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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

HURRICANE and CHAMPION - COMPANION PAPERS to VALIANT


STEVE WINDERS REVIEWS STEVE HOLLAND’S RECENTLY REISSUED AND UPDATED BOOK ABOUT THE 1960s FLEETWAY COMIC


A new edition of Steve Holland’s book about the comics Hurricane and Champion now covers the twelve annuals in addition to the weeklies and its detailed index has been updated with some new information about the creators of the strips and a new cover by Jordi Penalva. As with his other books, Steve has written a thorough account of the creation of the two weeklies, their content and their styles. He provides many examples of pages and other illustrations from the comics to support his text and as always, his work is well researched, with contributions from Gil Page, the former editor of Champion (and briefly also editor of EAGLE) and assistance from several comic experts including David Roach and our own Jeremy Briggs.

The book is full of interesting details about the two comics and provides an insight into the way Fleetway worked in the 1960s. Hurricane was the longest running of the two, lasting 63 issues (February 1963 – May 1964) before merging into Tiger, although its annuals ran until 1974. It introduced two long running strips in Typhoon Tracy, a peacetime version of Valiant’s Captain Hurricane and Skid Solo, a racing driver, whose adventures would run for a further sixteen years in Tiger. I recall Typhoon Tracy being Hurricane’s front page hero, but learned from the book that for a short while he was replaced on the cover by a football strip called Hurry of the Hammers. It wasn’t West Ham, but Hammersfield Town and it was actually a reprint of the early Roy of the Rovers from Tiger, a decade earlier with the text altered. ‘Hurry’ was actually Harry Cane, which coincidentally is almost the name of the current real England captain and Harry Kane also has the nickname Hurri-Kane.

A large number of Italian artists were employed on Hurricane and the book includes examples of pages by Giovanni Ticci, Giorgio Trevisan, Nino Caroselli, Nevio Zeccara and Renato Polese, as well as the Spanish artists, Jordi Penalva, Juan Gonzalez Alacreu and Angel Nadal. Examples of art from Hurricane Annuals includes work by Ian Kennedy, Graham Coton, Reg Bunn and Don Harley.

 With a mix of science fiction, sport, western, historical and humour strips, Hurricane ran a range of stories, like its companion paper, although Steve suggests that initially it was probably aimed at the older end of the market. He gives a detailed account of the changes introduced in attempts to boost sales of Hurricane and indeed the introduction of repeated material to save on costs, but the arrival of serious competition in the form of TV Century 21 caused Fleetway to give their boys’ weeklies a makeover. They increased the content to 40 pages and merged Hurricane with Tiger, which was suffering from falling circulation at the time. The merger worked, giving the combined paper a healthy circulation and Tiger went on to outlive all the other Fleetway boys’ adventure weeklies that were running at the time, eventually being merged into the new EAGLE in 1985.

Champion took the name of a previous story paper, which had run from 1922 until 1955. However it was quite different from its predecessor. Half the new paper consisted of reprints of strips from the Franco-Belgian Tintin and Spirou magazines and the book examines these. From Tintin there was Jet Jordan, the adventures of a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The strip, which had strong science fiction elements was called Dan Cooper in the original French language version. This was Champion’s colour cover strip and each episode opened with a large new frame to attract attention. The reprinted frames were edited to fit the pages. Also from Tintin were a strip about a wildlife photographer fighting ivory poachers in Africa, a science fiction adventure and The Knights of Konigsfeld, a motor racing strip, not a medieval adventure, which featured the long running character Michel Vaillant. Hugely successful in France and Belgium, his adventures in albums are still available today. Tintin magazine also supplied the humour strip Modeste et Pompom, which became Jinks.  From Spirou came two humorous strips. There was the now famous Lucky Luke strip, who was known as Bingo in Champion and a strip called Starter, which was relocated to Liverpool and called Whacker. There were also four new British adventure strips and one repeat. The most enduring adventure strip was the superhero story The Phantom Viking, which ran for two years in Lion after the comics merged.  There were two new humour strips, both of which had science fiction themes. A science fiction text story called Bartok and his Brothers completed the predominantly science fiction character of the paper, although according to Gil Page, this was not deliberate. Most of the strips had been passed on to him from the unused strip department as a fait accompli!

Examples of artwork from Champion by Albert Weinberg (Jet Jordan / Dan Cooper), Jean Gratan (Knights of Konigsberg), Edouard Aidans and Ferdinando Taccconi, as well as Eric Bradbury, Carlos Cruz and Mike White, who would later contribute to the new EAGLE are included in the book.

