Eagle Volume 12 (1961)


The new front page

The boy who read issue 1 of Volume 12 of Eagle, and who was then marooned on a desert island and only rescued in time for issue 52 would have reacted to the difference by asking aloud the 1961 equivalent of ‘WTF just happened?’ But for the continued presence of ‘Dan Dare’, ‘Riders of the Range’ and ‘Storm Nelson’, the only thing to link first and last issues this year was the name at the top of the cover.
This was the year when Odhams began seriously messing with Eagle, and not a single thing about the comic was better for it.
‘Dan Dare’ began the year in the hands of three ex-Hampson Studio alumni, Eric Eden on scripts, Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell on art. A new story, ‘The Solid-space Mystery’ was in only its second week. Given the strictures already being placed on the series, it was surprising to find the story not only resurrecting the Mekon for his first appearance in three years, but also bringing back Hank Hogan and Pierre Lafayette for one final adventure.
But whilst this was a middling but reasonable effort, week by week Harley’s art was growing blander, his attempts to use Frank Bellamy’s designs and uniforms less detailed all the time. And with the following two stories, seguing into one another in the old manner, the bottom began to drain out of the writing. First, in ‘The Platinum Planet’, Dan and Digby are overcome by the Zylbat’s suspa-gas and fly off uncontrolled into Deep Space for years, only to find an appallingly trite overthrow-a-dictator story awaiting them, then they return after unimaginable years for ‘The Earth-Stealers’, to find Earth a ruined planet, evacuated after horrendous ecological disasters and under the control of a mercenary organisation trying to take it over.
As an idea, it’s ruinous to any notion of coherence, but worst yet, the artwork has been crippled by the decision taken as from issue 42 to have the front page shared with ‘Men of Action’, a column-wide strip about sportsmen, mountain-climbers etc. ‘Dan Dare’s art is compressed to two, at most three panels, divided horizontally into two blocks by the strip and story title, in the middle of the page, automatically killing any sense of dynamism on the cover.
And inside, to make up the episode length, Harley and Cornwell have to work in five tiers, cramping every single panel, and flattening everything of any impact, not that Eden gives either of them anything to work with. What were Odhams trying to do? Kill off Eagle‘s flagship character? Well, funny you should say that…
‘Storm Nelson’ fared better, though the series was not unaffected by the passage of time. When Guy ‘Edward Trice’ Morgan fell ill, Richard Jennings took over writing the series for its last two serials. Whilst Jennings proved himself equal to the task of writing the crew of the Silver Fleet, his plotting, especially on his first effort, ‘Mystery of Oaha Island’ was noticeably looser, especially in the story’s long set-up.
‘Riders of the Range’ was also approaching its end. After ‘The Scourge of the Pecos’ was completed in time for the usual Eagle birthday reset that had as many features as possible start new stories, Charles Chilton launched into another factually based tale, ‘Last of the Fighting Cheyenne’. This was a sequel, of sorts, to ‘The War with the Sioux’, concentrating on the long struggle of Cheyenne Indians, displaced to a dustbowl of a Reservation after the Little Bighorn, and seeking to return to their old grounds.
It’s a tragedy of a story, filled with Army and Government severity, hostility, ignorance and arrogance, but it’s main flaw is that there isn’t really anything for Jeff Arnold and Luke to do. They have no part to play except that of unwanted consciences. And the real story lasts so long, and needs so much summarising, that Chilton is having to insert massive amounts of commentary and Frank Humphris is given no decent narrative to illustrate. Ultimately, it’s a dull, heavy, depressing story, as time and again common sense is refuted and stupidity embraced.
The final story, begun and with only a short overlap into Volume 13, like ‘Storm Nelson’ to come, is better and Humphris is more like himself, but the Cheyenne story dominates the year, and it even has the indignity of losing its title, or changing it, whichever is obscure, for the last six episodes.
But at least these old stalwarts were still there at the end of the year. ‘Fraser of Africa’ was run down abruptly and disappeared after a total of 54 weeks all told. There would be more to come in Eagle from Frank Bellamy, and all of it brilliant, but once ‘The Road of Courage’ ended, secular to the last, Frank Hampson would vanish from Eagle for good, with only a black-and-white Bovril advert to represent him until, years from now, his work would be re-exploited in reprints of ‘Dan Dare’. By that time, Eagle would have ruined him.
There was one more ‘Great Adventurer’ story, that of Sir Walter Raleigh, under the title of ‘The Golden Man’, with former ‘Jack O’Lantern’ artist Robert Ayton returning for one final outing on Eagle’s back page.
And ‘Luck of the Legion’, the series that was once second in popularity only to the Pilot of the Future himself, that too bowed out, reducing yet further that classic line-up. ‘The Mark of the Monster’ took place in West Africa, and in its penultimate instalment, the monster itself, a gigantic gorilla, dealt a massive blow to Sergeant Luck. Was Luck dead? Nearly: enough to be a passenger, in need of hospitalisation, in the last strip, but returning, on the mend, to supervise drill for Trenet and Bimberg.
But by then, we knew, if we were wise, that another change was being made. Five weeks before the end, Luck’s artist, Martin Aitchison, turned up on a second series. ‘Danger Unlimited’, written by Steve Alen, about two ex-Marines becoming Queen’s Messengers to avenge a friend and uncover a plot to steal secrets, took the place of ‘Fraser of Africa’. Frank Hampson’s dictum about single artists not being required to draw more than one page of colour art per week had never been officially rescinded, and Aitchison couldn’t have drawn two series simultaneously with that kind of detail for very long, so it was obvious in retrospect that ‘Luck of the Legion’ was not long for this world.
So that meant another, partial redesign. After eleven and a half years and more, Eagle‘s famous cut-outs were moved from the centrespread to the back page. In their place came ‘The Last of the Saxon Kings’, a full centrespread strip about the Godwin family, King Harold and the Norman Invasion. It was blandly drawn with two many small panels every week but what was worst was that it was a reprint, from Comet where it had run under the title ‘Under the Golden Dragon’.

