Eagle – Volume 5 (1954)

‘Prisoners of Space’ begins

From the shortest Volume of Eagle to the longest, as the vagaries of the calendar gave Volume 5 53 Fridays on which to publish. From this point onwards, each Volume represents a calendar year.
We’re very close now to Eagle‘s classic form, with only one feature still to make it’s debut. Well in advance of that, a stalwart of the first four years took it’s bow: only two short serials, both drawn by Hampson assistant Harold Johns, not long before his unjust sacking, before Tommy Walls came to an end in issue 13: four years, almost to the week, of fanatical ice cream consumption. Did the average health of 11 – 14 year olds suddenly soar?
Otherwise, there was little change in the strips and series, the main ones being MacDonald Hastings’ return as Eagle Special Investigator and the debut of the best of its half-page true-life/nature series.
ESI’s second run lasted just over a year but, as the readers themselves noted, did not involve the same degree of potentially dangerous activity as before, and much less need for Hastings’ brand of self-deprecation. Every so often, his page was supplanted by Readers Letters about his adventures, the best of which earned an ESI Pen-knife.
His break was taken up mainly by real-life adventure stories, but in November he was back, this time with a serial adventure featuring Mac and his regular photographer, Chris Ware, on an extended African safari to find the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, which carried over into the following year.
The other feature was to be a long-running half-page by popular TV naturalist of the era, George Cansdale, with splendid detailed and coloured art by Backhouse. Too many of Eagle’s half-pagers, though factually accurate, suffered from sketchy and imprecise art, but Backhouse’s style, and his vivid colouring, set a standard the comic never equalled in any other of its factual features, and the series ran for years.
Dan Dare saw ‘Operation Saturn’ through to its end, and a substantial portion of ‘Prisoners of Space’. By this time, there’s no overt suggestion that Frank Hampson is doing any part of the drawing, and its usually accepted that the latter part of ‘Saturn’ was pencilled by Don Harley and, because the studio was greatly reduced of assistants, and Hampson’s second physical breakdown meant that prolonged rest was essential, the work was sent out of the studio to be finished by Desmond Walduck, the preferred freelancer for situations like this.
But, especially in ‘Saturn’, there was still a clear difference in art between the cover and page 2, with the latter less-detailed and more bland, except in close-ups of Vora, last of the High Ones. When ‘Prisoners of Space’ takes over, however, Walduck’s style more or less swamps that of Harley, and there is little of interest in that. Colouring on both stories is flat and dull, making the style particularly two-dimensional.
This is not a good volume for the qualities of Dan Dare.

Brian Reece: PC49 on radio and film

PC49 was fully settled into a familiar groove, in which each case would be inspired, in one fashion or another, by a new Boys Club member. ‘The Case of the Bad Egg’ introduced potential wild kid Dusty Dawson, fending for himself whilst his mother was ill in hospital, and trying to help his Uncle Knocker, of Knocker and Slim and ‘The Case of the Terrible Twins’ in Volume 2. But Dusty believes what his Uncle has told him about being framed, and as soon as he discovers Knocker is a crook, and one who intends forcing him into the business, he does his best to break away and help 49 and the Boys Club bring in the crooks.
But Dusty doesn’t reappear, despite being made a member at the end, and being invited to bunk in at Mrs Mulligan’s until his Mother is out of the hospital (the Mulligan Twins, well aware of their own brush with wildness, have turned into the most generous with waifs and strays needing somewhere to stay).
In contrast, Tam Piper, who is so much a Scot he goes around in a tartan kilt (and tartan pyjamas) doesn’t generate the case, but being a mechanically inclined young lad, is central to the Boys Club being able to present an old crock of a car to their President, to relieve his sore feet, and have it run. But the car conceals a map of the stash from a jewellery heist ten years ago, coincidentally in the same Cornish cove 49 and the boys are going to on holiday and the theif has just got out of prison… But Tam stays on and features in other stories, with his heavy Scots accent.
Partway through the volume, the increasingly simple adventures of Harris Tweed are moved out of the back half of the comic and onto page 5, opposite ESI, whilst David Langdon’s ‘Professor Puff’ continues on its mildly fantastic way, with the Prof and his dog Wuff having adventures initially in the Arctic and then in Outer Space.
It’s still not all that enthralling and, with Swift coming along to complete Hulton’s little group of Redtop comics, aimed at the gap between the kiddies of Robin and the more mature readers of Eagle/Girl, it may have been a bit more appropriate to shunt Puff and Wuff sideways a bit.

When we left Luck of the Legion, the Sergeant and Corporal Trenet were taking on a new mission in ‘The Secret City’. Bimberg turned up working (inefficiently) as a cook, but when the new Commandant refuses to believe in the mission, Luck and Trenet fake an attack to cover breaking away in defiance of his orders, and take Bimberg with them, as he actually is a good sharpshooter. It marks the beginning of the true partnership, and the continual balance between Bimberg’s childishness, love of toffees and ability to form relationships with every kind of animal, and the senior Legionnaires’ constantly inventive insults about his weight and general competence.
The Three J’s was also as well-established as PC49 and adopting a similar formula in introducing a new boy at Northbrook School in each story, who in one form or another turns out to be at the heart of the adventure, being a French boy facing kidnap attempts, Martin ‘Goosey’ Gander, who is confined to a wheelchair, or the mysterious ‘Somebody’ who is running a secret protection ring.
Ling by now was cleverly attuning his stories to the rhythm of the school year, alternating 10-12 week serials corresponding with terms, and 4-6 week serials set in school holidays. On the other hand, every time the J’s started a new School Year, they were always back in the Fourth Form, which, with two supposedly clever boys among the Three, suggests that everybody was bloody awful at exams and kept having to be kept back en masse!

