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Saturday, 29 January 2011

In Review: Tomorrow Revisited

Steve Winders reviews Alastair Crompton’s new book about Frank Hampson


Published by PS Artbooks at £29.99
Hardback 214 pages

The Book: This is a lavishly coloured celebration of the life and work of Frank Hampson, the creator of one of Britain’s most popular and enduring comic strip characters, the space hero Dan Dare, who appeared in the famous Eagle comic.

Many significant examples of Hampson’s stunning detailed colour artwork are reproduced from the original illustrations in better detail than I have ever seen them before. There are also many photographs of Hampson’s studio, including members of his team posing in costume for pictures for the strip, models of spacecraft and preliminary sketches, some of which are works of art in themselves.

Alastair Crompton brings a lifetime of enthusiasm for Hampson’s work to his text, which examines his career and subsequent life and also explores the character and motivation of this remarkable artist.

The Review: Formerly an advertising copywriter, Alastair Crompton tells Hampson’s story with great clarity and makes all his points forcefully. His personal views are most evident in his attitudes to the various Dare adventures. He enthuses about the first story and he analyses strengths and weaknesses of other early adventures very well, relating them to changes of writer and other developments behind the scenes, such as Hampson’s frequent periods of ill health when he was forced to withdraw from work.

However, while acknowledging the outstanding quality of the artwork he is dismissive of the later stories written by Alan Stranks, such as The Man From Nowhere trilogy. Of this epic he merely writes “… but the story, by Stranks, was not so good.” From these comments a reader would be left unaware that Stranks was a highly regarded and experienced writer of successful radio programmes and comic and newspaper strips, or that many fans regard his work on ‘Dan Dare’ as excellent. While it is entirely appropriate that Alastair should express his own views in his book, I expected more analysis here.

Unlike many other works about Eagle and ‘Dan Dare’, factual errors in this book are negligible. Alastair explains the complicated takeovers that Eagle suffered at the end of the 1950s clearly and accurately, although he writes in his acknowledgements that
“To avoid confusing my readers, I have named the owners of Eagle from 1961-9 as Mirror Group, although the paper continued to carry the Longacre imprint.” In fact, the Longacre imprint was dropped in 1963 and the publishers listed as Odhams. He is nevertheless entirely correct in stating that the real owners were the Mirror Group and he covers this whole period of Eagle and Hampson’s life very well.

Alastair focuses prominently on Hampson’s crucial relationship with Marcus Morris, the originator of Eagle, which he helped him to create and tells the story of the background to its development in great detail. Later he compares Morris’ future success after Eagle with Hampson’s comparative failure and frustration, providing a valuable insight into the characters of the two men.

He does however devote an unnecessary chapter to a future comic project which Morris considered but dropped and which did not involve Hampson at all. While worthy of mention, this project could have been adequately covered in a couple of pages.

Much more relevant to the subject are the examples of Hampson’s work after Dan Dare which are featured here. There are pages from his final Eagle strip The Road of Courage, which tells the story of Jesus and then starter pages from eight other strips he worked on later, none of which ever achieved publication, being locked away in the publisher’s vaults for many years after Hampson left the Mirror Group in acrimonious circumstances. Each strip is accompanied by Alastair’s informative comments.

Finally there are examples of Hampson’s version of the famous newspaper strip Modesty Blaise, produced when he was invited to submit samples with a view to becoming the regular artist. For various reasons his work was not favoured by the writer Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway took on the job instead.

This is Alastair’s second book about Frank Hampson, following his The Man Who Drew Tomorrow twenty five years ago; hence the title. It is a complete rewriting of the first book and incorporates a great deal of previously unavailable material.

I know that he was not entirely satisfied with his first effort. He should be delighted with this!

Buy Tomorrow Revisited from amazon.co.uk

1 comment:

Alastair Crompton said...

My grateful thanks to Steve Winders
on his thorough, fair and perspicatious review of my book. Steve lays out a balanced assessment of the work, with few cavails and quibbles. I would like to come back to him on two points.
It is probably true that Alan Stranks deserves more credit than he gets in the book. My quarrel with Stranks rests on two aspects of his work. Compared to FH his stories were dreadfully slow. He is reported as having said he could've spun out the Venus story for five years. This is not something to be proud of. One significant pleasure of Hampson's writing is that his stories cracked on apace. The other aspect missing from Strank's work is Hampson's wit. In the early days Hampson revelled in DD; he was
positively playful. In later stories the jokes were few and far betweeen and those used were tired reflections on early character-building.
Why spend so long on Marcus's second attempt to launch a comic for boys? First because he denied he'd ever broached such a venture
which in itself is a comment on his character. And second, Lightning was completed without Hampson. Who knows what would have happened if FH had become involved?
Sadly his creative genius had been scoured out of him by the vicious Mirror Men.
You may not agree with, or even accept, what I have wwritten here. But these thoughts are my explanations for the decisions I made. Once more, Steve, thank you very much. Alastair

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