The Beano Book iPad Case is available via Big Strawberry.
And so here we are: the final review.
In almost three years of editing HuffPost UK Tech, I have reviewed dozens of products, from phones and tablets to 3D printers, drones, robots and video games. I have done so with varying amounts of discrete detachment and occasional insanity.
At HuffPost UK Tech we specifically decline most reviews we are offered. We are not exhaustive. We do not review printers. We only cover (covered?) those products which spark our imagination, make us excited for the future, and give us a pulse - however indefinable and sometimes immaterial - of excitement.
And now I have arrived at my final bow. So what have I chosen for this honour?
There’s no way around this — it’s an iPad case. That’s right — an iPad case. The single most boring product category in the universe. But in this, well, case, it’s an iPad case which is an almost perfect recreation of The Beano Book 1986.
And it makes me want to bawl every time I look at it.
The Beano Book 1986 is objectively the best Beano book. It was published during the brief sweet spot where The Beano still had a core of old-fashioned, 1950s-style comedy at its heart, but was also starting to open up to the modern world by, for instance, withdrawing support for corporal punishment in the home. And it had a cover which literally soared with ambition; it features, as you can see above, Dennis and Gnasher, in mid-air, leaping over a chasm towards a tree filled with ripe, red apples, on a BMX, Dennis with his eyes to the bright blue sky, Gnasher waving to the cheering masses below including Biffo the horrifying Beano bear. This image is what I wanted my childhood to be. It defines The Beano to me - hopeful, simple, chaotic, loveable, mad and strangely disreputable. There was no safety warning in sight. The art was genuinely beautiful. And I must have read the book from cover to cover 160 times.
Now I have it back, in the form of an iPad cover.
And look, it’s a very nice iPad cover. Made by hand by Big Strawberry in the UK, it (like all the company’s covers) is bound with “traditional bookbinding techniques” and is immaculately printed. It’s not waterproof or designed to protect your device from falls, but it’s tough and rugged, and fits almost any tablet of the right size thanks to its sticky-plastic universal mount. The book cover’s spine has just the same thickness and spring to it that The Beano Book did. The inside covers are printed with original Beano strips. It has a fold-back crease to prop up your iPad when watching movies, but it neatly pops back into place.
It’s inexpensive. It’s hard-wearing. It’s nostalgic and hand-made and I really like it. But I can’t deny that when I look at it, something inside me is shouting. Something is trying to break down the walls.
Part of it is the raging monster that is my own nostalgia. I’ve written about this elsewhere, about my own battle to resist nostalgia's slathering, evil embrace and just get on with my life in the present. And when I look at The Beano 1986 case, it’s hard to deny that the monster is there, at the edge of my sight, forcing me back down into the things I loved once and should have moved on from by now.
But really I think what bothers me is that on some level, I feel like The Beano iPad case sums up something very true, and not entirely positive about myself and my attitude to tech three years into writing about it for a living.
In a way, maybe, I am The Beano iPad case; a modern, touchscreen gadget hidden inside the cover of a forgotten, ancient comic. Unable to let go of either - trying to reconcile one, impossibly, with the other.
One of The Beano's stalwart characters, Roger The Dodger, frequently employed a ruse by which he used hollowed-out book of sums for hiding sweets, pranks and other contraband inside, or to read comics at school. The problem with that strategy, though, is that everyone knows Roger The Dodger doesn't do sums. The disguise is inherently flawed.
The Beano iPad case feels like that to me. In using it, I'm trying to disguise my modern self within my childhood, and yet everyone can already see through the camouflage. There is no comic behind this cover. There are no tablets in The Beano Book 1986. They are separate. They do not, ultimately, align with each other.
I see it elsewhere in the tech I love. In Nintendo, Activite and 'analogue digital' drawing apps. In the 'new' ZX Spectrum, the 3D drawing pen, almost everything NASA does and in every robot Boston Mechanics unveils and which inevitably looks like it was born halfway between the Epcot centre and the International Space Station. I am halfway between the past and the future.
And that's where I leave HuffPost Tech. Halfway between my past -- professionally, at least, almost entirely spent at AOL, in different guises -- and the future, picking my path to somewhere new.
Part of me wants to discard The Beano Book half entirely, and live in a future defined by the rose gold and Retina Screen of the iPad inside. Another part wants to drop all the gadgets and just sit in the bath with a comic. I might never reconcile those two sides of myself with each other, or I might always disguise one inside the other. Or technology might give me an answer -- a physical gadget, as powerful as a space program, with the worn edges and material comfort of a well-read Beano Book.
I will have to wait, and see.
It is a nice iPad cover, though.