A typical Bimberg scene

Storm Nelson demonstrated its international spread, concluding the first adventure in rescuing not merely Lloyds Agent Don Kenyon – who would become a regular source of commissions for the Silver Fleet – but Captain Kidd, aka Kerfuffle’s Dad, who promptly leaves his spunky Aussie son in Storm’s care to run permanent risk of death and danger!
The Silver Fleet next turned up in the Mediterranean, running a fake archaeologist and an exiled bandit to a Greek Island wracked by earthquake in search of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, before sailing out to the Pacific to intercede between feuding South American republics. Jennings’ art was clear and bold, robust and dynamic, and his depiction of Honeybun and Xerxes were lovely models of eccentric looking people who nevertheless remained completely believable.
On the back page, ‘Alfred the Great’s life story continued until issue 16, after which it was succeeded by that of Scout Movement founder, Robert Baden-Powell. Marcus Morris was at pains to point out the personal significance of this to artist Norman Williams who, as a Scout aged 12, had been commended for his artistic skills by B-P himself!
To be honest, I found the hagiographical portrait of B-P, especially in his school and early Army career, to be off-putting of the man, making him appear to be arrogant rather than confident, but then I am not and never have been a Boy Scout or any similar creature, so I’m not necessarily the best to judge. Or maybe I am? The series was collected as an Eagle book in 1957, incidentally.
To conclude: I’ve already mentioned that Frank Hampson is popularly regarded as having been absent from Dan Dare throughout this period, and his name does not appear on any page of art in the series. Indeed, ‘Operation Saturn’ strays widely from the original synopsis Hampson develops, completely dropping the attack on eugenics he’d conceived as fundamental, and despite his using his son Peter as the model for ‘Flamer’ Spry (at least from the neck up!), I can’t see him having any input into ‘Prisoners of Space’.
And there was still a substantial chunk of that story to go in Volume 6, but Frank Hampson did contribute one page of splendid art, beautifully coloured and detailed, on the penultimate page of the Christmas issue. Entitled ‘The Editor’s Christmas Nightmare’ it is a fantastic mash-up as (nearly) all Eagle‘s characters turn up in a single spot, wearing each other’s gear – Dan and Digby swapping outfits with Jeff Arnold and Luke, Sergeant Luck and PC49 arresting each other for impersonating the other, and Harris Tweed improbably popping up in the Mekon’s pink jumpsuit and on his flying boat, to lead everyone to the true culprit, Marcus Morris sleeping on the job after too much wine at Christmas lunch!
It’s brilliantly drawn, in the mature style Hampson would unveil when he made his full-time return to Dan Dare, but there’s also a bit of barely suppressed nastiness to it, with Morris being ridiculed openly (the bit about the wine was definitely true to life), and the panel where he pleads for mercy from the characters had to be altered to eliminate the noose Hampson had put around his neck…
But as a harbinger of what to come, it’s mouth-watering, and Volume 6 would see that standard of art burst onto the scene, along with the final piece of the classic Eagle puzzle.


The Last Eagle

People, I have an ethical and economic dilemma to consider this weekend.

My long quest for a completion collection of the Eagle (until they stopped doing original Dan Dare adventures) is almost at an end. I have one to go, one issue. True, some of my collection is in poor condition, and some are incomplete, with the centrespread and the famous cutaway drawings of L. Ashwell Wood removed, and I will keep an eye open for upgrades, but I’m down to the last Eagle.

And there’s one on e-Bay.

Technically, there’s two. One seller is offering the individual issue, whilst another is offering the complete volume, a full year’s worth.

On the surface, this is a no-brainer to beat all no-brainers. Buy the comic, dum-dum, and cease wasting our time. For what possible reason would you want to pay more money to buy several dozen comics you already have?

But things are more complex than they seem. I have long been aware of the availability of this issue. It has been offered for sale at a Buy It Now price over and over again over the two years I have been consistently combing eBay. This seller has dozens of Eagles for sale, and they circulate over and over, never, or at least rarely selling, because each and every copy they are offering are vastly over-inflated in price.

We are talking £23, £27, £30, even £50 for individual issues, each and every one one of which (except one) I’ve been able to buy for a fraction of those prices. The most I’ve had to pay for one of those issues on offer was only six weeks or so ago, when an auction copy came up and I secured it for £12.50, over a tenner cheaper, and that was far more than I’d had to pay for any of the others. Hell’s bells, I’ve bought complete volumes for as little as the prices this seller is asking for single issues. On auction.

So, I have a violent antipathy towards this seller, and towards rewarding them for this unrealistic and horrendous charge.

On the other hand, the full volume that includes my missing issue is currently under Buy It Now or Best Offer at over twice the price of the individual issue. A much higher outlay, a near year’s worth of copies I don’t need (my duplicates pile, which I’m trying to dispose of through eBay, is already about 250 issues strong, and I don’t need to add to it), the cons list is powerful.

On another other hand, this set may be in better condition than my existing copies. It may represent a partial or even complete upgrade. If I have any incomplete copies in this volume, or pages where coupons have been cut out, I may have an instant remedy. And I won’t be funding that rip-off merchant.

Before I take a decision, I’ll have a look through my existing volume, see whether there’s a substantial case for buying the bundle for upgrades, as opposed to cutting off my nose to spite my face. Either way, I’m nearly at the end of the road that, for literal decades, I never even imagined I could set foot upon, and before too long I will have laid my hands upon the last Eagle.


A half day later, an inspection of the relevant volume confirms that there are no centrespreads missing, and only four issues from which coupons have been clipped. I’ve made a note of them for replacement but they don’t amount to enough to shift the balance. So, unless a third copy suddenly appears in the next few days, I think the decision has been made for me.


