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Friday, 10 December 2010

Tomorrow revisited (review)

Standard Trade Edition
Within the space of a few weeks two books related to ‘Dan Dare’ have been published. I have already reviewed the first, Daniel Tatarsky’s Dan Dare - The Biography. The latest is Alastair Crompton’s Tomorrow Revisited, or to give it its full title Tomorrow Revisited: a celebration of the life and art of Frank Hampson. Comparisons between the two books may seem inevitable, but I find their scope and purpose different, and I will avoid making any critical comparison here. 

Besides, there is another comparison to be made. In 1985, shortly after the death of his subject, Alastair Crompton had published a book entitled The Man Who Drew Tomorrow, on the subject of “how Frank Hampson created Dan Dare, the world’s best comic strip.” In Tomorrow Revisited, as implied by the title, he returns to the same subject matter. It is inevitable therefore that comparisons of Tomorrow Revisited with the earlier book will be made; indeed, one might ask, “having bought the first book in 1985, why should I buy the same thing over again?” Well, I have, and hopefully I can dispel any reservations other owners of The Man Who Drew Tomorrow might have. There is plenty for you in this book that was not in the earlier book. 

In his introduction, Alastair starts with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is usually Judas who writes his biography”. He then declares that his book is not a biography, although it clearly has a lot of biographical content, and he states his rationale for revisiting the subject. With 25 years of water under the bridge, by his own admission, he believes now “that the first edition of this book ... was a slightly fourth form hagiography, showing my subject through rose coloured glasses, and allowing him to make claims which in this edition I am forced to question”. But while he might not take Hampson’s every claim with so much credence these days, he also declares that he is “not Wilde’s Judas”. He might have said (though he doesn’t) that he provides no Brutus to Hampson’s Caesar, for he gives no stabs in the back, either. There are many shades, which he tries to fill, and in this edition he is more careful (objective?) about how he spreads the blame and the glory, while remaining sympathetic to his subject. This is, after all, a celebration of the man who created and produced ‘Dan Dare’ for a nearly a decade, and who, in 1975, was crowned by his peers as Prestigioso Maestro - the World’s Best Comic Artist since the Second World War

The text has been “totally rewritten”, not to imply that everything changed was “wrong”, nor to imply that you won’t find repeated sections of text - you will - but often he finds a different way of telling his, or rather, Hampson’s, story. 

Having a similar page-count to the earlier edition, Tomorrow Revisited is slightly larger, with about an inch greater height. (It is also considerably thicker, but otherwise slightly smaller, than the volumes in Titan Books’ ‘Dan Dare’ reprint series.) The Man Who Drew Tomorrow had a dustjacket; this does not, but the Bookshop Edition has a very attractive red cover using black and white pictures of Hampson in his later years. Inside, the front and rear endpapers include in their design the information that would usually be on the fold-in elements of the jacket. The text layout is entirely different, with much use of inset colour, and the most noticeable impact from leafing through the book is the many examples of artwork reproduced from original illustration boards. 

The original book had 216 pages of which only 24 contained colour. The latest has a few more pages overall, but this time more than half contain colour. Around 70 pages are full-page colour and, of those, around 35 reproduce artwork from complete original artboards. Other pages have examples of single frames of original art, which really show the detail that went into the drawings. Most of the artwork is from ‘Dan Dare’, but there are also examples from ‘The Great Adventurer’, ‘Tommy Walls’, ‘Rob Conway’ (black and white) and ‘The Road of Courage’. 

Since the original artwork reproduced in Tomorrow Revisited is largely from Paul Stephenson’s (the publisher’s) extensive collection, most of these illustrations appear for the first time. They are superbly reproduced. Anyone who has never seen a page of original Hampson-produced ‘Dan Dare’ artwork will be amazed at the detail that went into every frame of each week’s episode - detail that was sadly lost in the printing of Eagle - as can be seen by comparing the examples in Tomorrow Revisited with their counterparts in the Titan Books series of ‘Dan Dare’ reprints (where ‘Dan Dare’ pages from Eagle are reproduced at a similar size). 