Gone

Eagle hadn’t run a reprint since it first exposed Tintin to British readers, and then it was running two, as a black and white and rather hagiographical strip about the life of Stonewall Jackson appeared out of the blue, another reprint from Comet.
George Cansdale and Backmore produced another, mostly B&W half-page series in ‘All About Nature’, and Harris Tweed ploughed on manfully, but as the year ground out, he was now given the undignified sub-title of ‘Super-Chump’. Close to the end was the first appearance of ‘Fidosaurus – The Prehistoric Pooch’, that I found so funny as a boy, but which I find worthless now.
The prose series had disappeared at the beginning of the volume, but Lee Mayne popped up again with two final four-part stories of ‘The Hawk; before launching into ‘Leopards of England’, starring Edward, the Black Prince of England as Constable of England’s holdings in Fourtenth Century France. Three four-part serials and one six-part to round off, then another E W Hilditch serial, ‘Jim Starling and the Spotted Dog’, far less interesting by far, before the volume was seen out with a new serial, ‘The Gay Corinthian’, not a fortunate title nowadays: Squire Jack Hardcastle, a Corinthian in Regency England, undertakes to win a series of wagers, one of which commits him to marry a woman he has never met. In the opening episode, he assists a pretty young woman in danger of being thrown from her horse, who seems to react when she hears of that element of his wager: you can see the ending from here, can’t you? Still, in its well-depicted atmospherics, it was probably the best story in this section all volume.
Stories were back again, suddenly. The cover re-design of issue 42 was also accompanied by a sudden run of classic short stories, from writers such as O. Henry, Charles Dickens and even Doris Lessing.
By this point, Eagle had started to become confused, features appearing and disappearing with no rhyme or reason. Three times, one-off black and white one page comics stories appeared. ‘Knights of the Road’ dribbled out week-by-week, introducing a new supporting character in the investigator, ‘Gagdets’ Gryll – is he a goodie or a crook? – further demonstrating that somebody hadn’t got a clue what they were doing, and a new comics series arrived in issue 42, ‘Home of the Wanderers’.
At long last, Eagle had got what no-one had ever realised it had been missing, a sports strip. The Wanderers were Wellport Wanderers, a football club from, well, Wellport, and this dull series was going to shock a lot of people next volume, for no virtue of its own. For now, its opening story, about a winger under consideration for England Under-23 honours being blackmailed over his non-existent tearaway past, and its stiff, cold art, whose pitch scenes held the flavour of tracings from football photos, demonstrated that Eagle had seriously lost its way.
Of course there was a reason, and it was Leonard Matthews.
Odhams had bought out Hultons but the pressure was still on in Fleet Street and now they surrendered the unequal fight and sold out to the Mirror Group. Who sent in Matthews to make changes to Eagle, mostly, or rather solely, of the cost-cutting kind. One Art Director was sacked on the spot for protesting. Several other senior editorial staff quit in sympathy. Editor Clifford Makins quietly left the premises. Others followed. New staff were drafted in from Longacre, where Mirror Group (and Matthews) were based. Replacements? Or Dead weights, driven out from where they had ceased to be useful?
The effect on the readers was almost immediate. The printers strike of two years previously had driven many magazines to the wall, and it had knocked Eagle‘s seemingly invincible 800,000 weekly circulation down to a half million. Now, the sudden changes cut that figure by another 150,000. The long decline had begun in earnest.
But there were still several years of decline, and some heartening returns to form, ahead. The old bird might be sick, but it wasn’t dead yet.