 Champion ran for a mere fifteen issues (February to June 1966) before being merged into Lion, never having the benefit of a makeover or relaunch. But despite its extremely short life and partly because of it, its story is an interesting one and much credit goes to Steve Holland, who has researched and told it so well. The book now runs to 60 black and white pages, with a full colour softback cover. It is published by Bear Alley Books and retails at just £8.99 with £4 postage and packing and I can confidently recommend it. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Sunday, 5 April 2020

COMIC SCENE MAGAZINE PRODUCES A DAN DARE ANNIVERSARY EDITION



ComicScene Magazine has produced a special edition to celebrate Dan and Eagle's seventieth anniversary. Full details can be found here in their press release: 

On 14th April 1950, following the end of World War Two and with the UK still in the grip of rationing, a splash of colour came into everyone's lives with the launch of Eagle comic and the character Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. 900,000 people bought the first issue. Now in the grip of another national crisis, we can enjoy the exploits of Dan Dare once again. Exactly 70 years later on 14th April 2020 ComicScene Magazine will launch worldwide in print and digital a special anniversary issue with articles on Eagle and three picture strips in the original style of 50's Dan Dare in a special 'Spaceship Away' supplement.
Editor of ComicScene Tony Foster said "We wanted to celebrate 70 years of UK comic history with a milestone edition of ComicScene. It could be argued without Eagle and Dan Dare and the work of editor Marcus Morris and creator Frank Hampson, we wouldn't have seen Doctor Who, Star Wars and comics like 2000AD, Judge Dredd and even US comic classics like Watchmen and the original format of Dark Knight. Eagle influenced a generation of comic books and stories like never before. This Collectors Item of ComicScene tries to capture that, as well as exploring what comic creators are up to today." 
The magazine will be available as a 110 digital issue and 80 page print issue by post on 14th April, distributed exactly 70 years after the launch of the original Eagle.  It can be ordered at 
Tony explained, "The magazine is sold in newsagents across the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada and Australia.  Unfortunately the Virus from Venus means this issue will come to newsstands a little later this year but Dan Dare won't be beaten and the wonders of digital and mail order will win the day!"
The magazine features articles on the 1950's Dan Dare, Dan Dare in 2000AD, Dare by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes, the 1980's relaunched Eagle, the Dan Dare audio adventures, a free pull out Eagle and Dan Dare supplement and new Euro and Indie comics. There are also picture strips including Judge Dredd co- creator John Wagner on Rok of the Reds, Gentleman Jack meets Dick Turpin style adventures in Flintlock, golden age comic Captain Cosmic and the crazy Whackoman! 
The magazine can be ordered now in print and digital from £5.99 at www.getmycomics.com/comicscene with enhanced school and library packs with extra comics at https://comicscene.org/comicscene-online-store/

Saturday, 4 April 2020

EAGLE TIMES - SPRING 2020


The new EAGLE TIMES is out now. Featuring articles on Dan Dare, Riders of the Range, Cortes -Conqueror of Mexico and the secret wartime adventures of Marcus Morris’ secretary, it is available from Bob Corn at the address opposite.

                                                                CONTENTS
Dan Dare -The Evil One   A commentary and review by Will Grenham
Vernon Holding - Chief Executive of Hulton Press   by Richard Sheaf
The Story of EAGLE’s Annuals Part Two   by Joe Hoole
Charles Chilton and the Indian Wars Part Eight  by David Britton
Beth Fetherston WRNS, Marcus Morris’ Secretary   by Jeremy Briggs
Cortes – Conqueror of Mexico   by Steve Winders
Dan Dare Studio Ideas Part Two  
The Case of the Unwelcome Guest House Part One – a new Archie Willoughby adventure
The Story of a Train That Went Nowhere   An article about a proposed series about the Canadian Pacific Railway that EAGLE rejected  
Tail Pieces   short news items compiled by David Britton 

Saturday, 15 February 2020

IN AND OUT OF THE EAGLE 19

TV Century 21 weekly was launched in January 1965, primarily to promote Gerry Anderson's futuristic puppet TV series, namely Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray, but also featuring other TV series, including Burke's Law, The Munsters and The Daleks from Doctor Who. Gerry Anderson's greatest success, Thunderbirds, would follow a year later and subsequently there would be Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons in 1967 and Joe 90 in 1969, who would initially appear in his own comic, before it merged into TV Century 21. Other TV programmes which were featured later as strips included The Saint and Star Trek, which joined from other comics. TV Century 21 was heavily influenced by EAGLE, which is hardly surprising as EAGLE had been a great success in the preceding decade and its lead strip, Dan Dare was easily Britain's best and most popular space adventure strip. Like Dan Dare, TV Century 21 was about adventure in the future and its editor Alan Fennell was keen to emulate EAGLE's success. He persuaded many of EAGLE's former artists to join the new weekly and his efforts proved fruitful as TV Century 21 outsold the sixties EAGLE and its other adventure strip rivals in its first few years of publication. The steadily declining popularity of Gerry Anderson's series which followed Thunderbirds, coupled with a change of publisher and the loss of rights to Anderson's programmes led to declining sales and TV 21 was absorbed into Valiant in 1971. During its years of success it spawned several companion papers, just as EAGLE had in the 1950s. There was Lady Penelope, for girls, Solo and Joe 90 for boys and Candy for younger children. Lady Penelope was named after the popular character from Thunderbirds, who was introduced in her own strip in the first issues of TV Century 21, before the arrival of Thunderbirds on TV.

