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‘A family album from another dimension:’ Uncovering a bizarre – and nearly forgotten – British comic book

By Zoe Whitfield, CNN

(CNN) — To immerse yourself in the pages of new book “Candy, Andy & The Bearandas” is to delve into a surreal world that riffs on the peculiar while invoking the familiar. Or, in the words of publisher Richard Embray: “It’s like a family photo album from another dimension.”

Originally released in 1967 as a weekly comic book called “Candy”, the bizarre domestic set up of two life-sized mannequin children and their “parents” — a pair of humanoid pandas — was dreamed up by renowned production studio Century 21, founded by British TV producer and film director Gerry Anderson.

Unlike its highly acclaimed stablemates “Thunderbirds” and “Captain Scarlet” — both illustrious comic-turned-TV-series that, thanks to reruns and remakes, continue to win fans today — “Candy” never made it to the screen. It was shelved after just a year.

“It’s very strange, dad never once mentioned ‘Candy’,” Jamie Anderson, the creator’s son, told CNN in an interview. “I was aware of most of the stuff he had done, even the stuff he was less proud of; I knew about the shows that were no longer in existence. But it was only after he died (in 2012), somebody sent me an eBay listing (of a “Candy” comic) and said, ‘did you know this is one of your dad’s as well?’. I thought it was a joke, then I started looking into it.”

Set in a quintessential English village, the model children and the two pandas live above a toy shop in a brightly-colored apartment. With a small striped Mini car parked in the garage and outdoor space to play, the family indulge in wholesome activities; riding their bikes and picking berries. But what marked their world out as an anomaly in the Century 21 comic strip universe was that the title employed photography in place of illustrations.

Initially taken by photographer Doug Luke (who had worked on “Help!,” the 1965 movie by The Beatles), and later Roger Perry, then the art editor at Century 21, this imagery of curious dummies in otherwise perfect familiar settings (sometimes alongside real children), gave the comic its surreal sensibility, and no doubt informed its latest book incarnation, published by Four Corners Books.

Not your average comic

“I couldn’t shake the strangeness of the photographs,” said Embray in an interview with CNN. He had first became aware of the series through British historian and documentarian Alan Dein, with whom he had collaborated previously. “Without getting too pretentious, they read to me like an unintentional satire on the idealized families prevalent in children’s entertainment in the 1960s.”

Dein’s introduction to the series was in the mid-1980s, when he spent ten pence (thirteen cents) on a book of the characters in a thrift store — an event that sparked a decades-long research project. In 2013, Dein wrote about them in a blog post, which is how Jamie Anderson came to reach out. “I wouldn’t say that Candy and Andy is your average hobby or interest, so for anyone to know anything about it in any degree of depth was a real surprise,” recalled Jamie of connecting with Dein.

“Suddenly, through Alan, I discovered this ridiculous wealth of crazy images,” he continued. “They look like a parody in a way, when you (compare) ‘Candy and Andy’ and ‘Thunderbirds,’ you can scarcely believe they were by the same company.”

Indeed, the two are worlds apart. Where “Thunderbirds” was set in the 2060s and followed the Tracy family’s bid to save human life with its fleet of advanced machines, “Candy and Andy” — intended for a younger, kindergarten-aged audience — led a more conventional lifestyle and wore real kids’ clothes from upmarket British department store Harrods.

“I still can’t square in my mind what dad must have been thinking as his studio was creating this thing that some might see as a borderline horror show,” said Anderson, clearly entertained by the revelation and its subsequent cultism. While Candy’s fame was slim, the characters have been known to make cameos on particular social media threads from time to time.

Moreover, in 1994, eight images appeared in an exhibition at London’s Barbican called “Who’s Looking at the Family?”, where the work drew comparisons to artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, as well as Jeff Koons.

Spearheaded by Dein, whose exhaustive introduction highlights the unique story of its protagonists, the new book is a bold time capsule of a moment that barely survived. “It’s not exactly a nostalgic book, but it feels like a strange subversion of mid-century happy families and the English idyll,” explained Embray. “The fact we had access to some of the original transparencies — only printed on cheap comic book paper before — made us think we could treat these images in a new way: as a high-quality photo book, accentuating the surrealism of the photographs.”

“Candy, Andy and the Bearandas” by Alan Dein is published by Four Corners Books and out now.

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