Dan Dare: Terra Nova Part 2


                                                                                          A bit different…

The truth was, there wasn’t that much that was radically different about Frank Bellamy’s first Dan Dare page, on the cover of Eagle Volume 10 no 28. But then again we were not privy to Bellamy’s original art which, legendarily, featured a close-up on Dan which was not recognisable as the Pilot of the Future. To Bellamy’s (private) mortification, Don Harley was brought in to redraw Dan’s face for consistency – a move that distinctly pre-dates the similar treatment handed out to Jack Kirby when he first drew Superman.
Artistically, the remainder of Terra Nova is something of a mish-mash. Bellamy clearly decided not to launch immediately into wholesale artistic changes, but to tone his naturally dynamic style down in the first few weeks, so as not to rattle the audience. And there was also the matter of Harley/Watson’s page. It’s no disrespect to either man to say that they couldn’t draw like Frank Bellamy, but they were also steeped in Frank Hampson’s style and there was a contrast.
Nor was Bellamy favoured by the point of the story where he took over, which was not conducive to dramatic action and exciting perspectives – and he was frustrated from making the major changes Odhams wanted by being in the middle of an ongoing story, millions of miles from Earth: there could be no abrupt changes in uniform or spaceship design for a long time.
Whilst I’m by no means qualified as an art critic, the fundamental differences between Messrs Hampson and Bellamy that I see can be broken down thus: Stylism vs Realism, Interpretative vs Dramatic art, Line vs Dot.
The first of these is in some respects a false dichotomy. Hampson strove at all times for realistic, convincing art, art that depicted the fantastic in such depth that it would be automatically accepted as real, as Truthful. Three of the characters appearing in Terra Nova were based directly upon real people, Robert Hampson, Peter Hampson and Greta Tomlinson. But neither Dan nor Digby had been based in any comparable degree on models. To that extent, they were abstractions, stylised figures, still reflecting a touch of the symbolic: Dan’s long face, lantern jaw and his eyebrow quirk, Digby’s rotundity, his quiff and those decidedly cartoon eyes. They were stylisms designed by Hampson to facilitate the instant recognisability of characters who would be spending large periods of time in generally identikit spacesuits: think of Hank Hogan’s glasses, Pierre Lafayette’s moustaches.
Bellamy, in contrast, was always far more of a photorealist in his approach. He’d cut his teeth at Eagle on real-life histories and he’d been entrusted with drawing Winston Churchill – Churchill, the Greatest Living Englishman, as the period saw him – and that was down to the realism inherent in every brush-stroke. Physically, Dan and Digby become ‘real’ figures in a way very different to that established by Hampson. The underlying cartoon is stripped out. Digby’s eyes develop irises and pupils. Dan’s eyebrows start to look improbable, freakish. And there’s a close-up panel of Jocelyn Peabody that would make you start to think a bit differently about Greta Tomlinson.
No wonder Don Harley had to re-draw that first panel.
The second difference is easier to define. Hampson, from the first, was concerned with what he called the ‘pictorial sub-plot’. This was the second reading, where the boy, having satisfied himself as to the latest development of the plot, would return to study each panel, to read himself into those panels, to ‘walk around’ the consistent, convincing, strange-yet-understandable world in which Dan & Co existed.
Bellamy simply didn’t think that way. His images were concerned with immediacy, with the exiting effect each instant had, not with any longer term attempt to convince people that here was a real, alien world that had functioned before Dan & Co came to this spot, and which would continue to function thereafter. All that mattered was this instant.
Hampson focussed on showing his readers exactly what happened, in imaging an entire world into being for them. Bellamy thrilled them, made them gasp in awe, scared them, but did not even attempt to address what kind of world lay behind the image.
The third difference is a purely artistic distinction. Both Hampson and Bellamy pursued realistic art in terms of the panels they drew. But for Hampson, detail, shade, contrast, these were all achieved by consistent line-work. Short, straight lines, hatching, meticulously laid into place. This detail of work is what so consistently set Hampson’s work apart from his assistants. But it sets it apart from Bellamy, because the latter’s artistic style was built around a form of pointillism. Bellamy used dots as opposed to lines, intense and detailed and as distinctive as Hampson, but also better suited to his dynamism, since pointillism was always associated with the Impressionist approach. It can be much more conducive to impressing an image, where hatching imposes a greater solidity. It’s a fluid approach, and one that, in Bellamy’s hands, was glorious to read.
But it did not help Harley/Watson one little bit in producing work that would complement Bellamy as opposed to jar wildly against his look. And, once Bellamy had relaxed into his own style of lay-out, the intensity and photorealism of his best work, the contrast with the other page is indeed jarring. Which could not be anything but bad for the story.