Frank Hampson – the Big If Only

Here’s a story.
A creative person creates a character who becomes immensely popular. But at the very beginning, the creator has to give up ownership of his creation. Thus, when the character goes big, the creator is not entitled to credit for what he has done, control of his creation, the ability to profit from it and, eventually, the right to even use his own character. Instead of the rewards that creation brings, the creator suffers years of deprivation, misery and bitterness.
Unfortunately, it’s a common story. On one side of the Atlantic it’s Jerry Seigel, Joe Schuster and Superman, on this side it’s Frank Hampson and Dan Dare. In that sense, Hampson’s story is but an echo of what had already happened to Jerry and Joe when Eagle first appeared, but there are aspects to the story that are even worse in Hampson’s case.
Nobody disputes that Dan Dare was created by Frank Hampson. Despite the fact that he began as Chaplain, rather than Chief Pilot, to the UN Spacefleet, and one of his immediate precursors was Lex Christian, a co-creation of Marcus Morris, the Reverend disclaimed utterly any part in the Pilot of the Future.
Under British Copyright Law, copyright vests in the creator of an original piece of work from the moment it is created. At the time Hampson first put that distinctive twist on Dan’s eyebrows, that copyright attached to him for the duration of his life and 50 years from his death (that term was  extended to life plus 75 years to protect Great Ormond Street Hospital, who are largely funded from James Barrie’s royalties from Peter Pan). The ownership of the copyright, which can be assigned, left by will, or sold, endures for the requisite term but once that expires, the creation falls into the public domain. Frank Hampson died in 1986: the rights to Dan Dare are currently held by the Dan Dare Corporation Ltd: Dan will go into the public domain in 2061, unless the game is badgered once again.
In order to get Hulton Press to publish Eagle and Dan Dare, the copyrights of all the art and stories that appeared in it were assigned to Hulton. I assume that a clause to this effect, in whatever express or general terms it may have been framed, was inserted in Hampson’s contract. Hampson never mentioned taking legal advice on that contract at any time before signing it: there is no evidence that Hulton Press suggested he do so in any way, shape or form. It’s doubtful that the thought ever seriously crossed his mind, and probable that he assumed he was free to do with his creation what he chose. After all, he had invented Dan Dare and his world: who could do it better?
For a long time it was not an actual issue. Hampson wrote and drew Dan Dare, he lived and breathed Dan Dare, he ran his studio and Hulton paid for his work and, in the context of the times, not ungenerously. At the same time, once Dan’s popularity was established, Hulton were bombarded with people wanting to market the hell out of the Pilot of the Future and, despite the boast that quality was assured, it was evident that Hulton’s only concern was in issuing licences that brought in money, and the quality of the item was not their business.
Of course, none of that money came to Hampson or his assistants, except, indirectly, in the form of their wages.
It didn’t bother Hampson at that time. He was working well for his employers, making them a profit, and he was full of ideas on how to extend the Dan Dare market in ways that would be creditable, and lucrative: into the American newspaper or comics market, into animation. His studio was the ideal set-up on which to build an expansion into these areas.
You’ll notice that Hampson’s ideas of expansion were always in regard of the story, the experience. He wasn’t thinking of more and better jigsaws, or playing cards, or toys. He was, after all, a creative person: these are the things that matter to them.
But Hulton weren’t at all responsive to Hampson’s ideas. They had no idea about the worlds of America cartooning, or film and animation, and even less interest in learning. They had no interest in anything that would require action, or attention, or thought on their part. Let the licensees take the strain, and Hulton the money. And their little publishing empire was starting to decline, Picture Post was no longer the all-conquering magazine it had been during the War.
As we’ve seen, a power struggle in Fleet Street amongst the five magazine publishing houses saw Hulton sell out to Odhams, who came in insistent on changes that would make Eagle and Dan Dare a cheaper, diminished prospect. Why did they do this? As I’ve previously said, it’s a combination between the natural human instinct to make changes and demonstrate why one is needed, and the universal inability of executives to understand, and therefore value, the creative mind.
As to Dan Dare, Odhams’ thinking was transparent. This strip is being produced by a studio of artists with extensive research materials. No other artist works this way, no other artist is this expensive. Where you and I immediately see the connection between the artistic approach and the head-and-shoulders superiority of the work, the executive cannot. All they see is the bottom line and the fact that it can be done more cheaply, like everybody else and that sells just as well, so what difference does it make?
After all, it’s Dan Dare that sells Dan Dare, not Frank Hampson.
Up to this point, Hampson had enjoyed almost a decade of work with minimal editorial influence. It was clear that, from the moment Odhams stepped in, this era was over. Change was demanded, change that Hampson could only see as being an insistence upon dumbing-down his work (the phrase was decades away from being invented, but Hampson would have recognised it in an instant).
That film rights had been granted, after all the years during which Hampson had pestered Hulton over such a progression, and that they had been granted away from him, and behind his back, was the final straw.
Once Frank Hampson left Dan Dare, he surrendered the only vestige of control that he enjoyed. The story at this point is ambiguous: did he leave intending a clean and final break, or did he take what amounted to a twelve-month sabbatical, intended to re-envision his approach to the series? Whatever the intention, Hampson’s departure was indeed final, and I am not aware of any stories of him attempting to return and being denied.
Had Hampson held the copyright in his creation, it would all have been a very different story. Copyright is ownership, and ownership is control. Frank Hampson surrendered this at the very outset, with no known word nor even apparent thought.
Could he have retained his copyright, or even a share in it? Legally, it was a free decision on his part. Morally, to someone such as I, it was an unassailable position. But practically? Given the structure of British publishing in that era, it is fair to say that there wasn’t a cat in Hell’s chance of Dan Dare or anything in Eagle appearing without that copyright being vested irrecoverably in Hulton Press’s hands.
There’s even an arguable practical case for saying that this was a correct approach. Eagle, like the entirety of boys’ and girl’s comics, was an anthology, a collection of varying strips and characters. How could you put together a viable title if you potentially had to negotiate with every single creator?
However, let us not overlook one salient fact, which is that, in its first year, Eagle would become the venue for the first ever English language publication of Tintin, the direct reproduction of weekly instalments of King Ottokar’s Sceptre. Hulton Press did not acquire any copyright from Herge, nor would they have even asked for the rights.
So if an accommodation could be made for Georges Remi, why could it not have been made for Frank Hampson?
Short and brutal answer: clout. Herge, a long-established continental artist-writer, massively popular, had it. A Southport Art College student didn’t.
Dan Dare made Frank Hampson’s life what it was, for good and ill. It gave him an opportunity to realise his abilities to their full, and to earn a far greater living than his contemporaries could have enjoyed. That he didn’t own, or control his creation destroyed his life, shutting down his creative capability at a time when, in full command of his faculties, he could have gone on to create so many different characters, strips, series.
For an American reader, it was as if Jack Kirby, after burning his boats at DC in the late Fifties, had been driven out of comics altogether, instead of going to Martin Goodman’s ramshackle company consisting of Stan Lee, a desk and a couple of freelancers.
There is a new section in Tomorrow Revisited, which originally appeared on-line (and is still available here). After completing The Road of Courage, Hampson put together a variety of series proposals for Eagle. None emerged. But what impresses is the breadth and variety of these differing ideas, each with bags of potential.
I think that it is undeniable that if Frank Hampson had owned the rights to Dan Dare, and could have resisted Odhams’ demands in 1959, he would have had a considerably happier and more fulfilling life over the next quarter-century. And we, as an audience, would have been substantially better off for it.
Might Hampson have been able to challenge the loss of his creation legally, assuming he had access to the money needed to fund a legal action? Any such case would have to be founded upon the idea that Hampson did not have the contractual terms of Dan Dare’s acquisition explained to him, or perhaps that he was in some way denied proper legal advice before signing. Even then, given the tenor of the times, and the knowledge of the industry practice that publishers owned what they published, the chances of a successful action along these lines, without evidence of some form of corrupt practice that simply does not seem to exist, were minuscule, and would probably have been resolved in terms of damages, not copyright.
And in the event that Hampson might have been vindicated, the odds were that, as he had allowed Marcus Morris to negotiate on their behalf, any legal victory may well have been against his former friend, not Odhams.
And there is a counter-argument that, whilst being without moral authority, nevertheless has practical weight.
The one thing of which we can be certain is that, in the publishing world of Britain in 1949/50, to imagine that Frank Hampson – an art student backed by a Church of England Vicar – could have agreed a deal whereby he retained the copyright in an idea so different from anything else being published at that time, is a fantasy bigger than anything ever published.
The cruel truth is that Frank Hampson got a deal better than any he, with knowledge of the comics publishers of 1949, could ever have realistically expected. He was, in the industry’s terms, a complete amateur, yet he was made Art Director of a comic that operated outside all of the parameters of comics published up to that point. He was appointed by a company that, like him, were amateurs when it came to publishing comics, which meant that they were able to trust him and his radical ideas for improvement, and were prepared to support him with a budget far greater than any other publisher would have committed.
That doesn’t make the way he was treated any less forgiveable, though it should be admitted that Hultons, in the end, were guilty of nothing more than failing to live up to Hampson’s ambitions, and that it was the ‘professionals’, whom Hultons had kept Hampson from having to deal with, who destroyed him in the end.
I don’t go so far as Alistair Crompton in suggesting, in any way, that Hampson should have been grateful for the chance to discover his supreme talent, and to exercise himself to his furthest extent, but it is true that, but for Marcus Morris and Hulton, in that order, Hampson would have moved to London and become a supremely successful commercial artist. Dan Dare would never have been created, and with him the hundreds of characters that followed under his influence. The lives of thousands of readers would have taken different turns, even, perhaps to the extent that a young Stephen Hawking (if he wasn’t just joking) may have found a different interest for his intellect.
Can someone be truly happy never to discover the one thing he is supremely gifted at doing? How many of us are currently leading lives of that kind, not knowing ourselves?
Dan Dare made Eagle, but Eagle also made Dan Dare. Without Hulton to publish an unlikely and unfamiliar project, so different from the comics industry, the creation of people who, whatever their level of genius, really were the amateurs Odhams accused them of being, was in itself a statement of faith. Hulton’s money gave Frank Hampson the opportunity to discover exactly what he was best at.
On grounds of sheer morality, as well as in the interests of aborting at source the many atrocities we’ve seen under Dan Dare’s name, I’d still go with Hampson holding the copyright. But it isn’t a simple black-or-white question.
In the end, it ruined a man’s life. That’s more important than the legacy he left, both in terms of what he achieved, and especially in what he might have achieved. The only person who can say whether Dan Dare was worth it had had no voice for thirty years. We can only mourn that so much grief came to him out of the talent he had.

