WELCOME

Welcome to the web home of THE EAGLE SOCIETY.

THE EAGLE SOCIETY is dedicated to the memory of EAGLE - Britain's National Picture Strip Weekly - the leading Boy's magazine of the 1950s and 1960s. We publish an A4, quarterly journal - the Eagle Times.

This weblog has been created to provide an additional, more immediate, forum for news and commentary about the society and EAGLE-related issues. Want to know more? See First Post and Eagle - How it began.

Friday, 13 November 2020

FRANK HUMPHRIS AND THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIGHORN

A Report by Steve Winders


The above picture is a print taken from a painting of Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Riders of the Range artist Frank Humphris. The original painting hangs in the office of the Custer Battlefield Trading Post opposite the entrance to the battle site in Montana, where prints of the painting can be bought. I visited the Post in 2018 and was shown the original, but was unable to photograph it successfully, due to poor light in the room. Painted in 1976, a century after the battle, it may possibly be the same one included in Frank's Ladybird book Battle of the Little Bighorn (see below), also published in 1976 and  certainly developed from the same template. However there are several minor differences, such as the length of  the mounted chief's headdress on the left, the position of the 'Stars and Stripes' and the faces of some of the characters. 


Frank also illustrated a large frame of Custer’s last stand for the Riders of the Range adventure The War with the Sioux in 1957 - 58, but this featured many differences (see below). Members of the Seventh Cavalry were shown with yellow neckerchiefs, white hats and light blue trousers with a yellow seam stripe, as depicted in almost every film that featured the cavalry, but which Frank subsequently discovered were not authentic. He also showed Custer with his famous long hair, but later discovered that he had it cut shortly before the campaign! Consequently his painting and his Ladybird illustrations show him with short hair. Frank coloured the EAGLE strip with inks, which explains the bolder colours.  


The War with the Sioux was reprinted in a heavily edited version in Wham! Annual for 1972, but to fit the reconstructed page, Frank's scene of the final battle was replaced by one drawn by Frank Hampson for the front page of Swift from 1961. (See below.)


Frank wrote and illustrated the Ladybird book, which was stocked for many years at the Custer Battlefield Museum, about five miles away from the battle site, where many artefacts from the battle are on display and the book was a best seller in their shop. 
In 1954, three and a half years before The War with the Sioux appeared in EAGLE, Juvenile Publications produced a full colour Riders of the Range strip album called Jeff Arnold in the Bozeman Trail, written by the strip's creator and regular writer, Charles Chilton, which told a quite different story of Jeff Arnold and Luke's involvement in the events and the battle. This book was illustrated by Pat Williams. 
For readers interested in Riders of the Range and the strip's coverage of events in the wars with Native Americans, EAGLE Times is currently running a long series by David Britton which compares the stories with the historical events.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RUPERT

 


A tribute by Steve Winders

Congratulations to Rupert Bear who celebrates his hundredth birthday this month. Created six years before Winnie the Pooh, nine years before Tintin, twelve years before Biggles, thirty years before Dan Dare and thirty eight years before Paddington Bear, Rupert was created by Mary Tourtel, who wrote and illustrated his adventures for the Daily Express for fifteen years, before ill health forced her to hand over to Alfred Bestall, who illustrated new stories until  1974. Other artists included Alex Cubie and John Harrold and writers included James Henderson and Ian Robinson. Currently new stories are written and illustrated by Stuart Trotter, although sadly, Rupert now only features in one new story each year, which is included in the Annual alongside repeats of past adventures. The daily strips are also repeats, drawn from the vast library of old stories. Over the years there have been three separate TV series featuring Rupert as well as a song called Rupert and the Frog Chorus by Paul McCartney, with its own animated video. The present Chairman of the Followers of Rupert, John Swan, is also a member of the EAGLE Society. A more surprising link concerns a story called Rupert and the Spaceship, produced in 1954 for a series of small paperback books called the Rupert Adventure Series, in which Rupert flies into space in a ship which bears a strong resemblance to the Kingfisher ship from the first Dan Dare story and several other ships from the strip. Rupert meets a group of friendly aliens who resemble elves and they are led by a character called Meeko! 








