Thursday, 30 December 2010

Eagle: The Space Age Weekly - review

Eagle: The Space Age Weekly was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 23rd December 2010. 

My earlier post found cause to criticise the text the BBC put on its website in advance of the programme, and I expressed the hope that the programme would be better informed than whoever wrote the "blurb".  Sometimes hopes are fulfilled; and in this case they were. The programme proved to be an excellent, if all too brief, account of the Eagle magazine and the people who created it, explored enthusiastically a former reader, Sir Tim Rice, and including the voices of the late Frank Hampson and Marcus Morris.

My intended review has been delayed by Christmas activities. In the meantime, Bear Alley has beaten me to it with an (almost) excellent review by Steve Winders. Steve makes the mistake of mis-titling the programme Eagle: the Space Age Comic. This might not be considered so important were it not that the programme emphasises that the creators of Eagle avoided the description "comic" for their weekly magazine! Nevertheless I recommend you read Steve's review, as I would have to work very hard to find anything else to disagree about.

As I post this, the programme has ceased to be available to hear again on the BBC's iPlayer - but hopefully we can expect a repeat broadcast soon? 

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Eagle Times - Sample Issue

Eagle Times is provided on an Annual Subscription basis to Members of the Eagle Society. However, we are sometimes asked if we can provide a Sample Issue to prospective subscribers, who may be unsure of the quality or typical content of the Eagle Times  magazine, or whether they want to join the Eagle Society.
Here is the good news: prospective members can now purchase a Sample Issue of Eagle Times
The Sample Issue price (2013) is £7 (for delivery to a UK postal address) or £10 (for non-UK addresses). These prices include current postal charges. In the event that you subsequently join the Eagle Society (in the year of the Sample Issue) the price may be deducted against your Annual Subscription for that year*. Postal applications can be made to the Membership Secretary's (Keith Howard's) address - see the sidebar of the blog - (cheque payable to the Eagle Society). Applications can also be made to the eagle-times e-mail address, but if you wish to use Paypal, please add £1.50 to your order. All payments in £ stirling, please.

The Sample Issue sent you will be a recent, not necessarily the latest, issue of Eagle Times and will be subject to availability after all Members issues have been distributed. If need to see a particular issue, please check for availability before ordering.

*eg. if you pre-order the 2013 Spring Issue and subsequently take out  a Subscription for 2013 you may subtract the price of the Sample Issue from the Annual Subscription.

Please note that, while there is no obligation to take out a subscription, Eagle Times has a limited print run based on the Eagle Society's membership numbers and therefore we will not be able to support repeated single issue sales.

29/03/2013 update to original post made on 19/12/2010

Monday, 13 December 2010

Eagle Times Vol 23 No 4

Winter 2010 Contents
  • Not all Lancashire Lads and Lasses - a brief article on the genealogy of ('Dan Dare' creator) Frank Hampson
  • The Incredible Shrinking Fish - a critical examination of the giant sea creatures that appear in the classic 'Dan Dare' story 'The Man From Nowhere'
  • Sammy: Swift's Space Fleet Cadet - takes a look at the strip in Eagle's companion paper Swift that was drawn by 'Dan Dare' artists Bruce Cornwell and Desmond Walduck, and drew heavily on the imagery of 'Dan Dare'
  • From Under the 1950s Christmas Tree - taking a look at the various Eagle and 'Dan Dare' stencil sets that were available for children in the 1950s
  • 'Nightmare on Dreamland', part 2 - continuing an examination of the (1986) story from the "new" Eagle, when the new (great-great grandson) Dan Dare met the original in an encounter with their arch enemy, the Mekon
  • Dan Dare - The Biography - a review of Daniel Tatarsky's recent book
  • The Life of Another Brian - memories about the illustrator Brian Lewis, who among his prolific output drew 'Home of the Wanderers' and 'Mann of Battle' for Eagle in the 1960s
  • PC49 and The Case of the Lone Wolf - part 2 - the conclusion of an adaptation of Alan Stranks' radio play.
  • Visual memories of the 37th World Science Fiction Convention, Seacon '79, which was held in Brighton in 1979 - with guests who included Frank Hampson and Arthur C Clarke.
  • The Lion and The Eagle - the text of Steve Winders' humorous monologue, which was presented on the occasion of Eagle's 60th Anniversary at Southport on 14th April, 2010.
  • Eagle Annuals 1961-1971 - reviewing the second decade of Eagle Annual, and the changes made after the takeover of Hulton Press
  • Christmas Albums during Eagle times - a look at ten best-selling seasonal LPs back then
The cover shows the emblem from the Christmas issue of Eagle, 24th December, 1952