In its early years, TV Century 21's size, paper quality, printer and layout were the same as EAGLE's. Eric Bemrose Ltd. of Liverpool printed both papers using the Photogravure process and during the mid sixties, both ran to twenty or sometimes twenty four pages, with six in colour. The front page of TV Century 21 was set out as a newspaper, which was a device first used by EAGLE in two episodes of Dan Dare. Like EAGLE, TV 21 also carried some informative and educational features, with three in the first issue, covering outer space, the oceans and wildlife. No less than six former Dan Dare artists illustrated strips in TV Century 21 while two more contributed to related publications. In addition to these, ten others who had previously contributed to EAGLE, illustrated strips in TV Century 21 at various times during its six and a half year run and another four drew strips for annuals and specials. Of the Dan Dare artists, Eric Eden drew Lady Penelope and a Daleks story, having contributed to pre-TV 21 Supercar and Fireball XL5 Annuals. He also filled in on the Fireball XL5 and Zero X strips and produced early cutaways and feature art. Zero X was a spaceship featured in Gerry Anderson's cinema film Thunderbirds Are Go. Don Harley drew Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Lady Penelope. He also drew Mark of the Mysterons in Solo comic and the subsequent Mysterons strip in  TV Tornado and Solo, when the titles merged. He would later draw Thunderbirds strips for a comic called Countdown in 1971, after it acquired the publication rights. Frank Bellamy, who had also drawn back page strips about Churchill, King David and Marco Polo as well as Fraser of Africa and Heros the Spartan for EAGLE, drew Thunderbirds. Harold Johns drew Star Trek and Keith Watson drew Captain Scarlet and Joe 90. Keith originally drew Joe 90 for the Joe 90:Top Secret comic before it was merged into TV 21 and he wrote several stories himself. Dan Dare's creator, Frank Hampson  drew a few episodes of Fireball XL5 for the weekly and a Lady Penelope story for a TV Century 21 Summer Extra in 1965. The two Dan Dare artists who drew for related publications, were Eric Kincaid, who drew a Fireball XL5 strip for a TV Century 21 Annual and Daktari for Lady Penelope weekly, as well as Tingha and Tucker and Snap, Crackle and Pop for Candy comic and Desmond Walduck who drew several Fireball XL5 strips for the pre-TV Century 21 Fireball XL5 Annuals. Two writers with links to Dan Dare also worked on TV 21. David Motton, who wrote the Dan Dare strip from 1962 until 1966, wrote some Burke's Law stories and Angus P. Allan, who novelised the original Dan Dare story for the New English Library in 1977 was script editor on TV Century 21 and wrote many strips for the paper, including Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Zero X  and Star Trek. He also wrote for the companion papers and a novelisation of the feature film Thunderbirds Are Go. In the 1970s he wrote several Space 1999 Annuals, based on Gerry Anderson's live action TV series and the Space 1999 strip for Look In weekly.

Of the other former EAGLE artists, Paul Trevillion, who drew Can You Catch a Crook? and U.F.O. Agent for EAGLE, drew Burke's Law and The Munsters for TV 21. He also drew The Beverly Hillbillies for Lady Penelope weekly and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for Solo comic. Richard Jennings, who drew Tommy Walls, Storm Nelson, Earthquake Island and U.F.O. Agent for EAGLE, drew The Daleks for TV 21. Harry Lindfield, who drew Mark Question for EAGLE, drew Star Trek. for TV 21 and The Monkees for Lady Penelope weekly. Ron Embleton, who drew Johnny Frog for EAGLE, produced illustrations for the credits sequence on the Captain Scarlet TV series and drew Stingray, Captain Scarlet and some Project Sword illustrations for TV 21. He also drew The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for Lady Penelope weekly, while his brother Gerry, who had drawn a few episodes of Riders of the Range and some factual strips for EAGLE, as well as a one off adventure strip for the 1963 EAGLE Annual, drew Stingray and Catch or Kill for TV 21. Gerry also drew the early issues of The Perils of Parker for Lady Penelope weekly and a Thunderbirds strip for younger readers in Candy comic. In 1982 he would be the first artist to work on Dan Dare for the 1980s EAGLE. Colin Andrew, who drew Home of the Wanderers and The Guinea Pig for EAGLE, drew Tomorrow West for Solo comic, before stints on Fireball XL5 and Stingray for TV 21. John M. Burns, who drew Wrath of the Gods and some factual strips for EAGLE, also drew Catch or Kill  and Front Page for TV 21, a Lady Penelope strip and Space Family Robinson for Lady Penelope weekly and Gerry Anderson's UFO for TV Action and Countdown. Later he drew Gerry Anderson's Space 1999 for Look In. The Space 1999 strips were written by Angus P. Allan. John would also go on to draw Dan Dare for the 1980s EAGLE as well as The Fists of Danny Pike and Dolebusters.