Saturday, 31 October 2020

EAGLE AND THE ART OF FRANK HAMPSON - a talk by Howard Smith


Howard Smith, an authority on Frank Hampson and EAGLE, has posted a talk on You-Tube, which is available free to EAGLE Society members from November 1st until November 30th 2020. Just click on the link :                                                                                                                                                        

https://youtu.be/tCTs42CmFpg                                                   

   

  
 


Thursday, 22 October 2020

EAGLE TIMES - AUTUMN 2020

The new EAGLE Times is out now. It features articles about:            

Charles Chilton and Roy Hudd 

Gerry Anderson's links with EAGLE 

The Great Adventurer strip about St. Paul             

D.C. Thomson's Told in Pictures adaptations of classic novels          

Frank Hampson's Studio Notes

The final episode of Archie Willoughby's latest adventure                  

The Indian Wars in Riders of the Range                                               

The Montgomery of Alamein strip 

Book reviews                                                                                                                 

                                               

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

LONGBOW

 A REVIEW OF TWO NEW REPRINT BOOKS FROM BEAR ALLEY by John Culshaw

Steve Holland has published two volumes of reprint strips from Swift weekly through his Bear Alley Books. They feature one of EAGLE's most popular characters from the 1960s. So who's Longbow?? You'll know him better as Blackbow, for to avoid any hint of confusion over ownership of the character who appeared in two different comics now owned by two different companies, he's been renamed for this collection. Blackbow's adventures in Swift  are owned by Look and Learn, but his stories in EAGLE aren't and Steve Holland's got permission for the Swift strips. This isn't the first time that Blackbow's changed his name. Way back in 1953 he was created as Strongbow the Mohawk for Comet weekly, but as the highly informative introduction tells us, this makes the origin story of a boy who falls from a wagon heading west in the 1840s and is raised by the Mohawks, historically and geographically nonsense, because the Mohawks were originally from New York State and long before the 1840s they'd moved to Canada, having backed the British in the War of Independence. When publishers the Mirror Group got their hands on EAGLE and Swift in 1961, they sent in their hatchet men to save money. Comet's old Strongbow strip was picked up for Swift, but became Blackbow the Cheyenne to make it historically credible. The strip was completely redrawn for Swift, but many of the old Strongbow stories were reused at first, before brand new adventures took over. The original stories were by Mike Butterworth and he probably wrote the new ones too. 

The strips from Swift were all in black and white and each instalment was a self contained adventure, most of which ran for three pages. Each volume contains thirty seven Longbow stories and ten half page information features about the Cheyenne and other Native American peoples, also from Swift. They also include biographies of all the twelve artists whose work is featured in the strips. These include Don Lawrence and Jesus Blasco, as well as EAGLE favourites Gerald Haylock, Martin Salvador and Frank Humphris, who would take over the strip when it moved into EAGLE and became a colour serial. The Swift stories were quite different from the later EAGLE adventures in other ways. For a start they were straightforward western stories whereas EAGLE brought in supernatural elements like man eating plants. EAGLE's version also distinguished more clearly between Blackbow and his European American alter ego, Doctor Jim Barnaby, where the character only assumed his Blackbow identity when he was wearing Cheyenne dress. In Swift he speaks as Blackbow in his Jim Barnaby clothes immediately prior to changing. A minor difference, but the EAGLE approach works better. The second volume has an introduction by Steve Winders, which outlines Blackbow's time in EAGLE. 

You'll find some entertaining stories and some impressive black and white art in these books and old EAGLE readers who disliked the supernatural and fantasy elements of the sixties weekly, may well prefer these stories to the later ones. The books are softback and run to 137 and 140 pages, with colour covers by Don Lawrence. These are two good books which deserve to be widely read. You can currently buy both for £29.68 including postage and packing as a special introductory offer, but they're also available separately. Full details from    www.bearalleybooks.blogspot.com    

Saturday, 8 August 2020

SMILE PLEASE! YOU'RE IN EAGLE.

            STEVE WINDERS EXAMINES THE PHOTO STRIPS IN THE 1980s EAGLE

 

When the new version of EAGLE appeared in 1982 a key element was its use of strip stories composed of photographs, known as ‘fumetti’ (singular: fumetto), where the characters were played by actors and in some cases, members of the publisher Fleetway’s staff. Photo strips had proved successful in a new version of Girl launched in 1981, but those stories had been contemporary, featured ordinary people and were set in familiar surroundings. While EAGLE’s photo strips were also usually set in the present day, they were adventure stories which invariably featured characters who were anything but ordinary and in the days before widespread digital photography and computer use, this often posed significant challenges for the writers and photographers.