Paradoxically, the future…

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: Operation Earth-Saver


Dan Dare in black and white

The boy who had been reading Eagle since Odhams had taken over had seen plenty of changes in Dan Dare alone, not to mention changes in the other features the comic had to offer. But he could not have been prepared for the changes between the 3rd and 10th March, 1962.
One week he was reading not merely Dan Dare but also Storm Nelson and ‘Riders of the Range’, veterans of the Hulton glory years, as well as the more recent but still established ‘Knights of the Road’ and ‘Danger Unlimited’. Then there was the series of Famous Short Stories, the new football strip, ‘Home of the Wanderers’ and the centrespread, a rather stilted historical drama entitled ‘The Sword of Fate’.
Then, a mere seven days later, it was all gone. No more Silver Fleet or Jeff Arnold and Luke. No crime-cracking lorry-drivers or Queen’s Messengers. Everything swept away, even down to the famous red title box, with the name of Eagle spelt out in red letters against a white background, the eagle itself flying across the middle letter.
After a mere twenty weeks, ‘Men of Action’ had gone from the cover, but the biggest shock of all was that, after nearly twelve years, so too had Dan Dare. Eagle’s cover was now divided into three colour panels, advertising stories inside.
‘Home of the Wanderers’ had survived the cull, sneaking onto page 3, and it had been joined by adaptations of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger book, ‘The Lost World’ and Max Brand’s short story ‘Flaming Irons’. Frank Bellamy had taken over the centrespread for the life story of Montgomery, and there were yet more new features, one in comics form, ‘Sergeant Bruce C.I.D.’ and the other in words, ‘Beau Fortune’.
Thankfully, there was still Dan Dare, but there were still more shocks. Not only had Dan lost the cover for the first time in Eagle’s history, but he wasn’t in colour any more. Eagle’s flagship character had not just been shunted inside, he was reduced to black and white!
Indeed, there was even more change than the boy reader realised, for on top of everything else, there was a complete change in the creative team. Eric Eden, Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell were kicked off the series without a word of explanation and, in Harley and Cornwell’s case at least, without a word. Notoriously and disgracefully, they had completed the art for the final episode of The Earth-Stealers and then were left to wonder where the next script was coming from. Whether Eden was treated similarly has never been disclosed, but presumably he did get some notification about not pitching a new story.
Eden’s place was taken by David Motton, who would write most of the rest of the series, to mixed responses from Dan Dare fans, but it was the new artist who was the most interesting part of the changeover, for this was Keith Watson.
After quitting Eagle in disgust at Odhams’ treatment of the series, Watson had gone on success drawing Dan’s main rival, Captain Condor, in the rather more downmarket Lion. When Longacre decided on a new artist, Watson was free, having recently been relieved of the Captain Condor job, and accepted the offer to take over.
Ironically, Watson got the job on the strength of his work at Lion, not because he had previous experience on Dan Dare. Incredible as it may seem, Longacre had no idea Watson had ever worked on the series before. And, as Watson later commented, had they known, he would not have got within a mile of Dan Dare. And because of that twist of fate, the series survived.
Because Longacre wanted Dan Dare killed. It was never admitted, but the conditions they placed on the series made it obvious. Taken off the cover, crammed inside, reduced to black and white, restricted to stories no longer than thirteen weeks in length, no supporting characters and nothing but Earth-threatening menaces, it is abundantly clear that the intention was to weaken the series and kill its appeal until it could be cancelled with minimal protest.
But appointing Keith Watson would frustrate Longacre’s plan. He’d started as Frank Hampson’s assistant, he’d resigned over the mis-treatment of the series and here he was as its artist, and his heart and soul went into the determination to restore Dan’s former glories. Out went Frank Bellamy’s designs, in favour of the traditional Spacefleet uniforms and insignia. Watson would show, with some of his inventive layouts, that he had learned from Bellamy too, but he brought back the Look, so that Dan Dare looked like Dan Dare again.
And without the need to colour the art, Watson had additional time to hone his work. In some ways, he was more stylised than Hampson, and in years to come there would be occasions when his faces were too abstract and cartoonish, but at least at first he was drawing his socks off and giving every reader something to cling to.
If Longacre hadn’t appointed Keith Watson, and instead brought in an artist who was just doing the job his client wanted of him, Longacre would probably have got their way. Thankfully for all of us, their ignorance, and their underlying arrogance in not needing to know, undermined them fatally.
The story itself was crisp and direct, and might have made a good story if allowed room in which to breathe. It ran a mere thirteen weeks and would not have felt over-stretched if that length had been doubled.
Operation Earth-Saver started in Australia, at Woomera, where Dan and Digby supervise the launch of a new satellite, to study cosmic radiation at an orbit of 5,000 miles, before they go on a fishing trip. Almost immediately, various regions on Earth, starting in Cornwall, suffer rapid and excessive plant growth.
This plant growth threatens a world crisis. Food, vegetables, flowers and even garden insects grow to fantastic sizes, becoming unusable as food and causing ecological disaster everywhere.
Dan enlists the assistance of leading biologist Professor Grainger, who has to be rescued from a seaweed draped liner in the Atlantic. They quickly diagnose the issue as being radiation reflected from the new satellite, but are unable to launch to reach it when two gigantic grasshoppers jump on their ship and over-balance it.
The solution comes when the trio are inadvertently drawn into a bell-like spaceship that is gathering deposits of organic material piled up on Earth (they are not aware that they share the craft with a nuclear warhead). This ship takes them to a distant planet whose dominant life-form is intelligent and mobile plants, using cowed human slaves to attend to them.
Dan and Digby succeed in fomenting rebellion against the plants, by their example, and are packed off back to Earth, leaving the revolution to proceed without them. No radiation, plants go back to normal.
It’s well-written, and not without sufficient character-differentiation in the dialogue, whilst Motton introduces a new, more descriptive element, sometimes expressed in florid similes and metaphors, into the narration, but it’s without frills, and it’s pacy and punchy. It’s just that it could have been more with little effort.
As for Keith Watson, his art was superb. The black & white format allowed him to concentrate on clear, distinct, rounded images and his use of grey wash to indicate shade is also excellent. Later in his term, when I began reading Eagle as a boy, I would look at his B&W work and naively assume that he had worked in colour, only for it to be printed and black and white.
The biggest flaw in this initial effort is how frequently, and melodramatically, the story harps on the utter devastation being caused by the overgrowing vegetation, to the point where it would take more than just stopping the damage to enable Earth to recover: the clean-up would have to take forever, and the planet couldn’t recover at all quickly. This has to be the new reality for future stories. But you know that’s not going to be. And it isn’t.

