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Monday, 28 February 2011

Dan Dare of Eagle Force? A British comics mystery...

The mystery Dan Dare art - who
drew it, who wrote the script and
what was it for?
(Updated 28/2/11 PM) Dan Dare and Eagle fans were spoilt for choice last December and January when, in addition to the latest Dan Dare reprint book, Trip to Trouble, released by Titan Books, two other books on the creation of the original 1950s Dan Dare comic strip in Eagle were published. One was Tomorrow Revisited by Alistair Crompton, his long awaited follow up to The Man Who Drew Tomorrow, which focused on Dare creator Frank Hampson and was lushly illustrated with Eagle pages reprinted from the original art boards.

The other was the more mass market Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future: A Biography by Daniel Tatarsky, which dealt with Dan Dare throughout the 1950s and 1960s along with mentions of his ongoing adventures elsewhere and with a few illustrated colour sections amongst the text.

Both books received good reviews but one image used in The Biography, not picked up by the reviewers, started to puzzle some Eagle fans.

The colour end pieces of the book have illustrations of original Dan Dare art boards. Both the front and back have the same head shot of Dare as well as each having separate full pages of painted comic strip. At the rear is a page from the Dan Dare story The Moonsleepers featuring Dan, Digby and the villain Xel while the front has a page featuring a space fighter training session run, apparently, by Colonel Dan Dare for an organisation called Eagle Force.

The Xel page was published in Eagle Vol 16 No 16 (17 April 1965) as the second page of that week's Dan Dare story but, so far, no one seems to recognise the other one and it was not referenced in the book's text. Since Eagle has had an active fandom since the 1960s and the current Eagle fanzine, Eagle Times, is now in its 24th year, it was very unusual for anything new or unknown to turn up.

This image shows where lettering
balloons once were.
The page is fully painted with stuck on hand written lettering much of which has now separated from the board and is missing. While this makes it more difficult to determine what is happening in the story it appears to be a space fighter training session run by a colonel for an organisation called Eagle Force. Since the colonel character has a kinked eyebrow (and it is published in a Dan Dare book) the assumption is that the character is Dan Dare. However no fans remember a published Dan Dare story in which he works for "Eagle Force" and the artist has not been identified.

Biography author Daniel Tatarsky told downthetubes the art was supplied direct from Dan Dare copyright holder Colin Frewin, and was a piece bought from Sothebys in a whole package of Dan Dare artwork. "We have the full artwork frame," says Colin, "but there is no signature or detail on it."

So what is it, who wrote the story and who drew it?

Since the art is fully painted, it is most likely aimed at an annual or a photogravure publication such as a high quality weekly comic or a summer special. The style suggests 1970s or 1980s although lettering stuck straight on the art board was going out of fashion in the 1980s. But if it isn't from original Eagle, 2000AD or new Eagle, or their annuals or summer specials, then where is it from?

It isn't the unused Dan Dare strip created by Costas for the 2000AD dummy issue which is illustrated in David Bishop's Thrill Power Overload. "None of the dummy material for 2000AD was in colour," he tells us, bar a very bad colour rough. Certainly none of the strip work was in colour, nor was much of it lettered."

Pat Mills, who worked on later incarnations of Dan Dare for 2000AD and new Eagle, is equally mystified, but agrees with us that it seems to echo the kind of action associated with Star Wars X-Wing fighters from the 1977 film. "I think you're right in your analysis," he says. "My guess is this was something devised after I'd left 2000AD, perhaps commissioned by Kelvin Gosnell post Star Lord.

A dummy cover for a proposed 1970s
version of Eagle, using art by Frank
Bellamy
.
"Then again, it's quite conservative - despite the Star Wars veneer - so it may have been a traditionalist at Fleetway who devised this."

Could it be an unused story intended for a 1970s Eagle annual, as those annuals had stories increasingly divorced from the original Hampson Dan Dare concept? In 1998, Sufferin' Satellites fanzine published artwork by Frank Bellamy for a dummy of a 1970s Eagle comic that never happened - could it be a strip page from that dummy?

At present, we know more about what it isn't, rather than what it actually is. It certainly wasn't commissioned by New Eagle editor Barrie Tomlinson.