                                                                                              Oh wow…

Ah, the story. The poor story. Terra Nova‘s back was broken when Frank Hampson left. The grand story cycle was dead in the water. Alan Stranks was no longer there to guide the story as he had done for the past half-decade, half Dan Dare’s life. To replace him, Eric Eden returned once more, this time as scripter. His brief was obviously to get this thing over with as soon as he could (though that would take six months and another story before he could do that: Odhams may well have fumed at the delay but they would not take it out on Eden, who would script the series for another two years after that).
I’ll have more to say about Eden in later posts. He came in on a hiding to nothing and I won’t blame him for what follows. Dan, Dig and Sir Hubert are taken to the Novad city, in the jungle, on an isolated peak, where they discover that Captain Dare not only passed that way but stayed many years, naming the city Pax (latin for Peace), helping the villagers and even teaching one perfect English that he recalls on the spot despite having not practiced speaking it for ten years.
That’s right, Dan’s Dad stayed for what must have logically been twenty years and then moved on, across the ocean, about ten years ago, in search of other Novad civilisations with scientific achievements that might get him back home to his son. So basically he sat around for twenty years before starting to work on a return?
(And we’ve still not considered the point that, in the thirty years Captain Dare has gone, his son – and all his friends around him – have had ten years taken out of their lives courtesy of suspended animation, so is that thirty years real or subjective? Has Captain Dare been away for forty years?).
That established, Terra Nova relapses. The Novads are continually threatened by the Nagrebs: not another tribe but a colony of giant ants (and people thought Stranks prone to cliché). Flamer, Lex and the Prof come planet-side in search of their friends and are attacked by the Nagrebs. Dan goes off to rescue Lex and Peabody, then uses Anastasia to bomb the living shit out of the ant’s nest: bye bye menace.
All of which may have been based upon Stranks’ original synopsis for this part of the cycle but somehow I can’t see Hampson tolerating such a dull idea for anything greater than an Annual.
Terra Nova ends with Dan still in pursuit of his father, and having Digby and Lex detached to assist him. Sir Hubert stays behind to help McHoo map the heavens on the Galactic Galleon, the Professor and Cadet Spry to help improve the biochemistry of the food available to the Novads of Pax.
Take a long look at Jocelyn and Flamer for this is their departure point. From here, they are declared redundant to the Dan Dare series. There are more adventures to come for other’s of Dan’s supporting cast, even in the fast-approaching Sixties when Keith Watson would be the Dan Dare artist, fighting at all turns to reflect and restore the glory days.
There is literally one last appearance for them at the wrap-up of this cycle. Each will appear in a glorious montage panel that features literally everyone of any importance to the series, in 1964. The ‘ultimate’ fates of everyone bar Flamer will be revealed a year after, and at the very end they will gather on a stage to celebrate the end of the series.
But this is where they leave, quietly, unwanted by Eagle‘s new masters. Despite my reservations about the Astral College Junior Cadet, it is sad to see them go.

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4 thoughts on “Dan Dare: Terra Nova Part 2

  1. What an excellent analysis of the two Franks’ styles regarding Dan Dare. I was the last journalist to interview Bellamy before his death in 1976, and he told me he had never been a “space man” and didn’t enjoy his 12-month stint on the strip. He couldn’t wait to return to more dramatic and realistic illustration, which he subsequently found in Heros the Spartan.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Tony, I appreciate that. Though he did a superb job when he was able to cut loose on ‘Dan Dare’, Bellamy’s heart noticeably isn’t in it, and it’s clear that his best art came in moments when he was drawing people, not spaceships. I’ve recently re-read his other, justly forgotten ‘space’ strip, when he did the second and final ‘Brett Millions’ story for ‘Boy’s World’: fine art but otherwise a waste of space with a characterless hero. ‘Heros’ was wonderful, though I’m always inclined to go for ‘Fraser of Africa’, because it was everything he wanted. Such a shame we lost him so early.