Although he only drew a short Blackbow the Cheyenne strip for EAGLE and some story illustrations for annuals, Don Lawrence nevertheless qualifies as an EAGLE contributor and he drew Fireball XL5 and The Adventures of Tarzan for TV 21. He also drew a newspaper strip adaptation of the film Thunderbirds Are Go for the Daily Mail and six episodes of a proposed newspaper strip version of Joe 90 which was never published at the time, but appeared in Century 21, a magazine for fans in the early 1990s. The other two former EAGLE artists to work on TV 21 were Carlos Pino and Vicente Alcazar, who worked together, using the name 'Carvic'. They drew the final Guinea Pig adventure for EAGLE in 1969 and the same year worked on Department S and The Saint for TV 21, later producing the Star Trek strip for the paper. Working alone, Carlos Pino would later draw many episodes of the second series of Bloodfang and some MASK strips for the 1980s EAGLE, which also reprinted his M.A.C.H. 1 strips from 2000 A.D. weekly. 

Four former EAGLE artists drew strips for TV 21 related publications: Pat Williams drew a Fireball XL5 strip for TV 21's 1965 Summer Extra, having drawn Cavendish Brown M.S. and many factual strips for EAGLE. Gerald Haylock, who drew Knights of the Road and The Guinea Pig for EAGLE, drew Land of the Giants for TV 21's companion paper Joe 90 and Gerry Anderson's UFO for Countdown, while Brian Lewis, who had also drawn The Guinea Pig, as well as Home of the Wanderers and Mann of Battle for EAGLE, drew a Thunderbirds strip for a one-off Thunderbirds Extra in 1966, having previously illustrated a Supercar Storybook. He also drew the humorous Blunderbirds strip for EAGLE, which parodied Thunderbirds! Brian would later draw a Dan Dare strip for the 2000 A.D. version of the character for that weekly. Reg Parlett, who drew the humorous Fidosaurus and XYZ Cars for EAGLE, drew Run Buddy Run  for Solo comic. Another former EAGLE employee also worked for TV 21, as Art Editor for the Annuals and other related books. This was Roger Perry, who had been a layout artist on EAGLE in the early sixties and the 'face' of EAGLE's Roving Reporter.

Between the original EAGLE and the arrival of a new version of Dan Dare in 2000 A.D. weekly in 1977, Jim Baikie drew a Dan Dare strip for the 1974 EAGLE Annual. Prior to this, he had taken over The Monkees strip from Harry Lindfield in Lady Penelope weekly, had a brief stint drawing The Adventures of Tarzan for TV 21 and drew Star Trek for TV 21 and its annuals. Between 1983 and '84 he drew Gerry Anderson's Terrahawks for Look In weekly and in 1984 drew the first series of Bloodfang for the 1980s EAGLE. He also drew a Doomlord strip for the 1985 EAGLE Annual.  

Another artist who contributed to TV 21 and its associated publications would later work on the 1980s version of EAGLE. This was John Cooper, who produced Johnny Red, The Amstor Computer and Computer Warrior strips for the 1980s EAGLE, which also reprinted his One Eyed Jack work from Valiant. He drew Secret Agent 21, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90 and Captain Scarlet for TV 21 annuals and Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet for the weekly. Later he drew Captain Scarlet for Countdown and Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray for Fleetway's comics based on the characters in the 1990s. He drew Captain Scarlet for Sunday, the News of the World's magazine section and Joe 90 for the Funday Times, which was the Sunday Times' children's section. One writer from the 1980s EAGLE had earlier worked on TV 21. This was Scott Goodall, who wrote some Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Zero X and Lady Penelope among other strips for TV 21 and its companions. Scott wrote Walk or Die, Invisible Boy, Rat Trap and some Manix strips for EAGLE.


