More from the cuttings files – this time a 1990 article from The Independent by design writer Jonathan Glancey on the reborn ‘original’ Dan Dare.
A quick recap: when the ‘new’ Eagle was launched in 1982, it featured ‘Return Of The Mekon’, a strip retconning (the original) Dan Dare into a Battle of Britain test pilot sent into the future, Buck Rogers-style (per the requirements of a TV series then still in pre-production). As the strip developed, and the television show never materialised, the focus became the great-grandson of (original) Dan. Also called Dan Dare.
This (new) Dan Dare had eight years-worth of adventures in the (new) Eagle, with varying levels of enthusiasm from readers, and striking art from the likes of Gerry Embleton, Oliver Frey, Ian Kennedy, Carlos Cruz and John Gillatt.
By the late 1980s, the speculation bubble, plus a nostalgia boom driven by (original) Eagle readers now all grown up, out of short trousers and with some disposable moolah, meant that Mike Higgs was able to put out the high-quality Hawk Books reprints of the (original) Eagle‘s (original) Dan Dare adventures, which increased interest in the (not new) Dan Dare from younger readers. It certainly tickled my fancy – I got the ‘Dan Dare – Pilot Of The Future: The Deluxe Collector’s Edition‘ (Patrick Hawkey first edition) as a present for passing the Eleven Plus, and started from there.
Then there was the whole COMICS HAVE GROWN UP!11!!! marketing spiel from trad publishing houses realising there was a gravy train to jump onto, whilst carpetbaggers continued to skew the market, giving the impression of comics as some kind of magic money generator, all at the same time as juvenile titles’ circulation were sinking.
Throw all that together, and you have Fleetway in 1989 coming up with an idea to reinvigorate (new) Eagle: by ditching (new) Dan, and reintroducing (original) Dare. In a sense it was a masterstroke – not least because they secured the talents of (original) Eagle artist Keith Watson. It was a way of exploiting the canon, the back catalogue, the interest of older readers and the then-preoccupations of the publishing sector.
And that’s where this article comes in. By 1990 we were (if I recall correctly) three albums into the (original) DD saga, and Hawk was ready to release its ‘Dan Dare Dossier’, a big, glossy, full colour and comprehensively list-filled biography of the character, his creation and his memorabilia. The (original) Dan Dare in the (new) Eagle wasn’t working as well as it was hoped so there was a little bit of tinkering to update him; but by then one can imagine that the parameters available had been severely constrained. But modification were made, and younger bucks like David Pugh and Keith Page provided some excellent artwork for what must have been a tough brief (“more modern than the new ‘old’ Dan, but more more retro than the old ‘new’ Dan…”), and as a young reader then it did feel like perhaps the corner was being turned.
Of course, it was but a valiant rearguard action.
Apologies for the haphazard scans. I will transcribe the article into plain text when I have a free moment for ease of searchability. In their wisdom, Apple decided to sell me an HP scanner/printer that doesn’t have Twain drivers (which means that I can’t scan to Acrobat and use OCR) having accidentally missed out this somewhat salient fact in their sales blurb. Cheers!
Following on from my post on getting into Eagle, here’s a great little feature on the rebooted title’s genesis, taken from the pages of the first ‘new’ Eagle annual, coverdated 1983…
There are some great photos of the team responsible for the relaunch, including editors Barrie Tomlinson, Dave Hunt and Gil Page, plus behind-the-scenes IPC artists and designers like Jack Cunningham, Brian Wagland, John Jackson, Paul Blensburg and Pat Reynolds,.
Perhaps best of all are the try-out sheets for the revived ‘Dan Dare’, with great splash pages from John Gillatt (yes, I know I did later critique his ‘DD’ work) and Ron Smith, as well as sketches by eventual launch artist Gerry Embleton.
OPERATION EAGLE was the most secret project ever to be planned by the Boys’ Sport and Adventure Department of IPC Magazines. For months, Group Editor Barrie Tomlinson and David Hunt, the man destined to be Editor of the new magazine, worked on their plans for the re-launch of EAGLE, the most famous name in children’s comics.
The original EAGLE, first published in 1950, had gained a reputation of being a quality magazine that was ahead of its time. It had been a very special title to millions of boys… and today those boys were fathers themselves. They would demand that the new EAGLE was at least as good as its predecessor! The new EAGLE also had to be very special!
It was decided that the new EAGLE would be different would be for most of its stories to be presented in photographs, rather than drawings. Some thought that boys’ adventure stories would not successfully transfer to photographs… but it was tried… and it worked! World War Two stories, Westerns, school stories, science fiction… all were featured in the opening issues. There were some doubts from the older generation… but the new-style stories were voted a hit by the people they were meant for… the children of 1982!
As well as stories, the new EAGLE had to have high-quality feature material. ‘Cutaway’ drawings, Daley Thompson articles, interviews, Glamorous Teacher competitions… and many more. They were all planned during the secret sessions, along with lots of other features. When put together, they became the success story of 1982… the new EAGLE!
» ‘Operation Eagle’ (Eagle Annual 1983) (PDF from 300dpi CMYK TIFFs)
I don’t care what the ‘proper’ nostalgists say, or what the orthodoxy dictates – I loved Eagle Mark II.