  2. I’ve been reading your fascinating analysis of the Dan Dare stories, some of which triggered memories, quite a few (of the Hampson era stories) I have now in Dragon’s Dream or Titan reprints, and some I barely recollect now. My period was earlier than yours, from “The Man From Nowhere” onward, through to the last phase of Terra Nova when Bellamy took over, then a brief re-interest through the Bellamy/Harley period, and just into the Keith Watson era, which you knew best. I’d already seen Watson’s artwork with Captain Condor, some of the best of that series, “Operation Catastrophe” (an idea repeated in Dan Dare, of course!), “The Indestructible Men”, and “War in Space”. But I’m afraid his Dan Dare never did anything for me. I actually liked “Reign of the Robots”, the idea was breath-taking, but no it didn’t creep me out. The Hampson artwork was still brilliant – deserted London, the Mekon’s evil death-camps, the derelict spaceships, the jungle on Venus…. On now in retrospect do I think (rather like you do) there should have either been another story before “The Phantom Fleet” or that story should have had Earth still rebuilding and recovering, and that becoming a factor in attitudes towards the Phantom Fleet ‘threat’. But look at the moon base – brilliant artwork! Where else have you seen such a detailed, for its time, believable moon base? Even the phantom fleet ships were special, believable (compare, as you say, with the Bellamy ‘thing’ in “Project Nimbus”.) Strangely, having just recently got hold of the Titan reprint, I found that my memory of the ship’s interior wasn’t quite as I thought it – still impressive, but I thought bigger and more detailed! Sadly the end of “Phantom Fleet” is awful, badly drawn, irrational plot (why did the Pescod ship land in Death Valley? Why did they decide to ‘tunnel out’ Krakatao, of all the places? Why did they look so unbelievable?) None of that made any sense.
    A return to ‘good times’ with “Safari in Space” (to say nothing of Peabody in a yellow swimsuit! What that does for an 11-year-old boy!) and the McHoo base….Brilliant again, but then it went downhill. The logic unravelled, why didn’t the people with flying machines fly over the apparently not that wide ocean? How could two such totally different societies – one 21st century, the other early medieval – co-survive on a planet only as big as earth? The end story “Trip into Trouble” I actually barely recollect, which indicates I’d lost interest. Re-reading it now, I see why. Bellamy’s artwork is just wrong, wrong, wrong… Bellamy’s forte was realism. His Churchill/Montgomery life stories were brilliant (Africa, then and now, never interested me, so his “Fraser of Africa” was wasted on me). Even his later stunt drawing “Garth” was good, but many of the “Garth” stories were earth-based, and crime rather than sci-fi. But his kind of unflattering realism was completely wrong for Dan Dare. The result was really awful…Peabody looks like a demented old lady, Dare just looks, well, weird…”The Nimbus Project” was best forgotten. I put it into the same category as the Watson stories, worse in that there was at least some pretence of continuity in them; in that final Bellamy story there is none. The Harley period stories still had good art. At least it was recognisable characters (even if the best characters like Hank and Peabody and Flamer had vanished forever) and places. Space Fleet HQ looks like Space Fleet HQ. There was a token continuity, but where was everyone except the Treens and the Mekon? Oh dear. Maybe the hope was anyone who remembered that far back was how reading Michael Moorcock instead! Some of the architecture to these Harley stories was good – even then my interest in futuristic cities! – but the planets were routine “Star Trek” types, pretty much like earth, nothing exotic or especially alien, like Hampson’s Venus, Cryptos, or even the early panel of Terra Nova.
    You’re quite right to wish there was another parallel universe where Hampson carried on writing the Dan Dare stories he wanted, and we wanted also! The tragedy is that was his ‘thing’, rather as “Star Trek” was Gene Rodenberry’s ‘thing’…Has anyone every remarked the similar thinking to those two, the same idealised ‘united’ future, the same ethos, the same attempt to make an alternative future history that hangs together, and might inspire? Did anyone in America ever read Dan Dare, I wonder? Let me throw another weird coincidence at you… There was a famous (or infamous) 1953 book called “Flying Saucers Have Landed”, one part by George Adamski. Adamski claimed to have met men from Venus, who looked just like the Therons! Same uniform, same hair, same general appearance! Again, has anyone else remarked on this?
    As you rightly point out, even the Hampson stories have holes in the plot, but by the early 1960s I’d already moved onto Sydney Jordan’s “Jeff Hawke”, another terrific artist, working in black and white and the restraint of a three (at most) panel strip in the “Daily Express”, but oh, amazing stories, more grown-up, much more clever and thought-provoking, and set in much the same period, 1980s-90s, but one still more recognisable to the world as it is, rather than a united world government utopia! Sadly, even now “Jeff Hawke” doesn’t have the recognition it deserves.
    A few years later, in 1963, another wonderful strip cartoon series began, Peter O’Donnell’s “Modesty Blaise”, which continued (plus novels and short stories) until 2001. Frank Hampson was given first option to draw it. Great artist Hampson was, this was not his scene. He couldn’t draw sexy women. Another outstanding, painstaking artist, Jim Holdaway, got the brief instead, and the rest, as they say, was history. Holdaway was still the best “Modesty Blaise” artist (John Burns next!) Hampson, I think, knew his limits!