Repeats of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds TV series on BBC 2 in 1991, prompted Fleetway Publications to launch a Thunderbirds comic the same year, which published reprints of many TV 21 strips. New contents were also produced and Keith Watson drew some new strips for this publication. Five more artists with Dan Dare connections also contributed to it. Graham Bleathman, who would later produce cutaways of Dan Dare spacecraft for both Spaceship Away magazine and a Haynes Manual, drew covers and cutaways of the Thunderbirds and associated craft for this and the subsequent Gerry Anderson related comics published by Fleetway. He also drew cutaways for a later Thunderbirds comic produced by Redan in 2000, a Haynes Thunderbirds Manual and other collections. Keith Page, who drew some Dan Dare strips for the 1980s EAGLE and a strip about the early career of Dan's boss, Sir Hubert Guest, for Spaceship Away, drew several new Thunderbirds strips and covers for the Thunderbirds comic and covers for Fleetway's Stingray comic. He also drew Thunderbirds for the Funday Times. Rod Vass, who drew the Dan Dare strip for the 1980 2000 A.D. Annual, also drew a Thunderbirds strip for the Fleetway comic and designed the 1993 Thunderbirds and the World of Gerry Anderson Exhibition in Blackpool. Jon Haward, who drew several Dan Dare strips for the 1980s EAGLE, drew two Thunderbirds strips and some illustrations for Fleetway's Stingray comic and Andrew Skilleter, who, as a boy co-founded the very first Dan Dare Club in the 1960s  and later worked with Keith Watson on two Dan Dare stories for the 1980s EAGLE, drew an epic 32 part strip telling the whole story of how the Thunderbirds Organisation International Rescue was founded. He also drew some covers for the Thunderbirds comic and produced artwork for Fleetway's Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 comics. He illustrated covers and 'Mission Activity' pages for the later Redan Thunderbirds comic and also produced pictures for a Captain Scarlet Sticker Album. He currently supplies the Gerry Anderson Online Store (run by Gerry's son Jamie), with licensed Limited Edition signed prints of his Anderson related work.

In 2014 a brand new single edition of TV Century 21 was produced by Network. It included a new Stingray strip drawn by Gerry Embleton, a Lady Penelope strip by John M. Burns and a Thunderbirds strip drawn by Martin Baines, who had drawn some Dan Dare strips and illustrations for the early editions of Spaceship Away! This led to further Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson related work for Martin. He drew episodes of Space 1999 and Captain Scarlet for some DVD releases and after a new C.G.I. television series Thunderbirds Are Go! was launched on ITV  in 2015,  a comic of the same name appeared and he drew some of the Thunderbirds Are Go! strips. This time D.C. Thomson were the publishers. Martin has recently completed a Dan Dare cover for Comic Scene magazine to mark Dan's seventieth anniversary.

Collated and written by Jim Duckett and Steve Winders. We are most grateful to Shaqui Le Vesconte who provided much information and corrected our mistakes and to Martin Baines, Graham Bleathman, Steve Holland, Andrew Skilleter and Rod Vass for clarifying and providing information. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

IN AND OUT OF THE EAGLE 18


EAGLE has a surprising number of connections with Doctor Who. In the 1965 film Doctor Who and the Daleks, based on the original TV serial from 1964, Peter Cushing as the Doctor is shown reading a copy of EAGLE. Interviewed some years later by Chris Kelly for the Clapperboard television show, Peter said that he had been a regular reader of EAGLE. 

In the mid sixties, three Dalek annuals were produced by Souvenir Press. The colour strips in these annuals and the covers were illustrated by Richard Jennings, a long time contributor to EAGLE, who had drawn the Storm Nelson and Tommy Walls strips. The former Dan Dare artist Bruce Cornwell also drew strips for the first two annuals. Jennings also drew a set of Dalek sweet cigarette cards in 1964 and was the first artist to draw the Dalek weekly strip for TV Century 21 comic, beginning in January 1965. Eric Eden, another Dan Dare artist (and writer), also drew this strip.

David Motton, who wrote the Dan Dare strip between 1962 and 1966, wrote several Doctor Who scripts for TV Comic in 1965 and two stories for the Doctor Who Annual 1967. Another EAGLE contributor, Pat Williams, who drew Cavendish Brown M.S. and many factual strips for the weekly, drew several Doctor Who strips for TV Comic Holiday Specials and two for TV Comic Annual 1968. He also drew a set of colour picture cards (and the cover for the picture card album) to be given free with Wall's Sky Ray ice lollies in 1968. As Wall's were not licenced to use the actor Patrick Troughton's image as the Doctor, Williams had to create a new likeness for the character. John M. Burns, who drew Wrath of the Gods in the original EAGLE, as well as The Fists of Danny Pike, Dolebusters and a Dan Dare adventure in the 1980s EAGLE, drew a Doctor Who strip for the TV Comic Annual 1976 and a Doctor Who Marvel Comic book The Age of Chaos in 1994. In this book he worked with Barrie Mitchell, who had drawn The Circus Wanderers and Lightning Strikes Back in the final months of the original EAGLE.