Dan Dare: The Earth-Stealers


                                                                                      A Don Harley panel

And this is an undeniable nadir.
The Earth-Stealers is a horrible mess from beginning to truncated end, thirteen weeks of which not a panel can be justified, a story whose provisions and effects disappear utterly the moment the next story begins, and which is an insurmountable block in any attempt to collate the various Dan Dare stories into a coherent chronology.
Nor does it have any artistic highlights to at least leaven the criticism, for it is presented throughout in the horrible split-cover fashion foisted on Eagle in the latter weeks of The Platinum Planet, complete with the airless five tier cram on page 2.
Dan and Digby, in the Zylbat, return from years away in deep space to find the Earth surrounded by clouds so that it looks like Venus. Under the cloud cover, they find that the planet has drastically changed: Spacefleet HQ is under water, so too is London, capital cities the world round are deserted and English country villages have turned into swamp and jungle in the tropical heat. In fact, the whole of Earth’s population has vanished.
Finally, our heroes find a remote settlement high in the Andes, only to find themselves shot at when they climb over its wall. The camp belongs to Earth Reclamation Ltd, and the pair are brought before its Director, a South American looking type called Malvol, whose assistant looks like an ex-Nazi concentration camp commander (and probably is).
This is where we get the explanation. During the years of Dan and Digby’s absence (and we are given no clue as to how many years that is), Earth underwent a dramatic increase in temperature and expansive climatic change, shortly followed by a virulent but unexplained plague, which decimated population, so Earth’s Government gave up and evacuated the planet to Mars. Malvol has been given the job of investigating if it’s going to be possible to come back, with a bit of work, but it’s immediately obvious that he’s planning on taking over for himself.
You may well be asking yourself, What the F? (sorry, the Reverend Marcus Morris may be long gone but we’ll have no language like that around here, even though it’s by far and away the most appropriate). This is a large chunk of hindsight, given the years we’ve been exposed to theories about Global Warming and the long term gradual effects of what man has achieved in a considerably more polluted world than that of Dan Dare, but just how bloody long are he and Digby supposed to have been away for?
Climate-changed planet incapable of supporting life, AND a devastating plague all at once? Evacuation to Mars, which is incapable of supporting human life outside of its luxury and limited dome accommodation? Are you serious about this? Giving a private, commercial organisation the contract to see if the planet’s fit to move back to when half of it is still underwater, and lions have shifted their natural habitat to Surrey?
There isn’t an ounce of this that’s remotely plausible, and since we all know that Dan’s going to expose Malvol as some kind of would-be dictator anyway, there is no remotely conceivable way of getting out of this situation for as long as the Dan Dare series lives. The storyline is beyond a joke.
As is the incredibly perfunctory ending. Dan and Digby escape in the Zylbat and head towards Mars to verify this idiot tale. Malvol frames them as having the Plague, which at least results in the unloved (by me) Zylbat being blown to pieces. We don’t get to see anything on Mars that would remotely make the background credible, just Spacefleet’s new HQ and Acting-Controller Burke, late of the Security Division (Sir Hubert went off on a deep space mission shortly after the Zylbat first disappeared: nothing comes of that, so maybe a search for him might have been the next storyline if something bigger hadn’t intervened).
Burke’s suspicious of Malvol but hasn’t a shred of proof, so he lets Dan and Digby ‘escape’ in an unguarded two-seater, to go back to Earth and get the goods for him. En route, Dan catches up on the papers, and discovers a series of discouraging reports from one of Malvol’s experts, our old friend Lex O’Malley.
Sure enough, once Dan tracks Lex down, the Irishman confirms that his reports have been altered for the worse, obviously by Malvol. The Earth is a lot closer to being rehabitable than Mars thinks, despite the overwhelming evidence we’ve seen with Dan. It’s a long time since these friends have seen each other, but Dan hasn’t a word of friendship for the bloke he took to Cryptos: just a business call, no fraternising.
As for Lex, we have some spectacularly poor scripting from Eden, who can’t write a line of dialogue without lapsing into stage Irish cliché in word or accent. O’Malley was never remotely like this, which is not Irish but Oirish: Eden’s ear is horribly tin in this respect.
Anyway, the reason Malvol’s gotten away with everything so far is QX, which is not a forerunner of Spike Milligan’s anarchic BBC2 comedy series’ but a drug that renders Spacefleet visitors from Mars very suggestible about what they think they see, hear and, on this occasion, do. Malvol’s ready to take Mars over militarily, with a flotilla of Spacefleet ships to carry the bombs.
Until Dan and Lex pour all the QX away down the sink. Then it’s just a matter of telling everyone to pretend to be drugged until Malvol is off-Earth and neutralised, whereupon they all beat the living crap out of the would-be dictator and his Nazi aide. End of story.
I’m not going to go on about this story. What I’ve said so far is sufficient to describe the tale. But Eden is not solely culpable for the abrupt, oversimple ending. Elsewhere in Eagle, series’ were coming to sudden endings, stories were cut short. Odhams had owned Eagle for two and a half years, but now it was their turn to be bought out, this time by Longacre Press. Odhams’ name would return to the comics, as an imprint, later in the decade, but Longacre were going to put their own stamp on Eagle, and it would be the biggest upheaval the comic ever experienced.