    1. Hello Garth, and it is great to hear from another fan with such enthusiasm. You’re right that you pre-date me (I was born the day that Lero revealed the shadow of a Phant whilst travelling towards Cryptos), and that colours my most fundamental responses to the series. Though Hampson’s form was magnificent, and at its peak still some of the finest comic book art ever created, I cam to ‘Dan Dare’ when Keith Watson was drawing it, and I respond to his style more than anyone else’s.

      I don’t say that ‘Reign of the Robots’ creeps me out, but by introducing an element of the Holocaust, it steered the series towards places it couldn’t go, not for its intended audience. Your comments about Bellamy’s art are intriguing. I love his work so much, it doesn’t matter what he draws, I will drool over it, and I can’t agree with you over the look of Peabody. Yes, he was wrong for the series, and his flaws are a consequence of his fundamental incompatability, but the man could draw!! Yet Hampson’s work, for all its ingenuity and invention, was ultimately based in making everything real. There isn’t a panel of Hampson, or of the work his studio produced for him, that doesn’t look like somewhere you could walk into and stand in and not be impressed by how complete and right it was.

      Bear in mind when being disappointed with any of the post-Hampson periods that these were the work of writers and artists operating under constraint. Hampson had been allowed a pretty free rein by Marcus Morris, and more so by Hultons, who had never published comics before and didn’t know the ropes. How else had the Studio ever been allowed to come into existence. Once Odhams came in, the Dan Dare series was a target: they were professionals, they knew how to do it, these amateurs had had a lucky streak, a freak run, but it was time to show them how the big boys did it. It didn’t need a studio, it didn’t need to cost this much, the kids didn’t want complicated stories lasting half a year and more, they didn’t want so many characters, or the bloody Mekon all the time. Though the strip was never as good again, we should be thankful that it was as good as it was. Under the circumstances, it could have turned to complete shit, and if it hadn’t been for Keith Watson, it would have, and I doubt it would have survived.

      These are all things I can think because I come from when I did, because I read so much of Dan Dare, fitted the pieces together as an adult learning the story behind the pages at the same time as I caught up with the on-the-page stuff.

      Not being much of a Star Trek fan (DS9 obviously excepted) I hadn’t given much thought to the similarities in approach of Hampson and Roddenberry, though you’re right to point them out. I’m not aware that Dan Dare was ever published in America, but connoisseurs over there knew of him. I suspect Roddenberry was not aware of the series: Star Trek was originally ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ so, without further evidence, I would put it down to a great-minds-think-alike coincidence. I’m aware of ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’ but know nothing of its contents. The coincidence between its aliens and the treens makes me immediately (and cynically) guess that the author had read some early Eagle and relied on an American audience not knowing where he’d nicked them from.

      I read and loved Jeff Hawke through the Sixties (with that, Gun Law and James Bond, the Daily Express had a comics page no other British paper could touch – shame their politics were so shitty) and Modesty Blaise is one of my favourite characters ever. You’re right though that Hampson would not have worked, though his samples are beautiful. Holdaway was so bloody good, his loss was nearly as tragic as Bellamy’s.

      Thank you again for writing. I think we could down quite a few pints talking Dan Dare and the rest if we got the chance, and have a whale of a time at it. All the best.

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