Harry Lindfield, who had drawn Mark Question for EAGLE drew Doctor Who for Countdown comic in 1970, before Gerald Haylock, who had drawn Knights of the Road and The Guinea Pig for EAGLE took over. He drew the strip between 1971 and 1973. Dan Dare's creator Frank Hampson produced a large colour illustration for the Radio Times Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special in 1973 and Frank Bellamy, who had illustrated Dan Dare and Heros the Spartan for EAGLE, drew many short strip extracts from TV episodes of Doctor Who for the Radio Times in the mid seventies. Jim Baikie, who drew the Dan Dare strip for the 1974 EAGLE Annual and would later draw Bloodfang for the 1980s EAGLE and a Doomlord strip for the 1985 EAGLE Annual, drew several illustrations for Doctor Who text stories for Countdown and TV Action Holiday Specials in the early seventies and Doctor Who strips for their annuals.

Dave Gibbons moved from drawing Dan Dare for 2000 A.D. comic in 1979 to draw Doctor Who for the first 69 issues of Doctor Who Magazine. The first story he drew was written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, who would later work on the first Dan Dare story for the 1980s EAGLE. Pat Mills contributed a story called The Song of the Space Whale for the Doctor Who TV series in 1982, but it was never produced as Mills and the programme's script editor Eric Saward could not agree on certain elements of the story. It was later produced as a Big Finish audio production in 2010 (retitled The Song of Megaptera) and Mills has subsequently written more Doctor Who stories for this range.

Andrew Skilleter, a founder member of the Dan Dare Club from which our current society eventually emerged, illustrated forty nine covers from 1979 for the Target novelisations of Doctor Who adventures from the television series. He also illustrated Doctor Who VHS covers, calendars, prints and the cover of the Radio Times which featured the Five Doctors anniversary special in 1983. He set up the Who Dares publishing company in 1983, to publish Doctor Who related material, but he also published Alastair Crompton's book about Frank Hampson The Man Who Drew Tomorrow and the name of his company links Dan and the Doctor. He assisted Keith Watson on two Dan Dare adventures for the 1980s EAGLE, colouring one and colouring and partly inking the other. Keith himself, who worked on the Dan Dare strip in both the original EAGLE and the 1980s version, produced a full page illustration for David Banks' book about the Cybermen from Doctor Who in 1990, that was published by Who Dares. Andrew Skilleter also contributed illustrations for this publication. Grant Morrison wrote several Doctor Who stories for Marvel's Doctor Who Magazine in 1986, before writing a Dan Dare serial for Revolver magazine in 1990 - 91.  

There was almost a huge link between Dan Dare and Doctor Who in the 1990s when Colin Baker, who played the sixth Doctor, played Digby in a short audio drama made by some of the team who would later form Big Finish Productions, who have made officially licensed Doctor Who audios since 1999, in addition to adaptations of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog from 2000 A.D. weekly and audio versions of lost Avengers TV episodes, among other productions. The short Dan Dare drama was made with the hope of getting financial support for a professionally produced serial, but it was not to be. The drama was written by Nicholas Briggs, who provides the voices for both the Daleks and the Cybermen in Big Finish and B.B.C. Television Doctor Who stories. It also featured David Banks, author of the Cybermen book, who had played the Cyber Leader in the highly regarded Doctor Who TV adventure Earthshock, as Dan Dare and Nicholas Courtney, who had played Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, one of the Doctor's best known companions in the TV series, played Sir Hubert Guest. Colin Baker is a self confessed fan of Dan Dare and EAGLE, despite being teased at school because he had the same name as a principal character in EAGLE's long running text series The Three 'J's. His predecessor as the Doctor, Peter Davison was also a boyhood fan of EAGLE, revealing his enthusiasm in the first issue of the 1980s version. Big Finish Productions eventually linked up with Dan Dare when they handled the distribution of B7 Media's Dan Dare audio dramas from 2016 onwards.