Dan Dare: What Happened between Volume 10 nos. 27 and 28

                                                                                            A superb book

According to Alastair Crompton in The Man Who Drew Tomorrow (which I still prefer to Tomorrow Revisited, though the latter is a more accurate volume), the downfall of Eagle and Frank Hampson began a long way away, in unrelated circumstances in Russia.
Magazine and periodical publication in Fleet Street was dominated by five houses at the start of 1958, of which Hulton Press was one. On the cryptic instructions of Mirror Group proprietor, Cecil King, Editorial Director Hugh Cudlipp approached the Berry family, who were on the spot, to buy out their controlling interest in Amalgamated Publishing, the largest of these houses.
The Berrys sold, thus changing the balance in Fleet Street publishing. Third place Odhams Press, anxious about their position, decided to fight back by going down the takeover route: their target was Hulton.
Only a short time before, it might have seen unthinkable. But Hultons had gone into a sharp decline, their magazine section losing sales across the board, only its comics division, headed by Marcus Morris, centred upon Eagle and its three red-top stable-mates, Girl, Swift and Robin showing consistent profits.
What had gone wrong? Sir Edward Hulton blamed it on television, on ITV’s arrival in 1956 to start an absorbing rivalry with the BBC that drew everybody away from magazines. His legendary Picture Post editor, Tom Hopkinson (the man who’d looked at Hampson’s home-created three dummy issues of Dragon and advised Hultons to sing up everyone involved and set them to work) argued it was bad editorial direction.
Either way, Sir Edward Hulton took the money, and Odhams Press took over Eagle.
They made it plain that they wanted changes, and moreover economies, and the first place where that should – and would – come from was Frank Hampson’s studio. It was large, it was expensive and no other artist needed anything that looked remotely like it. The fact that it produced Eagle‘s foremost series, and had done so for almost a decade, cut no ice with them.
Looked upon in retrospect, what happened was inevitable for so many reasons. Firstly, there was the sheer expense and, it has to be admitted, improbability of Hampson’s studio. Other artists didn’t need a fleet of assistants, nor reams of reference material to draw for Eagle, so why should Hampson be indulged? Especially, and we already know this to be a powerful motive, as more money was going into the Hampson studio every week than was going to the executives who ran Odhams.
It is a universal peculiarity of the Comics Industry in Britain and America that management just cannot understand the role of the artist and writer in creating a commercially successful product. It’s a blindness that can only stem from a massive sense of internalised inferiority, a jealousy of the presence of imagination in creative people, and a need to denigrate what they produce as being fanciful and unreliable, as opposed to the executive’s consistency and ‘practicality’. Like the Hulton Board in early 1957, when Frank Hampson had tendered his short-lived resignation, they genuinely could not see what made Dan Dare the success it was, and genuinely thought it could be done to the same effect by someone cheaper.
And this effect was exacerbated by Odhams status as ‘professional’ comics publishers. Hulton had had no comics division before the Reverend Marcus Morris turned up with Frank Hampson’s dummies, and neither Morris nor Hampson had any presence in the industry before coming out of nowhere. They were amateurs in Odhams’ eyes, and a decade of success was no corrective to that belief: Morris and Hampson had been lucky.
And they’d achieved this ‘lucky’ success by going against all the ‘correct’ ways to publish comics. Now Odhams were going to come in to show them how to do it right. Anyway, Eagle was dull and unconvincing, and Dan Dare was cardboard, and it was a good job they were there to save the day, before the kids spotted it for themselves (Morris and Hampson had been getting away with it to the tune of 750,000 copies a week for nine years, the readers were bound to twig any day now).
All of which is supplementary to the normal, human instinct to meddle, to change for the sake of change. After all, what point is there, and what use are you, if on taking over a successful venture, you don’t put your own stamp on it? Let it run as it was, and why are you there in the first place?