Dan Dare: Mission of the Earthmen


With Frank Hampson’s chief lieutenant, and another of his senior and highly experienced assistants, in charge of the art, would Dan Dare once again become the brilliant, clear, well-lit and above all intelligent series it had been for so long?
Before we answer that question, there’s another thing to clear up. Much of what I know of Frank Hampson’s life and career derives from Alastair Crompton’s The Man Who Drew Tomorrow, which was published in 1985. Though written during Hampson’s lifetime, the book was still in preparation when Hampson passed away, denying the artist the chance to see proper credit for his works being given.
The book was re-published in 2011 as Tomorrow Revisited, heavily revised by Crompton to take account of new information available, altered perceptions and material that, out of respect for Hampson, that Crompton had chosen not to incorporate in the original book.
One change that puzzles me is that, where in The Man Who Drew Tomorrow Crompton had been unequivocal about stating that Hampson’s departure from Dan Dare was intended to be permanent – twice he refers to Hampson “cut(ting) himself free” – in the revised edition Crompton now has Hampson claiming that he had only ever intended to step away for a year, to refresh himself, devise new stories and ideas. Indeed, Hampson goes so far as to suggest that this was agreed with Odhams as part of the arrangements for him to step down in the first place.
These claims come from interviews with Hampson that were available for the first book, and I see no reason for suppressing these in 1985.
We know that Hampson didn’t return, and Crompton, neither in his conversations with Hampson, nor in his accounts from other sources, makes any attempt to address why this apparent sabbatical didn’t see Hampson resume control. It’s supposed twelve-month duration fits in with Frank Bellamy only being contracted for a year, but nothing in any work I’ve read has intimated that there was ever an attempt, or an intention to bring Hampson back to his creation.
Nor, given that Odhams had broken up the Hampson studio, gotten production of the series under control on their terms, had been more than willing to dispense with Hampson entirely – and given the way in which Frank Hampson would shortly be treated, which is not overdramatised by being called ‘cruel’ and ‘spiteful’ –  nor does it seem in the least bit likely that they would entertain the idea of Hampson’s return to Dan Dare for an instant.
What we did get, both pictorially and narratively, was the most Hampson-esque story of the period. True, Harley and Cornwell had to conform to the new Spacefleet designs introduced by Frank Bellamy, which looked no more natural than they had before. But they were no longer under an obligation to try to draw like Frank Bellamy, and the relief and the release shows in what is probably their best art for the series.
Eden’s story also makes a substantial effort to live up to the Master, and its essence is certainly something that it’s surprising to find Odhams approving, given their attitude to the past. Dan and Digby are part of an Earth expedition to a distant galaxy, billions of light-years from Earth. Whilst the bulk of the expedition explores the outer planets of the system, Dan and Dig have been detached in a two-seater scout ship to survey the Inner Planets.
They are forced down upon the plant Zyl and put through a series of attacks by the ruling Council, a people scientifically advanced. But these are merely tests, not merely of the Earthmen’s capabilities in the face of danger but of their moral capabilities, their willingness to aid what they believe is an enemy.
For Zyl has a sister planet, Vort, home to barbaric races, that it wishes to civilise, but is not qualified to do so. Zyl is too far advanced, too soft: it needs a race that, on an evolutionary scale, is somewhere between those two levels. Their tests have proved that Earthmen are ideal, and Dan and Digby are only too eager to take on what is, essentially, a kind of two-fisted missionary role.
There is a fly in the ointment, however, in that one Council member, Senat, objects, believing the job too much for two strangers to the Zyl system (the man might well have a point, but then he doesn’t know about this pair, plus two others, one a kid, defeating the entire planet of Phantos, not to mention the overthrow of Gan with only one helper: the steadily reducing number of people needed to overcome regimes here reaches its ultimate expression). Without unanimity, the Council cannot proceed, so they hand over a spaceship to enable our heroes to reach the fleet, at the other end of the system.

