger Mouse for CBBC, 2015.

Danger Mouse was so popular that since the 80s there has been plenty of merchandise featuring the famous mouse including story books, hardback annuals, fantastic talking toys, fridge magnets, t-shirts, stationery, games, etc. More recently, Danger Mouse has been revived as a TV show by Fremantle Media Kids. It premiered on September 28th, 2015, on CBBC, and it is currently airing. Apparently, D.C. Thomson & Co. will publish a monthly magazine with comic strips, puzzles, fact files, posters and competitions featuring Danger Mouse. 

DANGER MOUSE

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Detail of original art of Danger Mouse by Arthur James Ranson. Look-In, 1982. The Cartoon Museum, London.

Danger Mouse is considered to be the best secret agent in the world. His signature look is that of a white mouse wearing a white suit with a red and yellow belt and his initials, DM, are inscribed on yellow over red on his shirt. He also wears a dashing black eyepatch, but when or how he lost his eye has never been revealed. Danger Mouse operates out of a post box in London and he is usually accompanied by his bespectacled hamster sidekick, Ernest Penfold. Under the direction of the chinchilla, Coronel K, of the Secret Service, the duo are sent on dangerous missions across the globe. Many of these missions are directed at thwarting the evil schemes for world domination of their archenemy, the toad, Baron Silas Greenback and his useless henchmen, the mock-Italian crow, Stiletto Mafiosa, and the furry caterpillar, Nero. There are many other recurring characters, but none as powerful as the narrator, Isambard Sinclair, whom on many occasions interacts with the characters to the point of stopping the action to voice his opinions, and his disdain, for the show. He also seems to have some sort of influence in the actual events as he is narrating them–for example, at one point in the TV show he sent Danger Mouse back in time. This interaction between the narrator and the main characters was also incorporated in the comic strip where they constantly broke the fourth wall by having them aware that they were in a comic book. The characters then talk directly to the audience, the artists, and they make use of the comic strip props like the speech balloons or the frames.

Danger Mouse was based on Patrick McGoohan’s lead role in Danger Man, although many viewers assumed that it was a parody of another British spy, Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Still, Coronel K does seem to resemble “Q”, and Greenback shares many characteristics with Bond’s super-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (affiliated with SPECTRE) including the fact that both are pet owners (one has a white cat and the other a white caterpillar).

Originally, the TV show was meant to have a more serious tone, as was befitting a spy cartoon, but after the pilot episode aired it seemed like Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall had become stuck. It was Mike Harding, the British comedian and musician who composed the music scores for Danger Mouse, who gave them the idea of making the show a bit sillier. Mike Harding said, “The characters had got stuck in reality and were doing James Bond type things rooted in the solid real world. I argued that once you invented a Mouse secret agent then all of creation and a good chunk of no creation was his oyster. In other words we could be as barmy (crazy) as we wanted.” Quote from The Official Mike Harding Website. Apparently, the pilot episode with the more serious overtones was “put some place safe” and it has yet to be found. One can wonder what the comic strip of Danger Mouse might have been like if they had stayed on the more “serious” path.

Interestingly enough, this Danger Mouse was not the first character to brandish the name!
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There was another Danger Mouse that fought evil in the pages of Odhams’ Smash comic back in 1966, drawn originally by Artie Jackson. After Odhams was bought by Fleetway in the 60s, this Danger Mouse randomly appeared in Cor!! during 1971-1972.

This Danger Mouse was also a secret agent that answered the calls of mice in distress.  Danger Mouse would then appear and save the mice by raging a war of wits with the same recurrent villains. As seen in the page above, he also wore quite proudly his initials, DM, on his shirt. He was also based on the ITC serial Danger Man, just like the later Danger Mouse. Coincidence? Maybe not!

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Credits

We would like to thank Wikipedia, Whacky Comics, Toonhound, Toonhound Fleetway Street, J.E.Daniel’s Animated Topics and Headlines, ClubDM.com, and Blimey!, for providing some of the information used to create this post.We would also like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting our work.

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*All images and characters that appear in this site are copyright of their respective holders, and are used for informational purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.

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