                                                                                        Let us now forget…

Frank Hampson had always run up against Hulton Press’s lack of ambition when it came to the ways that Dan Dare could have been exploited, both artistically and commercially. In this last year, believing that Eagle was secure in Hulton’s hands, Morris had agreed a number of points that would go some way to addressing Hampson’s concerns, chief amongst these three months paid leave, including a paid-for two month trip to America, to meet with his contemporaries and discuss approaches to that American market.
But these were not in writing, and they were the first things dispensed with by Odhams, who made it plain that they would not tolerate such things in the slightest. Not only Hampson suffered in that respect: Morris’s unlimited expense account vanished as well!
The Reverend would be alright. Within a few weeks of the takeover, already aware that he was not going to be left alone to edit his stable as he had been, Marcus Morris received and accepted another publishing post, one far more to his tastes, and one which would see him rise to the very top of publishing before taken a well-earned, highly-respected retirement.
Hampson still believed in the future of Dan Dare, but found Odhams no more receptive than Hultons had been before them. Change had been demanded of him, and he had lost his one great ally. Safari in Space had gone well, Terra Nova showed signs of continuing the high quality of his work. By dint of his ability, he might be able to hold off interference for some time, though it would mean stress and argument and even less time for his work.
But Odhams were less blind to the possibility of expansion than they seemed. Hultons had licensed Dan Dare to the hilt, and Odhams were very willing to let this continue, especially when they were approached for an option to turn the Pilot of the Future into a film. They signed away the rights and took the money, and said not a word to Frank Hampson. Who found out.
It was a devastating blow. Here was Dan Dare, Hampson’s creation, Britain’s most popular comic book hero, that he had tried, for exhausting years, to expand in so many different ways., and suddenly, in a back-handed manner, he learned that his employers had sold the right to one of those proposals to other people. There would be no money in it for him, no recognition for what he had done, but worst of all there would be no part for him to play.
The avenue of film had been cut off, and Frank Hampson would be barred from helping to shape what appeared. The Licensees could do what they liked with his creation and he could not stop it. They could twist it round in any respect they wanted to, make Peabody a sexy blonde with a cleavage, make the Mekon a muscleman or give Digby a Cockney accent, they could fix these ideas in the public mind, supplant the reality of Dan and his Universe, and he was powerless to stop it.
There is another factor that has not, to my knowledge, previously been put forward as contributory to this situation, and I have no knowledge as to whether or not this played the slightest part in Hampson’s thinking, but it was contemporaneous to this time and should be mentioned here, and this was the death of Alan Stranks, of a heart attack whilst holidaying in Spain, on June 18.
Though Hampson had always had the final say, and he had exercised that say numerous times in creating each week’s continuity, Stranks had been Dan Dare’s writer for the past half-decade: experienced, professional, reliable, Hampson’s longest lasting collaborator on that front. His death occurred just two days before the final issue of Eagle to see print before the printer’s strike and he would certainly have written those two in-house episodes that would represent Frank Hampson’s final pages.
I have no idea how Stranks’ death places in the chronology of those days, and it is pure speculation to wonder if his collaborator’s death, and the prospect of getting a new scripter imposed on him by Odhams affected his decision but, battered and bruised from his experiences, Hampson took the decision that if he could not control Dan Dare, he would rather have nothing to do with the character, he would resign completely from the series.
Odhams were fortunate that this took place during a hiatus in which Eagle was not appearing: they were not required to come up with a completely new creative team at the snap of a finger. The simple answer, the obvious and just one given that he was officially “the second best Dan Dare artist in the World” was Don Harley, but Don didn’t get the job. Hampson was consulted on the issue of his successor and, surprisingly, was in accord with Odhams’ wish that a new artist be cast.
Odhams were looking for changes and this was their golden opportunity. They wanted someone from the outside, not trained by Hampson, not steeped in the traditions of the series, who would make those changes freely and without argument. Harley would have resisted change, or at least Odhams expected him to do so, so he was out, though not completely. And Hampson? A little vaingloriously but, in the context of his experiences, completely understandably, if he was leaving, he wanted to be seen as having left, and Don Harley, his artistic shadow, would not make the visual difference that would emphasize that Dan Dare was no longer under his creator’s hands.
The choice fell on Northampton’s Frank Bellamy, perhaps the only choice that could have been made. Bellamy was an Eagle veteran, and before that a regular on the comic’s younger brother, Swift. His dynamic, hyper-realistic art, his mastery of colour, the sheer energy that poured out of his pages made him the only possible choice. He had specialised in real-life biographies, Eagle‘s back page, and he was the first Eagle artist to be anthologised when his 56 part The Happy Warrior, the career of Winston Churchill, was collected in a special edition.
But the influence of Frank Hampson could not be cast off that easily. Hampson’s maxim as Art Director of Eagle still held: no artist should be required to draw more that one page of colour art per week. Bellamy accepted a contract to draw Dan Dare for a year, with a promise that he would get to draw a strip based in Africa (his lifelong obsession) at the end of it. But he should not draw both pages every week.
For the other page, it was decided that a semblance of Hampson’s studio should be retained, Don Harley and Keith Watson. The reference materials were broken up and destroyed except what Harley and Watson could carry away with them on one trip. And their ‘studio’ was to be a disused canteen in Odhams’ main building.
Despite his professional obligation to giving the client what they want, Bellamy was unhappy about changing the look of Dan Dare, about trampling on a colleague’s work. Nor did he see the need for assistants. This was nothing personal: the three artists met once a week to hand in their two pages, receive and parcel out the next script and retire to the pub for a welcome conversation. Bellamy, as the senior artist, got to dole out the pages as he saw fit. Pages that introduced new characters were his responsibility, and sometimes he’d draw both pages himself, to be balanced out by a pair of pages from the assistants.
Watson didn’t last long. Sick and disgusted at what was being done to Dan Dare, he wrote to Hampson asking him to use his influence to get something done about it. But Hampson had neither influence nor the desire to use it if he had. Watson went to new editor Clifford Makins and tendered his resignation, only to be told that it was a good job as he would have been fired shortly, anyway.
Keith Watson doesn’t disappear from Dan Dare‘s story, unlike Harold Johns and Greta Tomlinson. Ironically enough, he was replaced by Bruce Cornwell, yet again, who undertook the technical art behind Don Harley’s figure work. And, to replace Alan Stranks, Eric Eden returned again – the only period he and Cornwell worked together instead of as alternatives! – taking over writing the strip.
So it’s now time to go back to Terra Nova, where Dan Dare, Digby and Sir Hubert have been kept in suspense, captured by a primitive tribe of Novad natives, and see what happens next…

