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!
Yo ho ho!
So the Cap’n was rooting around in his sea chest, and found some time-faded charts he worked up nigh on a quarter-century back, when he was but a young snotty…
Yes, even as a young comics fan, I had a fondness for lists. In those days we didn’t have the convenience of the internet, or handy databases like ComicVine or Comics UK. No, back in 1990 it was all about trawling through the limited resources on the shelves of the local library, or the occasional reference book gifted you at Christmas by indulgent parents, or your own meagre collection built up from boot fairs and village fetes and jumble sales.
So bearing all this in mind, may I present to you, my written-in-three-different-colours summary of British comics 1908-1990!
Yes, it is lamentably patchy, and betrays an embarrassing bias towards a very narrow (in both time and style) tranche of boys’ and humour titles of DC Thomson (arrgh! Misspelled too!) and Fleetway – but it was all my own work. Well, largely culled from Denis Gifford‘s Encyclopedia Of Comic Characters, Happy Days and The International Book Of Comics, plus the George Perry/Alan Aldridge Penguin Book Of Comics… But I definitely remember putting in the hours to consolidate it all!
I also put together an index of artists… If you are unlucky enough, I shall commit that too to the electronic fires of the scanner some day soon.
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…