The book also includes biographical pictures, photographs of the models built to help the Dan Dare Studio to visualize scenes, equipment and characters, photographs of members of the Studio posing for particular frames of the strip, sketches from Frank Hampson’s studio reference sheets and notebooks, and some of the merchandising that spun off the character ‘Dan Dare’. Although, inevitably, some images from the earlier book are reused, a large proportion of the visual content of Tomorrow Revisited is different from the old. 

Something not previously published (in book form - some have appeared previously in Eagle Times magazine and/or on Alastair’s Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website) is a collection of “strips that never were”. These, mostly, are strips that Hampson was commissioned to create after ‘The Road of Courage’ but were never developed since he was dismissed by the new management. The original artwork is lost, but they were photocopied by “someone in The Mirror Group” in the 1960s and partial restorations made from copies (of the copies) are presented. The quality of this “lost” artwork only emphasises the genius of Frank Hampson and the tragedy that beset him after Eagle

For the pedantically inclined (this is after all a critical review, and nothing in this world is perfect!) I did spot a few errors, eg.
A caption below a reprint of the first published ‘Dan Dare’ page (Eagle No. 1) refers to “The first ever page of Dan Dare. At this early stage Hampson wasn’t into his stride and drew all the frames the same size”. Clearly the frame sizes vary on the page, and the caption should refer to the dummy page of ‘Chaplain Dan Dare’, which appears on the opposite page! 
Frank Humphris, the (third) artist on Eagle’s ‘Riders of the Range’, is quoted at one point but his name appears as “Humphries”. (A mistake not unknown elsewhere.) 
Bruce Cornwell appears at one point as “Cornwall”. (Another mistake not unknown elsewhere!). 
Hampson’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ samples are shown, along with the statement that “what you see here is the a row of Hampson’s Modesty, followed by a row of the same strip drawn by Jim Holdaway.” There is no Holdaway art shown (though is can be seen on the Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website! 
I suspect that at least one page of artwork (from ‘The Road of Courage’) has been reproduced at slightly the wrong aspect ratio (“squashed” in the horizontal). 
The above criticisms aside, for anyone newly interested, or renewing their interest, in Frank Hampson and ‘Dan Dare’, or more generally having an interest in the history and development of sequential graphic art (the posh name for “comics”), Tomorrow Revisited surely is a “must read”, and its illustrations are a “must see”. As I previously commented after first seeing Tomorrow Revisited, it provides a visual treat, being adorned with illustrations including, as I have indicated, many full-page examples that are reproduced from original artwork. 

There are two versions of the book, the standard Bookshop (or Trade) Edition, which I have reviewed, and a Limited (to 100 issues) De Luxe Edition, which I believe internally identical with the Bookshop Edition, but is leather bound and comes in a leather presentation case with an original ‘Dan Dare’ illustration by Don Harley, a print by Andrew Skilleter and a Certificate signed by Alastair Crompton, Peter Hampson, Andrew Skilleter and Don Harley.

I said I would avoid critically comparing Tomorrow Revisited with Dan Dare: The Biography, and so I will. They are sufficiently different in scope that any serious student of the story of Eagle and ‘Dan Dare’ should read both books. If you are new to this, I would recommend reading Dan Dare: The Biography first, as a primer, but you might want to steal a look at Tomorrow Revisited before you begin - if only for the wonderful artwork.


Tomorrow Revisited: A celebration of the life and art of Frank Hampson is published by PS Art Books in two hardback editions: 
Deluxe Slipcase Edition (ISBN 978-1-84863-122-9) at £299.95
Standard Trade Edition (ISBN 978-1-84863-121-2) at £29.99

1 comment:

Will Grenham said...

I have received the following Comment in an e-mail from Alastair Crompton, with a request to post it here:

Dear Will, Many thanks for your review, which is discerning, perceptive and generous. I am pleased the new book takes a clear step forward from TMWDT. It explains why Frank disappeared into the wildreness, and takes a kindlier, less critical view of Marcus and his input. When I was at the Chris Beetles Gallery I asked the art dealer to rate FH in the great world of illustrators.
Here is his reply: 'Indubitably in the top rank. He's got everything; draughtsmanship, narrative control and flair, design clear but excitingly crowded, innovatory and consistent, and satisfyingly memorable.'
I am only sorry I didn't speak to Chris before we completed the book. Such a commendation would have placed a genuinely authoritative seal on professional opinions of FH.