Frank Hampson: Ambition and Frustration

It was evident from the opening weeks of The Phantom Fleet that Frank Hampson was devoting less time to drawing Dan Dare than he had in the past, periods of illness aside.
Hampson is clearly in place for the opening page: his personal style is still easy to distinguish from the members of his team. But thereafter, as evidence by the absence of his signature week after week, it is Don Harley and new recruits Keith Watson and Gerald Palmer who do most, if not all of the drawing.
From the outset of Eagle, Frank Hampson was ambitious for his creation. He had set up an unprecedented, and at times unwieldy studio system, to produce a Rolls Royce of a strip, driving through a junkyard of rusting bicycles, and it had been an unbelievable success.
But that was not enough. Much of what Hampson brought to Dan Dare, his approach to visual story-telling in a country that had never begun to think of what this meant, had been heavily influenced by American artists, the giants of the newspaper strips in the Thirties, who had developed the adventure serial to a height that is has rarely equaled since.
Hampson wanted to be part of that market. He wanted to meet his contemporaries, learn what governed their markets, develop a version of Dan Dare that would meet their requirements and appreciation. He also wanted to take Dan’s adventures off the page, to develop them into films, animations for which his existing studio system was the ideal basis, artists working under him who had learned his style, his philosophy, his approach.
To do this, Hampson would need time, time that would be denied him if he had to devote the hours he had to date on the day-to-day preparation of Dan’s two weekly pages. So he wanted to step back, to remove himself from the physical aspects of the strip, leave the work to the men (and women) he had trained, and whom he could trust to execute his vision. He wanted to develop that vision, devise better, bigger, more exciting stories for the Pilot of the Future. He needed time to think.
But in order to develop even a fraction of this, Hampson needed something even more crucial. He needed help. He needed allies. He needed people in positions of authority to recognise the possibilities inherent in his ambitions and who would be prepared to back him in the effort to achieve these.
He did not have allies. He did not have men of vision. Instead, he had men who were running a publishing empire that was in slow but steady decline, who were trying to manage that decline, who did not have ideas that might have reversed it. He had men who had no idea, no comprehension of the things that Hampson aspired to, and no interest in learning.
Eagle made good money, money that supported the loss of profits elsewhere at Hulton Press. The greatest factor in Eagle’s success was still Dan Dare. And it was a damned expensive strip to produce, thanks to Hampson’s absurd studio system, a studio that received more in salary than Hulton’s executives who, like almost every executive to work in the comics industry anywhere at any time, could not comprehend that it was the creative elements on whom such success was built, not them.
Hampson’s frustrations built, so much so that, in 1957, early in the production of Reign of the Robots, he tendered his resignation. And Hulton accepted it.
Seriously, they did. They took a cold hard look at the cost of Hampson’s studio, and decided that they could continue the series much more cheaply, and to much the same effect (or so they thought) without Hampson. Fortunately, in the time it took them to come to this decision, and before they could organise a letter accepting Hampson’s resignation, he wrote to withdraw it. So the series continued, but the first crack had appeared.
A second crack would come in the form of an offer by Mirror Group Publishing for Frank Hampson’s services, to develop a brand new comic, Bulldog, along lines to be devised by him, at a salary double that which he received from Hulton for Eagle. This would raise Hampson’s income to an astonishing £7,000@, an unbelievable figure for the Fifties, and one that was certainly far higher than the executives of Mirror Group Publishing.
Hampson thought long and hard but, in the end, declined the offer. Bulldog, which had been devised as a vehicle for Hampson, collapsed and never appeared. One of Hampson’s reasons for declining was a loyalty towards Eagle that seems unthinkable these days, but which was very much in keeping with the attitudes of the fifties, where jobs were meant to be jobs for life, and loyalty to one’s employers was deeply ingrained, along with a concern for ones pension rights.
But there was another, perhaps more fundamental difference. Hampson wanted to withdraw from drawing. He wanted to create, devise, direct and plan series. But at that price, Mirror Group wanted Frank Hampson’s pencils and inks. So the deal fell through.
But this development was yet to come, and would arise under very different circumstances to those in which Hampson found himself in early 1958. The timing is wrong to suggest that this lay behind Hampson’s distancing of himself from much of The Phantom Fleet‘s art in its first half. No doubt he was still working on plans destined never to see fruition, and it’s certainly arguable that the doubts about the story might not have risen had Hampson been giving his daily attention to the story: Stranks may have been scripter, but only within the limits of Hampson’s overall control.
All was not well between Frank Hampson and Hulton Press. And far off, unseen by the artist and his team, and indeed Eagle‘s editor, Marcus Morris, distant forces were gathering whose moves would soon impact on Eagle, Dan Dare and Frank Hampson.
And not for the better.