 The most popular and successful fumetto was Doomlord, created by John Wagner and Alan Grant and written by Grant. The two had worked closely together on Wagner’s creations Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog in 2000 A.D. The photographer was Gary Compton. Beginning in the first issue, dated March 27th 1982, it was originally intended to be a single thirteen part serial about a monstrous alien sent to Earth to ‘judge’ mankind’s suitability to protect the planet. Able to absorb the memories of people he killed, Doomlord could also change his appearance to look exactly like his victims. In his original form, Doomlord was played by an actor wearing a rubber mask and long ornate robes. In the story, he decides we are too dangerous as a species and almost succeeds in destroying us. Fortunately the selfless sacrifice of the strip’s human hero, Howard Harvey (portrayed by actor Mike Mungarvan), destroys him instead. The strip was so well received, that a sequel brought another Doomlord to Earth in a story beginning in Issue 23, dated 14th August 1982 and this one judged in favour of humanity and stayed to become our protector. However he was still utterly ruthless in pursuit of his goals. As with several stories in the new EAGLE, Doomlord raised many questions about the morality and the consequences of actions. Subsequent stories often focused on Doomlord’s efforts to force mankind to address issues like nuclear disarmament, protecting the environment and fairer distribution of wealth. The strip continued to be popular and when EAGLE discontinued photo stories, Doomlord survived as an illustrated strip, drawn initially by Heinzl and later by Eric Bradbury. It ran until 1990 when it was finally dropped in EAGLE’s last major revamp. However it soon returned in reprints when EAGLE became a monthly publication in May 1991. 

The only other fumetto from the first issue to survive beyond issue 79 when photo strips were dropped was Sergeant Streetwise, about an undercover London policeman, Sergeant Wise, who posed as an odd job man and operated from a boarding house to fight crime. Wise reported to Inspector Taggert, who pretended to be his uncle to maintain his cover and he was occasionally assisted by the incompetent Constable Botham. The strip appeared intermittently and stories were one-offs or short serials with simple and often unlikely plots. Streetwise photo stories also appeared in the EAGLE Annuals for 1983 and 1984 and the EAGLE Holiday Special in 1983. Wise was portrayed by actor and model Bill Malin, whose other credits include playing a Cyberman in Doctor Who and a vampire in the film Lifeforce. The strip was written by Gerry Finley-Day, who wrote Invasion! and several Dan Dare stories for 2000 A.D. It was photographed by Dave Watts. After a long break from the weekly it returned as an illustrated strip drawn by John Vernon in issue 97, finally ending in issue 106.

 Also beginning in the first issue was Thunderbolt and Smokey, about two boys who transform their school soccer team from a complete shambles into Schools’ Cup Finalists. Running for 27 episodes, the strip was largely photographed at the Magna Carta School in Egham Hythe, Surrey. Colin ‘Thunderbolt’ Dexter was portrayed by Richard Cray and Leo ‘Smokey’ Beckles by Ian Green. Both actors were pupils at the school, along with the other boys featured in the story. A further Thunderbolt and Smokey photo strip appeared in the EAGLE Annual 1983. As a photo story, the strip achieved levels of realism rarely achieved in drawn soccer strips, because most of the action shots were taken during real matches or dedicated set plays. In a surprise ending, the boys narrowly fail to win the cup, but are praised for their dedication, belief and spirit. The strip was written by Tom Tully, whose credits also include Heros the Spartan in the original EAGLE, Roy of the Rovers in Tiger and Roy of the Rovers Weekly and the later adventures of Dan Dare in the new EAGLE. It was photographed by John Powell. West Ham’s goalkeeper Phil Parkes made a guest appearance in one episode when he coached Colin Dexter who had to act as goalie after the regular keeper was injured by a bully. Predominantly set in the school and on football pitches, it was a particularly easy photo strip to produce.

The final fumetto to appear in Issue One was The Collector, an anthology strip of ‘one off’ morality tales. Each story was introduced by the ‘Collector’, drawn by artist Pat Wright to avoid the need to call in the same actor repeatedly to pose for just one or two pictures. The Collector would show readers an item from his collection which would form the basis of his tale, which was told as a photo strip. Several writers contributed stories, including Roy Preston, Alan Moore, Brian Burrell and Gerry Finley-Day and photographers included Gary Compton, Sven Arnstein, Carin Simon and Henry Arden. Almost all the stories featured horror or supernatural elements and the single episode stories meant that the settings changed each issue. While most were contemporary, there were also stories set in the Second World War. The Collector ran until Issue 48, with two photo strips appearing in the 1983 EAGLE Annual, another in the EAGLE Holiday Special in 1983 and a final one in the 1984 Annual. The 1984 Holiday Special and the 1984 Annual each also carried an additional Collector strip, both drawn by Ron Turner.