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

Eagle: The Space Age Weekly (BBC Radio 4)

As most of our readers will know already, 2010 saw the 60th Anniversary of the launch of Eagle. As the year draws to a close, the BBC is marking the anniversary with a half-hour radio documentary presented by Sir Tim Rice and produced by Stephen Garner. The programme will air at 11.30am on 23rd December.

The BBC provides the following information about the programme:
Eagle: The Space Age Weekly
Sir Tim Rice explores the lasting appeal of British magazine Eagle and the impact of its flagship character Dan Dare.
Eagle ran in two main incarnations between 1950 and 1994. Dan Dare, often referred to as "Biggles in space", is regarded in some circles as the greatest British science fiction hero of the 20th century
In this feature we chart the influences behind the comic, and explore the life of its creator Marcus Morris, a fascinating man who began the publication because of his concern over 'horrific' US comics which presented 'disturbing' storylines which he felt 'corrupted British youth'.
The programme reveals how Dan Dare was originally envisaged as a space chaplain before becoming the popular astronaut. It also examines the work of illustrator Frank Hampson who introduced technology years ahead of its time. Hampson knew the Space Age was on its way while serving in the Second World War and seeing the German VI rockets. He made the Dan Dare strips as realistic as possible by dressing his team in spacesuits and uniforms, basing the look of the fictional characters on his colleagues.
We reveal how the stories had educational value and, along with Dan Dare, we look at other Eagle offerings including Shakespeare's plays and the Greek myths which ran as comic strips.
Featuring contributions from author Philip Pullman, Sally Morris the daughter of Eagle Creator Marcus and Eagle Society member David Britton.
Leave aside the reference to Biggles in Space (Biggles and Co. were much more thuggish in my view), Dan Dare is so imbedded within British culture, that references to other British fictional characters are unnecessary. To most 1950s schoolboys Dan Dare is The Pilot of the Future!

Eagle certainly had an educational value and contained many more features, fictional and non-fictional, than Dan Dare, but I don't think Shakespeare or Greek myths featured much, so it will be interesting to see what the programme has to say on those aspects. 

Oh, and Frank Hampson's inspiration was the German V2 rocket, not the V1. 

Hopefully the programme will be better informed than whoever wrote the BBC's "blurb"!

News of this broadcast has also been reported on Down the Tubes

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tomorrow Revisited - book launch

Alastair Crompton signing copies
The launch of Alastair Crompton's book Tomorrow Revisited took place at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London's Mayfair on 30th November, 2010. A good few people braved the winter-come-early weather and the resulting traffic chaos, the risk from rioting students and the film fans turning out for the premier of the latest Narnia film, to be the first to buy a copy, and to take a look at the original 'Dan Dare' artwork on display, and for  sale at the gallery (typically at £5,500 a board!). Alastair and his publisher and collaborator Paul Stephenson were in attendance, Alastair cheerfully signing copies of his book for those who wished to buy. These were advance copies, flown in especially for the launch. The main shipload was due to arrive by sea from China the next day, ready for the publication date of 6th December.

Tomorrow Revisited (as implied by the title) is a wholly updated, rewritten and redesigned version of Alastair Crompton's 1985 book, The Man Who Drew Tomorrow. It is a "celebration of the life and art of Frank Hampson", the creator of 'Dan Dare' and the artistic creator of the Eagle magazine. I hope to provide a full review when I have read the book, but visually it is a treat, being adorned with illustrations, including many full-page examples that are reproduced from original artwork, largely from Paul Stephenson's extensive collection.

There are two versions of the book, the Bookshop Edition at £29.99 and a Limited (to 100 issues) De Luxe Edition, which 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. The De Luxe Edition is priced at £299.95.