"This doesn't ring a bell," says Barrie, whose more recent work includes writing the recently-ended Scorer for the Mirror. But he thinks he does know who drew it (as do some other Eagle and Battle fans).

"Do my beady old eyes deceive me... is the artwork by Joe Colquhoun?" he suggests, directing us to the artist on Charley's War and early episodes of Johnny Red. "I never realised he worked on Dan Dare."

Battle Picture Weekly Dave Hunt tells us it's a possibility, although he can't be definite. "When the 'New Eagle' was being thought of and during its early production, Barrie and myself invited a clutch of top British artists to have some fun and complete a Dan Dare sample page for our consideration," he tells us. "I can only think that this just might be one of those sample pages.

"While I'm pretty sure that the mighty Joe Colquhoun did complete a Dan Dare page and that this artwork could well be from him, I would not be 100% certain that this is indeed his work. You have to remember that Joe was heavily committed to the incredible Charley's War series at about the time we started 'New Eagle' and subsequently he would have been working day and night on that masterpiece. "

However, while the colouring might suggest Joe's work there are no distinctive Colquhoun faces, and his daughter Jane tells us she has had a look in diaries of the dates we suggested it might have been and there is no mention of a Dan Dare cover. "Dad seemed to list JR (Johnny Red) and CW then series number and whether or not he had an additional cover to do and often how many pages," she says. "But there's no mention at all of Dan Dare cover.

"He probably would have said no because his work load with the other strips was always rather overwhelming, especially if they threw in a cover as well.

"My mother thinks that he would have mentioned it and he didn't, so it may not be by him after all."

We can also tell you it wasn't drawn by two other suggested artists, Oliver Frey or David Pugh.

"It's definitely not me," says Oliver, whose comics art credits include War Picture Library and Trigan Empire. "I only got to do any Dan Dare from around 1980: two Annual covers, some Specials, then stories for the cheap and pulpy Eagle; all with the revamped 'modern' Dan.

"Unfortunately, while I recognise the style, I can't put a name to the creator. But this is still the original look Dan… so it goes back way before my time."

"Despite working on Dare from 1989-1994, I've not come across this piece of art," says David Pugh, who now has scans of much of his art on his Facebook fan page and will soon be selling much of it for charity. "It must be a try out before my time," he suggests, "as I was responsible for bringing in the more macho/aliens look to the strip, which a lot of the traditionalists hated."


Despite help from the comic creators listed above, plus David Bishop, Martin Morgan, Richard Sheaf, the Dan Dare Yahoo Group, at the moment Dan Dare of Eagle Force - and the artist who drew it - remains an intriguing British comics mystery.

If you can identify the page, whether it is from Dan Dare or another comic strip, or suggest who the artist is then feel free to leave a comment.

With thanks to Colin Frewin, Pat Mills, Daniel Tatarsky -- and many others!


Dan Dare © Colin Frewin And Associates

7 comments:

Paddy Brown said...

It looks to me like it might be by John Higgins. Higgins is noticeably influenced by Joe Colquhoun, so that might explain that suggestion, and the colouring style looks Higgins-esque to me.

John Freeman said...

Thanks Paddy. I've just updated the post as Battle Picture Weekly editor Dave Hunt tells us a number of pages were created for the 'New Eagle' and this might be one of them - and, based on what he;s told us, tantalisingly, it seems several artists drew pages for it that also never saw print! The mystery deepens...

Lew Stringer said...

It definitely looks like a Joe Colquhoun job to me. The faces are similar to the work he did on Football Family Robinson in Jag in 1968.

kriscarter said...

Man, I love stuff like this. You can't beat a good mystery!

Jim Campbell said...

I'd like to see a bigger scan, but I think it looks more like Ron Turner than it does Joe Colquhoun…

http://www.britishcomicart.netfirms.com/turner/turn_journeystars_01.html

John Freeman said...

Joining the Joe Colquhoun camp on this one - Chris Weston and Jon Haward...

John Freeman said...

Having seen the page, John Higgins tells us he did do some Dan Dare colour pages for an Eagle annual in the early 80's, published in the 1987 annual. "Some pages still stick in my memory this one doesn't, but some of the painting effects look like
my early attempts at a Ron Embleton style, one of my artist heroes I tried to emulate in those days."

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