Beginning in the second issue was a short occasional humorous strip called The Adventures of Fred. Portrayed by EAGLE’s Group Editor, Barrie Tomlinson, who also wrote the strip, Fred was an odd looking character - Barrie Tomlinson was heavily disguised in large glasses, with a small moustache and wearing an old mac and a hat. His ‘adventures’ appeared sporadically during the first few months of EAGLE and featured visual jokes which usually occupied no more than half a page. A final episode appeared in the 1983 Annual. Slightly reminiscent of Chicko in the original EAGLE, there was no dialogue in the strip.

Another photo strip with humorous elements was Joe Soap, which first appeared in Issue 12, dated 12th June 1982. Written by Alan Grant and photographed by Gary Compton, it was about an incompetent private detective called Joseph Soaper. There were three serial stories in EAGLE with a break between the second and third serial. Joe’s final appearance was in Issue 45. However, after featuring in a photo strip in the Annual for 1984, he later appeared in drawn strips in EAGLE Annuals and Summer Specials in stories that were the inverse of the original EAGLE’s Can You Catch a Crook? strip, because readers were asked to spot the clues that Joe missed. Can You Catch a Crook? had asked readers to spot the clues that Sergeant Dave Bruce had noticed. In the photo strip Joe was portrayed by actor Michael Scott. A trans-sexual, Michael has subsequently become Mjka Scott.

Most photo strips were filmed in London and usually not far from the editorial office. King’s Reach Tower, where the new EAGLE was based, provided a remarkable number of backgrounds.  Further afield was the location of the ambitious western photo strip Saddle Tramp, which began in Issue 14, dated 26th June 1982 and ran for thirteen episodes. It was principally photographed in Frontier City, a replica wild west town at Littlecote Manor near Hungerford. The hero was a bounty hunter called Trampas, a name borrowed from Owen Wister’s novel The Virginian. He was played by Malcolm Warriner, a western re-enactor, with other parts played by members of his western enthusiasts group. A recurring theme in the strip was that Trampas would lose his horse and have to earn more money from chasing bounties to buy a new one. In the thirteen episodes he managed to catch and often kill a fair number of villains, but the last episode ends as the first began, with Trampas carrying his saddle on his shoulder and off to chase new bounties to buy yet another horse. Saddle Tramp also “narrated” a western text story in the 1984 EAGLE Annual, which was illustrated by photographs. The strip was written by Gerry Finley-Day and photographed by Howard Payton. Sadly, Frontier City was demolished after Peter de Savary, the brother of Paul, who once owned the TV and film rights to Dan Dare, bought Littlecote in 1985!

Beginning in Issue 24, dated 4th September 1982, Manix was EAGLE’s second most popular photo strip. Clearly inspired by the original EAGLE’s The Iron Man, Manix was also about a powerful android robot, who passed for human. However this strip took the concept to another level, tackling questions that The Iron Man barely touched on. While the Iron Man’s computer brain was occasionally controlled briefly by villains, he was always freed before he did any serious damage. However Manix was controlled for a considerable time by the self-seeking Colonel Cameron and killed several people on his behalf. When Cameron ordered him to kill ‘O’, the head of British Intelligence, his own survival impulses enabled him to override his orders and he began to work for ‘O’ against Cameron. Subsequently he carried out missions for British Intelligence. As with Doomlord, Manix was able to change his outward appearance. He could be given new faces, thereby avoiding the need to keep the same actor, who might not have been available. Also, as with Doomlord, there was more than one Manix. Two were destroyed and replaced in the course of the series and there was also a foot high ‘Mini Manix’ who helped the full size version for a while! The series was developed by Alan Grant and John Wagner and photographed by Mike Prior. Alan Grant wrote later stories on his own, using the name ‘Keith Law’. The first Manix was played by Steve Long. When EAGLE dropped fumetti, Manix continued as a drawn strip, with Manuel Carmona as artist. Scott Goodall eventually took over as writer. Goodall’s previous work had included Thunderbirds for TV Century 21 and Fishboy and Galaxus, The Thing From Outer Space for Buster.

