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The Great British Eagle Comics 1950-69: Eagle Comic founded on Fiction, helped “True Science” prove a real Armstrong DanDARE.
Eagle was founded by John Marcus Harston Morris (1915–1989).
In 1948 he employed young artist Frank Hampson, a war veteran who had enrolled at the Southport School of Arts and Crafts. There he was described by his tutor as an “outstanding draughtsman ‘prepared to go to endless trouble to get a thing right’. He worked as the illustrator on Anvil, and later became the full-time artist for Interim, a Christian publicity society formed during a conference of diocesan editors, with ambitions to produce a strip cartoon magazine aimed at children.
The Magnet and Adventure usually contained a mixture of adventure stories, presented as text rather than strip cartoons, and some British boys were buying American horror comics produced for G.I.s. (These days eGames-last-one-left-standing, may be killing off real books?). Morris was impressed by the high standard of artwork in the US magazines.
Morris suggested to Hampson that they instead create a new children’s publication. Hampson was enthusiastic about the idea, and they began work on a dummy of it. Lex Christian became Chaplain Dan Dare of the Inter-Planet Patrol, and featured on the cover. On the inside, two pages of Secret City featured a character named Jimmy Swift, and on the back page was a religious story about Saint Paul. Short strips included Joe from Strawberry Farm and Ernie. Other features included Editor’s Letter by Morris and a range of news articles. Three photocopies of the dummy were made, each hand-coloured by Hampson.
Readers were also invited to join an Eagle club. Upon payment of a subscription, members would be given a gilt Eagle badge, a rulebook, and a list of privileges. (It took the BBC 13 years to introduce the Blue Peter Badge). Eagle club proved extremely popular, attracting a membership of about 100,000. It also served as a research tool for Hulton; questionnaires were sent to a random selection of members, asking each to rate certain aspects of the comic. (Today’s membership would be “Login” or use MUM’s-the-word-Forum or Facebook). Eagle‘s production costs were funded partly by advertising revenue, although advertisers were required to integrate their designs so as to match the comic’s high standards. Another of Hampson’s strips, Tommy Walls, was the first commercial cartoon in any comic, and an obvious advertisement for Wall’s ice cream. Eagle also spawned a large range of merchandise, which included toothpaste, pyjamas, and toy ray guns. Several annuals were printed; the first was announced in a September 1951 issue, in Morris’s regular letter to his readers. The last original Eagle was on the 26thApril 1969, a month before Concorde’s maximum cruising speed of 1350mph, which is more than twice the speed of sound. Marking a new age, Dan Dare would be proud of Armstrong becoming the first person to step onto the lunar surface on the 2ndMarch 1969.
Eagle Comic founded on Fiction, helped “True Science” prove a real Armstrong DanDARE.
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Michael Robert Mumford © Mumfordebooks Kidsebooks.co.uk