                                                                                 A modern day cut-away
Dan and Digby have other ideas, however, like losing their way heading back and accidentally arriving on Primitive Planet Vort anyway. Except that Senat isn’t as stupid as you normally expect and stows away with a gun to ensure the boys don’t get off course. Nevertheless, he is so advanced, civilisation-wise, that he isn’t familiar enough with guns to be not be taken in by a routine bluff, and we’re off to Vort anyway. Where Senat’s fears over being on such a dangerous planet lead him to fly off the moment Dan and Digby leave the ship to reconnoitre.
This action at least has a positive outcome. The Zylans immediately crank up to locate and assist the Earthmen, whilst Dan and Digby use their wits to firstly survive among true barbarians, and secondly escape with a more civilised version, who is a raider from more sophisticated tribes.
These higher-level barbarians are still stuck at the raiding party stage: war is fun, plunder is profit and the gods rule their lives. The technology of the Zylans is advanced magic, the ships are Dragons, and its a relatively easy task for Dan and Digby to organise a situation where the two warring peoples (the real barbarians don’t get a look in on this) are led to believe that the Earthmen are gods who derive their magical powers from the war, and who can be defeated by peace.
This results in a treaty, after which Dan and Dig hand the situation back to the Zylans to monitor, with the occasional poke-and-prod to make sure things stay on the right track.
Mission of the Earthmen was Eric Eden’s third complete story for Dan Dare and the first in which he was writing for artists who he would, presumably, have thought of as friends and colleagues. This reunion of Hampson Studio alumni has the feel of people suddenly relaxing, eager to flex their muscles in a manner with which they are intimately familiar, freed from the obligation to be something that, by instinct, they are not. It’s this, I think, that makes the story into something that reads like a success, when in reality it’s no more than a workable shadow of what was so good about the series to begin with.
Because by ‘doing’ Hampson without Hampson, Mission of the Earthmen does little more than demonstrate the qualities of imagination, inspiration and sheer bloody-minded invention Hampson brought to Dan Dare. Yes, Eden’s story uses a Hampson-esque notion, and it is four-square with the great purpose of the leading character that it should be about peace, and the nobility of helping to bring that about, from no greater obligation that one’s own conscience (in Morris’s day, they would have been a slightly more overt statement of mission in the story, as opposed to the title).
But to be honest, what Eden writes is little more than the middle third of a Hampson story.
Take the beginning. Eden starts in media res. Hampson would have started on Earth, with a purpose for the expedition, a team defined, a specific link to the Nimbus Drive, the clear identification of the target galaxy/system. Things would have a place. And he would not have been able to resist defining the Outer Planets before allowing Dan and Digby to progress to the Inner Planets, with some logical explanation for why Spacefleet’s Chief Pilot, Earth’s many-times-over saviour, is being sent on a glorified scouting expedition, of the kind usually given to extras. Hampson would probably have had signals from the Inner Planets detected and Dan volunteering to check these out, such signals having been a decoy, the Zylans having detected the presence of intruders in their system.
Instead, Eden drops Dan and Dig into a story already many weeks along, with no more than a blurred fog behind them, leaving the ground wobbly for the first few weeks as these strangers pile up the pressure.
And then there’s the end, or rather there isn’t. Looked at objectively, Dan and Digby haven’t completed their mission. At best, they’ve disturbed the couple of pebbles that, with careful direction, will turn into the avalanche. Indeed, it’s nothing but a con. The Vortans have been tricked into peace, a very dangerous tactic, given that it will, inevitably be uncovered some day, and even the most settled of civilisations, deep and rich in peace, can react badly on finding that its prosperity has been forced upon it against its will. The Phants didn’t have their pacificity forced on them planet-wide: they opted for it.
Eden’s been criticised for setting up strong stories but only having perfunctory, unsatisfying endings for them, as if he didn’t know how to build up to a climax. Some people just don’t have that in them. Mission is a perfect example: it ends abruptly, with so little done, that it can’t help but be unsatisfying.
I’m in two minds about the art. In places, particularly in mid-story, when Dan and Digby escape from the truly primitive Vorts, in the wake of the pirate Arkrut (Arkwright?), with half an eye closed it could pass for Hampson himself, with its exuberance and its light and colour. But open the other eye. The landscapes are attractive, but ordinary. There is the absence of line and detail, of shade and hatching. It’s not the dichotomy between line and dot of Hampson vs Bellamy but the absence of both, the reliance on outline, on shape to form faces and figures, with colour too often too flat to do more than fill in spaces. And smoother, rounded spaces at that, lacking sharp edges, clear definition.
Don Harley was indeed the second best Dan Dare artist in the world, and he drew Dan better than anyone not Frank Hampson himself. But he lacked the inspiration, the spark of genius. For this omission, he had a longer, happier life than Frank Hampson, is still alive and drawing today. Who is to say which was better?
But this was not quite the end of Mission of the Earthmen. By now, even Dan and Digby were aware that it was strange no-one from the main expedition had come looking forward, given how long they had been out of contact (in a Hampson story, they would have turned up, just in time for Dan to enfold them into a bigger, more definitive plan to bring guaranteed, recognised peace). The Zylans have given Dan his own personal spacecraft, the Zylbat, but when Dan pilots it back to Expedition base, the Expedition has packed up and gone home, abandoned them.
To be sure, there’s a good reason, one that Eden will use to parlay this story into the next one: a message from Earth the day the scouts were declared missing, great danger, sudden recall, no alternative, have left you twenty years food and will try to get back to you before it runs out… A sticky situation, and one that would have been hopeless if our heroes had been relying on Anastasia, but the Zylbat has hibernation tanks…
Earth, here we come!