Proper Nostalgia, not like this stuff you get today…

By now, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll have worked out that I’ve been into comics for a long time, and that I’ve got a fair few things collected. These include the complete 12 book Hawk Books ‘facsimile edition’ Dan Dare, but whilst Hawk Books were complete, their Dan Dare wasn’t, with several stories left out. By one means or another, I’ve got those covered too, don’t worry.

I’ve even been lucky enough to get my hands on a complete set of the Heros the Spartan stories drawn by the superb Frank Bellamy, not to mention other collections of Bellamy’s stunningly gorgeous art – including an original 1950s compilation of The Happy Warrior, the life story of Winston Churchill. And I wouldn’t do without these.

But sometimes there’s nothing to match the pure nostalgia of going back to the originals, to those massed piles of weekly comics that, once upon a time, were awaited eagerly, their publication day a touchstone of a small boy’s week: if it’s Wednesday, that means Eagle, and I’m going to be off in my own little world, or in reality several little worlds, as by a page, or two, half a dozen stories resolve cliffhangers, risks and dangers, half a page cartoon strips give me a giggle, and then it’s seven days of waiting and wondering over again over a new set of cliffhangers, risks and dangers.

The comics came in, and in the end they went out, off to the children’s hospital for boys and girls who were ill and in need of entertainment to have their turn. I never expected to read them again, but then I didn’t know I was going to be one of those who never lose their enthusiasm for words and pictures in combination, for the serialised adventure, for imagination and danger and the marvellous.

For various reasons, it’s been a long time, a very long time, since I last added to my collection of old Eagles. I did brilliantly in the Nineties, largely through The Old Magazine Shop in Sheffield, just outside Bramall Lane, Sheffield United’s home, and I have a story about that very first visit that you can read here, but even before money became a premium issue, the source seemed to dry up.

On the other hand, there’s always eBay, and on impulse I did a search the other week and found a seller with seven lots to sell, each four or five issues, Volume 11, nos 1-34 in total, complete. With a starting price of 99p a time, and the prospect of combined postage, not to mention a decent bonus for once, this month, I entered the fray, winning four of the five I was after. The parcel arrived this afternoon, and I’ve spent the evening reading my nineteen purchases. As they were meant to be, one issue at a time.

Volume 11 was 1962. It’s an odd year in Eagle’s history, insofar as my personal recollections are concerned. The glory days of the Fifties were over, those long years of the unchanging Dan Dare/PC49/Riders of the Range/Luck of the Legion/Jack O’Lantern/Harris Tweed/Storm Nelson and the Silver Fleet/The Three J’s: the Hulton decade in all its glory. This I knew from months of research into the bound Eagles, Volumes 1 – 10, in Central Ref.

Nor is it the Eagle that was to be, that I discovered towards the end of 1963 and began getting weekly from New Year, the years of Dan Dare/Heros the Spartan/Blackbow the Cheyenne/Mann of Battle/Cornelius Dimworthy/Horizon Unlimited.

No, this was an inbetween year. Not only had Hultons gone, but so too had Odhams. Longacre Press were now the publishers, and they were determined to complete Odhams job of killing off the Eagle of the glory. They’d gone, all of them gone, the classics, even the still-hard-to-believe latecomer, Knights of the Road, about a pair of lorry-drivers. No, Longacre wanted so badly to stamp their authority on ‘their’ Eagle, that they had thrown-out almost everything on their takeover. And by everything, I mean everything.

Only two strips survived the transition. One of these was obviously Dan Dare, but Longacre wanted the strip dead: off the cover, out of colour, other things that I’ll go into more detail about when I get to the Dan Dare stories of that era. The only other survivor was The Wanderers, Eagle‘s first ever venture into a sports strip, the newest feature in the comic: it was never going to be one of the top notch football strips.

What then has been the order of my reading? With Dan banished inside, Longacre used the cover for teasers for what was inside, three panels hinting at three features. Suddenly, Eagle had gone big on adaptations: Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger and the Lost World in colour, Max Brand’s Vengeance Trail, a Western, in black and white. A page of The Wanderers, two of Dan Dare, with Keith Watson newly hired. There was a surprisingly moving one page strip, Only the Brave, that each week presented a different hero, a real-life person who had acted bravely in one circumstance or another, winning themselves the George Cross. These were quiet, undramatic retellings of the ordinary, everyday, courage and dedication these people had shown in saving others lives, or confronting injury or death.

The centrespread was given over to Frank Bellamy’s magnificent Montgomery of Alamein, another real-life story, told with drama, dynamics and incredibly powerful art, and when that was done it was yet another adaptation, this time of the early Hornblower novels.

Dan’s big rival now was Sergeant Bruce, C.I.D., a police series. I was to know it well later on as Can you catch a Crook?, when the hook was that we were told Bruce had seen certain clues in certain panels, and challenged to spot what he had seen. The series was being drawn by Paul Trevillion by that point (though in the mid-Sixties, when the object was to do it even cheaper, Trevillion was alternated with a spanish artist whose clash of styles was quite unbelievable.)

