Eagle‘s second volume feels very much like an exercise in consolidation. There are no startling advances, just good, solid progress. Dan Dare completes his first, and longest, adventure, but the second proves to be just as good and as popular, despite an inexplicable backstage panic, whilst both PC49 and Riders of the Range change artists, the one to great effect, the other to marginal improvement.
Volume 2 started with a birthday issue, though in the comic this was represented by an extended Editor’s page with photos of the principal editorial staff and some of the main artists, and a full-page centrespread showing how Eagle is produced, from logging of trees in Canada to the newsagent’s shop.
I have to correct an error on my part in the last blog when I claimed Skippy the Kangaroo was replaced by another European strip: it was, but not immediately. First we had to experience the home-made The Legend of the Lincoln Imp, written and drawn by Norman Spargo: repeat after me, this is for the seven year olds, this is for the seven year olds.
The volume had barely started when Marcus Morris was making excuses for another increase in price, this one based on a threefold increase in the cost of paper. This time, the price went up by only a halfpenny, but that still made for a 50% increase in the price of Eagle in little over a year.
Dan Dare’s adventures on Venus continued until issue 25, making the overall story 77 issues in length: the longest Dan Dare story and the longest story in Eagle‘s history. Oddly enough, after the muddy and dull colouring I criticised in volume 1, several weeks of art go to the opposite extreme, applying light colours to a bleached background, as if there was an extreme light-source. I’m assuming that this was an aspect of Frank Hampson’s ceaseless experimenting.
But once the story returned to Earth, the colouring settled into a more naturalistic palette. Behind the scenes, Hampson’s tendency to overwork began to take its toll, and he was absent from the last four weeks of the story.
Apparently, the realisation that the story was nearing its end caused some panic in Eagle‘s offices, especially as it was realised that nothing appeared to have been done to prepare for a sequel. There were fears that a different story would be a flop, and some effort was putting into publicising the forthcoming adventure on Mars, but of course the panic was unnecessary. ‘The Red Moon Mystery’ was just as popular, and whilst the art retained a somewhat cartoonish edge, especially in Dan’s Uncle Ivor, it was stronger overall, with a bolder and more aggressive use of black lines. Hampson’s friend and chief assistant Harold Johns was, on a couple of occasions, elevated to the status of co-artist, his name signed alongside that of the master.
After finishing off the absurd story with the midget and the giant, Strom Gould’s fourth and last PC49 story was the absolute nadir, though the blame for that goes to writer Alan Stranks. ‘The Curse of Killer’s Keep’ was a horrible and absurd mess from start to finish, with Joan Carr missing as 49 is knocked out and kidnapped to a remote island serving a ridiculous dictator going by the name of Napoleon Bloggs. It’s an idiotic story that’s completely wrong for a level-headed beat copper, but Stranks showed that he recognised it by taking a completely different approach with the very next story, which saw ex-POW John Worsley take over as artist for the rest of the run.
‘The Case of the Terrible Twins’ is everything PC49 hasn’t been before now, but will be until the feature ends. It’s down to earth, with an easy, well-developed flow, and it introduces the Boy’s Club who will effectively co-star from hereon in.
The ‘Terrible Twins’ are the Mulligans, Pat and Mick, a rowdy and rebellious pair of Irish extraction. They’re not bad kids, just wild, and irresponsible. 49 tries to take them under his wing at the Boy’s club, whose leader, Snorky, is the only one identified, but the irrepressible pair blot their copybook. Their wildness attracts the attention of Knocker and Slim, the first of Worsley’s gallery of grotesque baddies. This pair are street level crooks, breaking into factories, coshing nightwatchmen, that level of street crime, and they con the Mulligans into helping them. Only when the Twins start to realise what’s really going on do they start to repent, though they only really learn their lessons when Mick is captured and Pat wounded in the arm and the Boys Club rally round to help 49 bring down the crooks.
Worsley’s art is not quite as we will get used it it on this first story. He is far more polished than Gould, and his faces considerably more varied and, even when he is caricaturing crooks, more realistic. At this stage there’s a rounded fullness to his work that will later drift towards a more impressionistic style, and his backgrounds are far more detailed. It’s a tremendous improvement, and the change in direction for the stories is also positive.
His second story is set in and around the Docks, with 49 being assisted to bring down smugglers by cabin boy Toby Moore, but as the volume ends, the Club is ready to play a direct part, with the Mulligans and others identified.
Jack Daniels had already started his second and last Riders of the Range story when Volume 1 ended. Based on a true incident, ‘The Cochise Affair’ was everything the first story was in terms of art, though the colours were even more stylised this time, baked out under a desert sun. He was replaced by Angus Scott, whose approach was more conventional and whose cartooning was a little more realistic, but who was not much more than a cartoonist, his faces sketchy and angular. Scott was also give short stories to draw, and was into the third and last of his stint when Volume 2 ended.
We shall leave The Legend of the Lincoln Imp under its deserved shroud, because it and its predecessor were completely overshadowed by Eagle‘s second venture into the world of European comics. In Volume 2 issue 17, Herge’s famous Tintin made his first appearance in English.
The story chosen was ‘King Ottokar’s Sceptre’, though the title was never given. This was an interesting choice as the story had originally been serialised in ‘Le Petit Vingtieme’ in 1938/9, in black and white. By 1951, Tintin was starring in a magazine bearing his own name, but whilst Herge was undergoing periods of depression, his studio was busy reworking, polishing and colouring earlier adventures.