Beginning in Issue 28, dated 2nd October 1982, was Invisible Boy, which replaced Thunderbolt and Smokey. It was written by Scott Goodall and photographed by John Powell. When the young hero, Tim Talbot stumbled into one of his scientist father’s experiments it exposed him to a strange radiation which enabled him to become invisible whenever he touched a micro-cell battery. Initially Tim used his powers to deal with school bullies and similar problems, but later turned his attention to fighting crime. The strip ran initially for thirteen episodes, but returned for a longer run in January 1983. However it did not survive the dropping of photo strips. An Invisible Boy photo strip also appeared in the 1983 EAGLE Holiday Special and a text story appeared in the 1984 Annual, but was illustrated with drawings.

Issue 41, dated 1st January 1983, brought another historical based strip. This was Jake’s Platoon, about a small group of British soldiers, separated from the main force after landing on Sword Beach on D Day. With their sergeant and corporal dead, it fell upon Lance-Corporal Jake Jackson to lead his men back to their battalion. A brave attempt to produce an action strip, Jake’s Platoon was only partially successful. While there were some well presented skirmishes with small groups of Germans, the houses were clearly English, as was the countryside and several characters needed haircuts – a problem with many war films in the seventies and early eighties. The strip was written by Gerry Finley-Day and photographed by Carin Simon and ran for seventeen episodes.

Another strip with a wartime setting began in Issue 64 (11th June 1983). House of Correction lasted for twelve episodes. An unusual story, it was about an R.A.F. Officer and his team working behind enemy lines in France to destroy a Nazi scientist and his evil brainwashing serum and thwarting his plan to blow up the leaders of the French Resistance.  It was written by Chris Lowder (as Jack Adrian) and photographed by Mike Prior. Lowder’s previous work had included Adam Eterno for Thunder and later Lion and five Dan Dare stories for 2000A.D. 

The final fumetto Walk or Die began in Issue 65 (18th June 1983) and was about a group of seven schoolchildren who survived an air crash in the Canadian wilderness and were forced to walk through remote hazardous country to reach safety. Two teachers with them were killed in the first episode following an encounter with a bear! The story shows how the group are saved by Jim Hardy, an unpopular boy who put all sentiment and sympathy aside in leading the others to safety. This was another strip that examined and questioned moral judgements. When the others ignored Hardy’s warning that the rivers were too dangerous for a raft, one of them was drowned and an injury which almost led to Hardy’s own death was caused by the reckless action of one of the others. Walk or Die ran for thirty three episodes, continuing through the change from photo stories to illustrated strips. It was written by Scott Goodall and the photographer on the first fifteen episodes was Howard Payton. Two photo episodes of the strip were included in the final issue to use fumetti (Issue 78) and subsequently the strip was illustrated by Ramon Escolano. It concluded in Issue 96.     

The novelty appeal of the photo strips undoubtedly contributed to the early success of the new EAGLE, but writers were severely limited by the constraints of photographed stories, having to use great ingenuity to devise interesting plots that could be achieved with a camera and actors. Similarly the photographers and actors achieved some remarkable shots, but many action scenes looked posed, because they were. In his autobiography Comic Book Hero, Barrie Tomlinson wrote:

“Within a few months, it became obvious that readers preferred drawn picture-strips, rather than photo-strips. To the delight of artists everywhere, we reverted to all picture-strips. It had been something worth trying. Doing special effects had been really difficult.”

Fumetti were also more expensive to produce that illustrated strips. Interviewed for Hibernia Books’ 2018 publication, The Fleetway Files, Editor David Hunt admitted that the “photographic process was both time consuming and expensive,” before going on to say, “When sales started to slip after the first year, then the photo-story process became difficult for me to justify."

Issue 79 did not merely dispense with the photo-strips though. It also marked a change in size and paper quality for EAGLE. Now it was printed on cheap newsprint paper where photo strips would not have reproduced satisfactorily and it resembled the old Lion and Valiant in appearance and content, with several more comic strips replacing the photo strips and features. It now became more of a traditional comic than a magazine.

Despite their limitations, the photo stories are fondly remembered today and in the early issues Doomlord was more popular with readers than Dan Dare.  

I am grateful to Jim O’Brien, David Ronayne and Stephen Reid, who provided some information for this article.

 


Sunday, 26 July 2020

DAN DARE 1950 - 2020 EXHIBITION IN SOUTHPORT

The seventieth anniversary of Dan Dare is to be celebrated with a special exhibition to be held in the Atkinson Arts Centre in Southport, where both Dan and Eagle were created. The exhibition was originally intended to open in April, but the coronavirus delayed it and it will now run from July 27th until September 5th. Slots have to be booked and a one way system will operate, but there should be sufficient time for all who wish to attend to do so. Details can be found at:
https://www.theatkinson.co.uk/exhibition/eagle-1950-2020/