John Ridgway drew a four part Dan Dare strip for the new EAGLE in 1990 and one for the Dan Dare Holiday Special the same year. He drew many Doctor Who strips for the Doctor Who Magazine between 1984 and 1993 and in 1991 he contributed a page to the Comic Relief Comic in which Dan Dare and Digby met all the Doctors to date (up to and including Paul Mc Gann's portrayal). Another artist who also contributed to Doctor Who strips in the Magazine was Colin Andrew, who had drawn Home of the Wanderers, The Guinea Pig and several factual strips for EAGLE in the 1960s. John Freeman, who edited the Doctor Who Magazine between 1990 and 1992, contributing to several Doctor Who strips, wrote two Dan Dare adventures that appeared in Spaceship Away magazine in 2011 and 2017 and was employed as creative consultant on B7 Media's Dan Dare audio series in 2016. Graham Bleathman has produced many Dan Dare related cutaways and other illustrations for Spaceship Away and a Haynes Manual of spacecraft from Dan Dare adventures. He also illustrated background scenes for the DVD cartoon release of the lost Doctor Who serial The Macra Terror, released in 2019. Martin Baines, who drew some Dan Dare strips and illustrations for early issues of Spaceship Away, has subsequently illustrated several covers for the Lethbridge Stewart series of books about the Doctor's popular companion. He has also illustrated covers for Reeltime Pictures Doctor Who related DVDs releases, the cover of a book about Doctor Who films published by Telos and is soon to illustrate a forthcoming book about Doctor Who objects for Candy Jar Books. He has recently illustrated a Dan Dare cover for Comic Scene magazine to mark Dan's seventieth anniversary.

In addition to John Ridgway's page for the Comic Relief Comic, there is one other occasion where the Doctor has met a version of  Dan Dare. This was in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Dying Days, published in 1997 and written by Lance Parkin. Here the eighth Doctor (as portrayed by Paul McGann) meets a space hero called Alex Christian, which is an early name created by Marcus Morris for the character who Frank Hampson would develop into Dan Dare.

But one EAGLE contributor actually wrote a televised Doctor Who adventure. This was Peter Ling, creator of the previously mentioned Three 'J's text serials, who wrote the 1968 story The Mind Robber for Patrick Troughton's Doctor. Additionally it has often been claimed that Terry Nation's first Dalek story for Doctor Who was heavily influenced by Frank Hampson's first Dan Dare story for EAGLE and Kit Pedler, the co-creator of the Cybermen actually stated that they were inspired by Frank Hampson's Treens.    

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

WENCESLAS THE GOOD


THIS ARTICLE BY STEVE WINDERS APPEARED IN THE CHRISTMAS ISSUE OF EAGLE TIMES IN 2016.

Francis Dickson, alias ‘R.B. Saxe’ died in February 1953, having written three back page ‘real life’ serials for EAGLE. He had also written strips about the lives of Elizabeth Fry for GIRL ANNUAL and Wenceslas of Bohemia for EAGLE ANNUAL and these were his final published works, appearing many months after his death when the annuals were published ready for Christmas 1953. In his strips for EAGLE, Saxe never let the truth get in the way of a good story and he sometimes placed events at the wrong time and outside their proper context to make his story flow better. Wenceslas the Good is no exception. Running for just six pages in black and white, it tells the story of a Duke of Bohemia from the tenth century who was a champion of Christianity. Although greatly venerated in England in the years following his death, Wenceslas would have been unknown in contemporary Britain but for a popular Christmas carol written in 1853 by an Anglican clergyman John Mason Neale  who was a prolific writer of hymns. The hymn was set to the melody of a thirteenth century Spring carol called Tempest Adest Floridum, which he had found in an old Finnish song collection. The words themselves are believed to be based on a Czech poem by Vaclav Alois Svoboda. 

In both the strip and the carol, Wenceslas is described as a King although he was actually a Duke. However, after his death, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto the First posthumously conferred the title of King on him. Born in 907, Wenceslas was heavily influenced by his pious grandmother Ludmila, while his younger brother Boleslas was more influenced by their mother Drahomira, a nominal convert to Christianity with strong pagan sympathies. Saxe correctly recounts all this in the strip omitting only Wenceslas’ year of birth. The strip wrongly reports the death of his father as 926 while most authorities place his death in 921. If he had died as late as 926 then Bohemia would not have needed a regent as both the strip and reality show. Wenceslas is still depicted as a young boy. The strip says that his mother was made regent, but Saxe omits to say that she was obliged to share authority with Ludmila and that Drahomira had her killed! A frame shows Wenceslas telling his mother that now he is ‘King’ he will build more churches and convert his people to Christianity. She reminds him of her authority and says that no churches will be built as it would offend the pagan barons.

According to the strip, Wenceslas’ mother persuades the barons to carry out raids into what Saxe describes as ‘the German Empire’ led by Boleslas, prompting his older brother to warn her of the folly of this as Henry of Germany is strong. His mother dismisses his fears saying that neighbouring states will help if the Empire attacks. Henry invades Bohemia ‘the very next day’ and is soon besieging Prague. To overcome this crisis, Wenceslas abolishes the regency and takes control. He makes peace with Henry which brings Bohemia into his Empire and having to pay an annual tribute, but the treaty is described as fair. As usual in Saxe’s stories, the truth is far more complicated.