Dan Dare: Project Nimbus


As I said, it had taken Frank Bellamy six of the twelve months he had contracted to draw Dan Dare to get the Pilot of the Future back to Earth, and to be able to implement Odhams’ demands for a new look for the series, in uniforms and spaceships. But Odhams had more in mind than just changing Eagle‘s most popular series, they were set upon a redesign of the comic.
The effect on Dan Dare was to remove the traditional red title box that, since Volume 1 number 1, had occupied the north-western quarter of the cover. The red background, the font and the black and yellow Eagle were retained, but these were redistributed to a horizontal title box, crossing the top of the page, leaving a more conventional, almost square space for Bellamy’s art.
Project Nimbus was Frank Bellamy’s third and final story. In view of its significance, he drew both pages of the first episode, meticulously signing each page. The story commenced with a spectacular image of a space station whose design was clean, elegant lines and angles, with nothing of the workable practicality of the Hampson era. It looked amazing, though the new, wrap-around, blouson uniforms looked stupid.
It’s straight into the action. The space station, Spa-One, is searching for Nimbus One, a test ship trialling a new photon drive that has been doing so well until disappearing an hour earlier. Dan and Digby are sent out to help, though it’s noticeable that they don’t travel in Anastasia. It will be a long time before we see ‘Old Annie’ again. Their arrival coincides with the discovery of ten weak signals indicating not-debris, which sends Dan into frantic action: the crew of Nimbus One numbered ten…
The rescue vessel, Andromeda, takes off just before Dan, at top speed, gets back, but there is still a way for him to participate, and get there before the official rescue ship, and that’s in Nimbus Two. Sir Hubert refuses, which seems sensible in all the circumstances if Nimbus One has suffered something disastrous. Indeed, he won’t even ask for volunteers.
But not asking for volunteers is not the same as refusing them when they immediately appear out of the woodwork. How long has Sir Hubert known Colonel Dare and his faithful batman, Albert Fitzwilliam Digby that he thinks they won’t volunteer for anything, no matter how risky? And he also ought to know very well that he’ll have a full crew faster than you can say ‘Odhams are stinkers’ because, a couple of quick, surreptitious phone calls later, who happens to be lounging around HQ, glory be it’s Hank Hogan and Pierre Lafayette, back for the first time since The Ship That Lived, two years ago.
This only takes three weeks to set up, and up to this point Project Nimbus has the basis for a good, solid story, with old friends reunited. However, from here it goes on to waste all the opportunities available to it.
The first disappointment is Hank and Pierre. They may be there in person but they certainly aren’t in spirit. Both get good, close-up, Bellamy-style portraits, but other than that they are just a pair of accents (Pierre’s hammed up more than Hank’s) speaking utilitarian dialogue that has no bearing on their personalities. Neither does anything particularly substantial in the story either. They could have been replaced by two identikit Spacefleet officers and the story would have been different in no whit.
As for the story, we will ultimately discover, an alien ship, filled with aliens who look like human size white ants, has entered the Solar System on a prospecting tour which has taken them to the Moons of Jupiter (without apparently encountering the Numidol spacefleet, which has been completely forgotten since the days of Operation Saturn despite being as influential a Solar System presence as the Earthmen). They are evil, without any redeeming factors, or at least any redeeming factors that Dan Dare bothers to wait to find out about because he destroys their ship utterly.
But before we get this far, Nimbus Two has to undergo an overlong series of genuinely meaningless threats – it is a test ship, remember, and we have to be reminded of that at all turns – that drain the story of momentum by focusing on trivialities.