With glossy paper, photo stories and a higher feature-to-strip ratio than its contemporaries, the new Eagle launched in 1982 did not have much in common with its 1950s forebear, despite the rebooted ‘Dan Dare’.
Nevertheless, Eagle was the first comic which really whet my appetite, with a mix of action, sport, fantasy and humour. Sure, some of the photo strips were rather shonky, given the limited budgets (‘Saddle Tramp’, for instance, never convincingly conveyed the Wild West), and the pages of sports star profiles and cutaway drawings did sometimes feel like a cop-out, but it was the mix that kept me interested.
My Mum got me issue number 2 (with a cover mounted free gift – a plastic golden eagle!), as a one-off treat back in 1982 (‘The Tower King’ instantly etched itself on my memory), but I was only five years old at the time, so it wasn’t really until 1985 that I really got into it.
Back in those days periodicals – and this is something I intuit, rather than know for sure, so please excuse my assumption if it is wrong – were sold to most newsagents on a firm-sale rather than sale-or-return basis. That meant that unlike today, unsold newspapers, magazines and comics didn’t get bundled up and sent back to the distributor if nobody bought them – the seller paid for them regardless. To mitigate their losses, that meant newsagents often had months-old comics gathering dust on some back shelf somewhere begging for buyers, often with the cover price slashed. And what young comic lover with a few pennies of pocket money burning a hole can resist a bargain?
So it was that whilst on ‘holiday’ at my grandparents’ in Acton, my eight year old self bagged a fine run of a dozen or so copies of Eagle in their local newsagent – you know the score: a messy pile of unsolds nestling between out-of-date Jackies and forgotten People’s Friends, covers streaked with spirit marker announcing a 50% price cut. The mother lode!
It was around the time of Eagle‘s incorporation of Tiger. By then the glossy paper and photo strips were but a distant memory – instead it was the ragged-edged cheap inky newsprint that IPC was so fond of dumping on us.
But this was the time of Ian Kennedy passing the ‘Dan Dare’ art baton to Carlos Cruz; the time of the awesome Vek versus Zyn ‘Doomlord’ storyline; plus the very beginning of ‘Computer Warrior’ (née ‘Ultimate Warrior’); and a strong roster of conquered strips from both Tiger and Scream, including ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ and ‘Billy’s Boots’, filled the rest of the pages. Heady times…
It was a great two weeks at Nanny and Grandad’s. I remember it being quite sunny, but still I stayed in a lot of the time to plough through this treasure trove – Servitors of Nox battling it out on the London Underground! Dan Dare desperately fighting against time against a backdrop of armed, anthropomorphic zoo animals! Yet more ancient football boot-related woes for Billy Dane!
Yes, I was hooked.
From that moment on, I was an Eagle fan through and through. I quested through every newsagent, jumble sale, boot fair and village fete I came across for more such stashes, adding earlier issues to my collection all the time. I persuaded my Dad to modify my Saturday order to include Eagle alongside my Beano and Whoopee!! (in place of Look-In, I suspect). And so until its eventual closure on the cusp of 1994, I stuck with it.
Thanks, Eagle writers, artists, letterers and editors, thanks for shaping my world!
You would not believe the trials and tribulations I went through to find this. Having moved house twice in the last year I was frantically panicking that it must have accidentally been thrown out – but no! After tearing through boxes and piles and folders and more boxes of miscellaneous paperwork I found it. My treasured letter from no less a personage that the assistant EDITOR of EAGLE!
I was a serious-minded eleven year old, and whilst I don’t have a copy of my outgoing epistle, I suspect that it may have ran to many, many pages; a “long and interesting letter” indeed!
I recall trying to impress upon the Eagle team that whilst I was a big fan of John Gillatt’s work normally, his stint on ‘Dan Dare’ simply was not working. Blow me down if they didn’t write back to tell me they agreed with me!
4th March 1988
Thank you very much for your long and interesting letter concerning Eagle/Battle.
We do agree that the present artwork on Dan Dare leaves much to be desired. We thought that Cruz, the previous artists, might benefit from a spell away from Dan, but J. Gillatt has not settled down into getting a very good likeness. This was just an experiment that didn’t work.
We do have changes planned for Eagle/Battle in the future, so stay with us and see what you think of them. We do agree with your remarks concerning Robin Smith and Ortiz!
Thanks again for writing to us,
And stay with Eagle I did, right through the MASK, ‘RoadBlasters’, Wildcat and weekly-becomes-monthly years till the very last issue.
PS Checking up on the handy Comic Vine website, I see that Carlos Cruz completed his ‘Dan Dare’ run in issue #305 dated 23 January 1988; the next issue saw the merger of Eagle with stablemate Battle, and the start of John Gillatt’s stint on the Pilot of the Future. I must have sent my letter somewhere between then and the 5 March-dated issue, #311. My comments about José Ortiz (whose ‘Tower King’ had been a real highlight of the early days of Eagle MkII) and Robin Smith would have been wholly favourable, as I loved both ‘Survival’ and ‘Detective Zed’!
PPS If anyone can tell me who the kind-hearted soul who wrote me this reply is, I would be most grateful – it’s been more than 24 years of not quite being able to decipher that signature…