What actually happened was that Wenceslas’ father Vratislaus had secured an alliance with the Bavarian Duke Arnulf, an opponent of Henry, to avoid being absorbed by his Empire, but in 921, the year of Vratislaus’ death, Arnulf and his forces were besieged by Henry in Regensburg and Arnulf was forced to sue for peace, making the alliance worthless. Wenceslas assumed leadership of his Duchy in 924 or 925 when he came of age and exiled his mother. As in the strip he began to build churches and schools, including a rotunda church dedicated to Saint Vitus in Prague Castle, which exists to this day as Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. It was not until 929 that the joint forces of Arnulf and Henry attacked Prague in a sudden attack and forced Wenceslas to pay a regular tribute, so the events as described in the strip are misleading. However some historians believe that when Drahomira was regent she had opposed accepting the Christian Henry as overlord of Bohemia, whereas Ludmila who strongly influenced Wenceslas was believed to support Henry’s authority. Although Wenceslas did not subsequently ally himself with Henry until he was forced to, Arnulf began raiding Bohemia in 922, which put him in a difficult position and his banishment of his mother may have been partly due to her enmity towards the powerful Henry. Saxe was correct in showing that Henry and Wenceslas had great respect for each other. They recognised their shared aims in spreading Christianity.    

The strip goes on to show rebellious barons objecting to Wenceslas sending out missionaries to convert their serfs into ‘rebellious dogs of Christians’ and the missionaries and their converts are forced to worship in hiding. This was certainly a period of tension in Bohemia as Christianity steadily replaced paganism and given Drahomira’s objections to Wenceslas’ promotion of the Christian faith, there was clearly a resistance to it in high places. Wenceslas is then shown giving gifts to the poor and Saxe follows this with the story told by the famous carol. On the Feast of Stephen (December 26th) Wenceslas sees a poor old man out in the snow gathering twigs for his fire and asks his page if he knows where the man lives. The page tells him that he lives a good ‘league’ away (the distance specified in the carol which equates to about three miles) and Wenceslas instructs him to gather wood and food for the old man. They then trudge through the snow to the man’s cottage and surprise him with the wood and a feast. The story is based on old stories of Wenceslas which tell how he went out at night, assisted only by his chamberlain to take gifts of food and money to the poor. Given that the carol is the only reason that most readers would have heard of Wenceslas, it is inevitable that the story is told in the strip.

Saxe’s account ends with the barons persuading Boleslas that his brother must be killed and he is ambushed by Boleslas and two others on his way to Church. The date is given as September 28th 926. The date is correct but the year has been misprinted. Earlier the strip had incorrectly given his father’s death as 926! The correct year of Wenceslas’ murder is given on the next page as 936, although many authorities say 935. It was a long time ago! In the strip Wenceslas is stabbed to death by one of his brother’s companions. Tradition holds that he was indeed killed by his brother, aided by three other men. Although not mentioned in the strip, his body was dismembered and buried at the scene which immediately became a place of pilgrimage and many miracles were reported there. Subsequently his body was moved to St. Vitus’ Church in Prague by a repentant Boleslas. The strip concludes with Boleslas feeling remorse for his brother’s murder and dedicating his newborn son Stratchk to the Church. This is true. Stratchk grew up to become Bishop of Prague, although sadly he died suddenly on the day of his consecration. 

After his martyrdom a cult grew up around Wenceslas, particularly in Bohemia and England. The Anglo-Saxon English identified with his struggles against paganism, having faced similar experiences with their pagan Viking neighbours, who were now gradually converting to Christianity. They were probably also influenced by the esteem in which he was held by Henry and later his son Otto, who were the leading Saxon rulers in Europe, with Otto becoming Holy Roman Emperor in 962. Wenceslas was hailed as a saint and his death significantly promoted the cause of Christianity in Bohemia, not least because of his brother’s remorse.

The strip provides readers with a flowing and well-constructed account of Wenceslas’ life. In simplifying the complex political situation after his father’s death it contains inaccuracies and there is some confusion about dates, but it gives a reasonably accurate portrayal of a saint who everyone has heard of but few really know anything about. As in all Saxe’s EAGLE strips Wenceslas the Good was drawn by Norman Williams, although in black and white whereas his back page weekly stories were in colour. Unable to make use of his skills in using contrasting colours to show characters’ emotions, he nevertheless uses fine and heavy lines most effectively. He also uses a lot of dark shading which gives the images depth and sharpness.

Wenceslas the Good was a most appropriate strip for EAGLE ANNUAL. Telling the story of a hero most closely associated with Christmas, it appears in a book that most readers would receive at Christmas, which is also why it is featured in this blog at Christmas. Almost uniquely among Christmas carols, Good King Wenceslaus makes no reference to the Nativity of Jesus, yet its theme of giving binds it firmly to the season.