Here, the peg was that Dave Bruce had been transferred up from London to the Midlands industrial city of Manningham, and been given the promotion to Detective Sergeant that had previously been ear-marked for local boy Detective Constable Bill Prior. Everybody on the force, including Inspector Wade, resented Bruce, except for Prior himself, so he was always under pressure.

And then there was Beau Fortune. By rights, this should have been a silly mess, the weekly prose story, but it works better than it deserves to from clichéd material. Beau Fortune is a pre-Regency dandy (the series is set mostly in 1805 but could drift around carelessly, episodes taking place in 1803 and 1814 for no apparent reason), an effete fop interested only in clothes. But, known only to his loyal valet Robinson, Fortune is also the mysterious Masked Rider, strong, brave, known throughout the underworld, wanted by the Bow Street Runners but, in reality, a writer of wrongs.

Then there was the half page stuff. Throughout my night’s reading there was Fidosaurus, the Prehistoric Poodle, not to mention the occasional XYZ Cars – Calling ‘U for Useless’, which I probably found funny when I was that age, though why I’ll never understand now. There were even a few left-over Harris Tweed half-pagers, some colour, some black and white, though the once-and-former ‘Extra Special Agent’ is now being demeaningly dubbed ‘Super Chump’.

I can’t let things go without mention of a couple of adverts. One was ‘Mr Therm’, a half-page ad for, well, it’s difficult to say. It’s all about different types of technology, with no linking theme, nor commercial aspect, and it’s done for the Gas Counsel to promote their services, but for this target audience? Sheesh.

But the final biscuit has to be taken by the debut of an advert series that would run for years: Bobbity, Babs & Buster, The Barrett’s Troubleshooters. These half-page cartoons starred a small boy, and even smaller girl and a dog of indeterminate breed who, every week, would start by watching a different type of TV programme only to discover that their favourite (insert blank here) was in trouble, Rapidly kitting themselves out in what gear was appropriate to this week’s genre, our intrepid trio would come through the TV screen to the rescue, which invariably involve Bobbity freeing the TV hero whilst Babs created a diversion by some imaginative use of a Barratt’s liquorice sweet, whilst Buster went ‘Woof!’, after which the TV hero would take them to the nearest sweet shop where they pigged themselves out on even more Barratt’s sweets.

How did I grow up to be both intelligent and sane?

Actually, it’s not the story, it’s the art, which is so awkward and clunky that I could produce something better, and given that Eagle invented the idea of making its adverts into cartoons to fit the comic, AND started off with Frank Hampson himself drawing the Tommy Walls page, this kind of stuff is terribly shabby.

So no, it’s not been one of Eagle‘s great years or even one of my years, but it’s been an evening somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore, and now I think I’ll go downstairs for a while and ask Mummy if I can have a cup of Jusoda before I go to bed, and sit on Daddy’s lap for five minutes, and maybe if the wind’s in the right direction I can hear him, faintly, call me ‘Champ’ one time again…

The Frank Hampson Studios: Bayford Lodge

The set-up at The Firs was impossible. It suited no-one except Hultons, who had their Editor and Art Director/chief draw close to London, but for everyone else it was a disaster that could only get worse.
So Hulton Press accepted the need to establish Frank Hampson’s studio elsewhere in Epsom, this time at Bayford Lodge, a large, detached home that would double as a home for Frank, Dorothy and Peter, whilst providing ample space for the team to work. Not just studio space, for artists and for the ever-burgeoning reference section, but room for the exacting business of posing for photos, taking and developing film that underlay the increasingly rich and detailed art of the studio.
Hampson even had a bedroom floor removed to enable overhead and steeply angled shots to be taken. All in service of a series that he was determined would get ever better. Frank Hampson had ambitions for Dan Dare: breaking into the American newspaper market, for instance, and beyond that the dream of animation, for which his patient, labour intensive studio of assistants would be the foundation.
But Hulton Press completely lacked Hampson’s vision for the possibilities inherent in the series, which would, in turn, lead to frustration and grief.
In the meantime, the work went on. Increasingly, it went on without direct contributions from Harold Johns and Greta Tomlinson. Even at Bayford Lodge, space was not infinite, and the pair would find themselves working from, first, home, and then studios rented by the two to enable them to continue.
Out of sight seems to imply out of mind: Johns and Tomlinson had less and less to do, and they had an offer for outside work that would both occupy that extra capacity and also give them an additional income. Ever-loyal, Johns went to Marcus Morris on behalf of himself and Greta, to seek permission. This was given, although on the strict condition that Johns and Tomlinson’s first duties had to be to Frank Hampson and Dan Dare, to the extent of setting aside other jobs (and contracts) to work for Hulton.
The duo agreed and started on their new venture, but it did not sit well with Hampson, who saw it as the rankest treachery. All considerations of friendship with Johns were forgotten. Within a few weeks, Johns was summoned to London to meet Morris. Tomlinson traveled with him, taking advantage of the break to visit the shops: thirty minutes after leaving Johns at Hulton, she was shocked at his catching up to her with the news that they had both been sacked.
Neither worked for Frank Hampson again.
But the pantomime continued. Eric Eden had tried to debate the workload and had been sacked as the putative head of a conspiracy. Now Hampson wrote to invite him back: there had been a conspiracy but Eden hadn’t been involved. So Eden returned for his third stint on Dan Dare.
For the most part, that left the Hampson studio in a settled state until the end of the decade. Hampson was in control, with Don Harley as his principal assistant – and during The Man from Nowhere Harley’s contribution was so important that Hampson, off his own bat, began to co-sign his chief assistant’s name to the strip. Joan Humphries managed the Studio, Eric Eden was the airbrush specialist.
Other artists would come and go, in junior roles, but these would be the Frank Hampson studio long-termers at Bayford Lodge, until Keith Watson joined the studio in 1958. There were still choppy waters ahead, times when Hampson sought to reduce, even eliminate his own drawing contributions in favour of a role directing those who worked under him, times when Desmond Walduck would return to help out, but Bayford Lodge would be the safe and stable home to all henceforth, and it would remain Frank and Dorothy’s family home long after Frank was forcibly separated from his creation.