Nevertheless, this is still very different from the album version we now know so well. The translator (s) is unknown, but the legendary Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner did not begin their long association with Tintin until Methuen started publishing the adventures in books in 1958. Certainly, none of the signature flourishes of the series are present. Tintin is given to be French (!), his dog is Milou as in the original, and whilst the Thompsons are indeed Thompson and Thomson, their humour is purely physical, with none of the malapropisms and careful manglings of the English language. The translation appears to be no more than literal and workmanlike.
For all that, Tintin is still head and shoulders above its predecessors, and it’s a feather in the cap for it to be Eagle who brought the famed boy Reporter to England for the first time.
As for the remaining strips, there’s little to say. Despite John Ryan introducing, late in the volume, a small amount of continuity, in the form of the Extra Special Agent spending four weeks on holiday in the Caribbean, Harris Tweed stuck to its formula of the blowhard winning by accident or the actions of the put-upon Boy, and coming up with some form of self-justifying pun in the final panel.
Equally, Tommy Walls stuck to its little model. Most strips were drawn by Richard E. Jennings, with the occasional interpolations by others, and every strip ended with yet more blocks of Walls Ice Cream, until you fear for the dental health of Tommy, Bobby, Lennie and Sue. In the back end of the Volume, there’s an increased presence by ‘Wallsie’, the name for any driver/vendor of Walls Ice Cream vans, just to render Tommy’s attacks on grown men slightly more plausible, though I do emphasise the word ‘slightly’.
The Great Adventurer only lasted a handful of issues into the new Volume, before ending with the rather unsparing detail of St Paul’s beheading on the orders of the Emperor Nero. It was succeeded by Patrick, Fighter for Truth, the life of St Patrick of Ireland, though the story risked confusion by referring to Patrick by his childhood name of Hygaid, and showing him as a spoilt half-Roman and all round nasty piece of work for the first couple of months.
By now, Norman Williams was well-established as the back-page artist, and once again the strip did not shirk unpleasant details, such as Patrick’s devoted sister and fellow-slave Lupait being beaten to death by her master.
St Patrick’s story was much shorter than that of St Paul, and we had time to start Louis the Fearless, about the French King who inherited the crown at an early age and, from his start, had a very socialist attitude in being for fair and decent treatment of the peasantry, causing much opposition from the Barons, who were very much of the ‘Keep the rabble down’ camp: I anticipate assassination in Volume 3.
On the prose side, ‘The Scarlet Snuffbox’, a London-set carryover from volume 1, was aggressively anti-female in a way Eagle hadn’t previously been. In contrast, it’s successor, ‘North Wind’, featured a highly competent girl, who spent the entire story disguised as a boy until the final episode, when her true gender is revealed. Unfortunately, the moment she becomes a girl, she starts getting a bit soppy about how the British boy she’s been partnered with will react to the deception, but he’s more concerned with the person beneath than her superficial characteristics, so there’s not even the slightest hint of a romance blooming!
The serial was written by Geoffrey Beardsmore, and appeared as a complete novel after its serialisation was completed. This was Beardsmore’s first contribution to Eagle, but a few years later, he would become a permanent fixture in the comic, with more than one comics series.
‘North Wind’ finished in issue 26, but there was not another serial until Rex Rients’s ‘s ‘Nightmare Island’, which ran from issue 40 to 51. This was a much more conventional story, with an amusingly ‘Lost’-like set-up: plane off course in the South Pacific crashes on mysterious island, but the set-up was much more down-to-earth. Pirate treasure is discovered on the island, and a sleazy, dictatorial Brazilian and two scummy Americans team up with the intention of killing everyone else and keeping it. Needless to say, two teenage boys, one British and one Australian, foil them.
The rest of the time was taken up by Anthony Buckeridge’s Rex Milligan. Buckeridge, already famous for his Jennings and Darbishire stories both in books and on the radio, had been asked to contribute to Eagle and came up with his other popular creation specifically for the comic. Rex Milligan was a London-based Grammar school boy who, alongside his best pal, Jigger Johnson, was constantly getting into trouble – and getting out of it as the strapline on the series proclaimed. These were all self-contained stories, bright and breezy, and appeared throughout the volume in two separate tranches.
Otherwise, there was the usual assortment of short stories, no better and no worse than those that preceded them, although six were published under the heading of ‘The Merman of the Fijis’, about a wonderboy swimmer out in the South Pacific, frustrating the evil plans of a crooked boat-owner, who commits suicide by shark in the last paragraph.
One of the things that distinguished volume 2 was the increased intensity of Marcus Morris’s efforts to involve Eagle‘s readers, in games, competitions and events outside the mere reading of the paper. A small section for Letters was introduced, events and holidays organised, especially Carol Services around Christmas, with a special service for Eagle readers at none other than St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s a lot of energy going into the kind of extra-curricular things the readers would like, including the establishing of the first of Eagle‘s sister papers, sister being the operative word here, as Girl was established for readers’ sisters, in an effort to stop them pinching their brothers’ copies of Eagle.
So that was volume 2: more of the same, only different. Some incremental improvement, most notably in respect of PC49, but overall, the comic still has some way to go to hit its peak period. We’ll see how things progress next time out.