The alien craft, when we finally get to see it, in the ninth episode, looks like nothing in the Solar System, but it also looks like nothing a workable spaceship. It is a geometric solid, with extended ski-rails at the back, a globe at the front and a top-heavy cylinder at the back. It’s beautifully drawn, a Bellamy special, and it’s fully within his ‘don’t-be-like-Hampson’ remit, but it immediately looks unworkable, and it gives Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell (Keith Watson had already done his jump-before-pushed) an impossible task to emulate when they get a page it appears on.
But that’s nothing before we see the Erg-Boat, the two seater pilot craft that takes two lazy, indolent and basically silly ant-soldiers down to the surface of the Jupiterian moon on which Nimbus Two is currently landed. That’s basically a triangular wedge of cheese with two cocktail sticks topped with balls at the broad end.
Dan and Digby discover the Erg-Boat, then are confronted by the two gun-toting alien nitwits. In order to combat their captors, Dan and Digby studiously ignore their presence and start acting naturally in an artificial manner. Some food cubes fall from Digby’s space suit. For no apparently logical reason, the starship troopers recognise that these are food cubes and, ignoring the fact that they are the nutritional substance for an alien race whose physiology is in no way comparable to their own, stuff their faces with them. Which means that, given these are concentrates, they effectively overeat fantastically, get upset tummies and sit around groaning like your uncle on Christmas Day whilst Dan and Digby do a sharp one.
Thankfully, from this nadir, the story pulls itself together enough to get into space and have a battle with the invading craft. Nimbus Two comes off potentially worse, the aliens using fireballs with the intent of causing microholes in the ship’s structure, through which oxygen can leak away. This danger is averted by the arrival of a Spacefleet Squadron under Sir Hubert’s command, which drives the ship off long enough for Nimbus Two to be outfitted with a heavy-duty, stainless steel shell, strong enough to enable Dan to ride back into battle in safety.
Whereupon he promptly turns his back on the invading craft, literally, fires up Nimbus Two’s engines to full throttle, and basically fries the sucker with the photon drive. End of story.
Except for the chance finding of the intact and undamaged Nimbus One on a nearby Jupiterian moon. The essentially redundant Hank and Pierre hop off in Two whilst Dan and Dig fly One home, with Sir Hubert (given that these ships apparently required a crew of ten to operate them, it’s seems pertinent to question their being operated by crews of four, three and two). Sir Hubert is allowed a spin, in which he cranks the drive up even faster than Dan has previously gone, whilst foreshadowing the next adventure by claiming that the importance of the Nimbus drive lay in developing a hyperdrive that enabled Mankind to leave it’s own system and explore distant galaxies.
I hear cries from the back pointing out that that is exactly what the Halley Drive does, and that only in the last story, have they forgotten? You really must understand that this is a new era, and that continuity between stories is one of those things that Odhams know the kids don’t want. The little buggers don’t want things that make sense, they want action, excitement, flash.
Frank Bellamy had certainly supplied that, and it is not to denigrate him that I say any of these things. He was a brilliant, astonishingly dramatic artist, as much a genius in his way as was Frank Hampson in his. That Frank Hampson’s approach took in other, wider concerns, that he wrote or directed as much as he drew, does not diminish Bellamy, who could do things with a page, or later a centrespread, that no-one else could, and whose actual art, in line, composition, layout and colour, could not be approached by anyone else.
He’d taken on an unwelcome professional job and done what was asked of him. It’s far from his fault that what he was asked to do was unworthy of the character he’s inherited, and the art he’d produced had been superb.

                                                                                    A Harley/Cornwell page
But it was a mistake to choose him to replace Frank Hampson, as he had no intrinsic interest in, no feel for SF. The new uniforms he designed are evidence of this: Hampson had based uniforms and insignia upon his own British Army wartime experiences, and put Spacefleet firmly in a line from the real history of our world, further cementing its reality as a plausible future for Eagle‘s readers. Bellamy was under instructions to change things for the sake of change, and his new uniforms and spacesuit designs broke that progression and inadvertently rendered Spacefleet more of a generic proposition, with its origins less in Britain 1950 than Science Fiction Anytime.
His year done, Bellamy moved on. It’s not strictly part of this series, but it’s pleasing to report that his reward for this dedicated year was his dream strip, Fraser of Africa, about a game warden in the continent Bellamy was obsessed with, and he was unbelievably good with that.
But for the second time in twelve months, Dan Dare needed a new artist. This time, justice would be served where it had been denied a year ago. Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell would now take over art full-time. Would this see a restoration of the series’ true glories?

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.

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…

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…