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Friday 22 November 2013

FFB - The Man Who Drew Tomorrow

This large-format colourful book (published in 1986) is sub-titled ‘How Frank Hampson created Dan Dare, the world’s best comic strip’. Obviously, some purist comic collectors may argue over the word ‘best’, but there’s no denying that Frank Hampson exhibited a remarkable flair for invention and draughtsmanship, with incredible detail and colour in a period when post-war austerity still held sway (1950).

Dan Dare appeared on the front page of the
British comic Eagle on 14 April 1950.

In retrospect, Frank rationalised his creation of the famous pilot of the future: ‘I felt the prognostications about technology were too gloomy. Attitudes were too pessimistic, with The Bomb, the Cold War and rationing in the forefront of everyone’s mind. I wanted to give hope for the future, to show that rockets and science in general could reveal new worlds, new opportunities. I was sure that space travel would be a reality… Dan was the man I always wanted to be; Digby, his batman, was the man I saw myself as…’

In the early days, the Dan Dare strip was sent to Arthur C. Clarke to check that the sci-fi details were believable, but this arrangement lapsed when Clarke pointed out that the art studio was wasting its money on getting him to check it, the details were always authentic – so much so that an aeronautics engineer for RAF Farnborough asked for source material to help in the designs then of a space-suit!
From the beginning when the Reverend Marcus Morris approached Frank with the idea for a revolutionary boys’ comic of the highest calibre, Frank was inflamed with the ideals set. It was to have a morally uplifting tone, Christian in outlook, educational, and with artwork of superior craftsmanship. He set up a studio and hired associates and together with his father, Pop, Frank created Dan Dare.
A bust of Dan Dare, Southport, England

Almost every frame of the strip was sketched in rough first by Frank – he also wrote the storyline – and then photographs were taken of various team members to act as models for the finished strip drawings (Joan Porter, Greta Tomlinson, Robert Hampson, Harold Johns, Don Harley, Peter Hampson, and Eric Eden - Harley and Eden with Keith Watson were also artists on the strip). Most of the team members commented that even Frank’s rough sketches were good enough to be the finished article, but Frank was a perfectionist and this attitude often entailed the team working into the early hours of the morning to finish the strip: eight people to produce two pages of artwork may seem extravagant, but time has vindicated the approach – Frank was voted the best post-war writer and artist of strip cartoons in 1975 by an international jury of his peers.

This was in fact a long-overdue accolade, for prior to this he spent virtually fourteen years in the wilderness hiding from the fans that pursued him and suffering from a series of debilitating illnesses. He hid because he was deprived of the copyright to Dan Dare, his creation. Under the terms of his contract he was not allowed to draw Dan Dare after leaving. After completing the remarkable strip about Jesus, The Road to Courage in 1961, Frank left Eagle never to return.
My drawing, 1986

Eagle lasted from April 1950 until April 1969, 991 issues. It was reborn in 1982, though a pale reflection of itself, yet survived some 500 issues before its demise in 1994. Having just turned sixty in 1979, Frank was presented with his Open University BA, something he did to fill in the empty hours, though the studying of art was a lifetime love too. In July 1985, at the young age of sixty-six, he died.

Crompton’s book is very well illustrated, using pages from the old Eagles and studio photographs and sketches, plus glimpses of Hampson strips that were n ever taken up by Fleet Street. Dan Dare was a team effort, but the driving force was undoubtedly Frank Hampson. His treatment by Fleet Street, its accountants and editors, seems tragic, even if his personality and work methods didn’t suit them. This book, even now, is a must for anyone who remembers Eagle with a fond glint in the eye; it is useful to art students and comic enthusiasts alike, and is invaluable as an object lesson in the dangers of signing away copyright.
[Case in point: Jerry Siegel in 1975 launched a public-relations campaign to protest DC Comics’ treatment of Joe Shuster and himself, as in the early years they’d signed away their rights to Superman. Ultimately, Warner Communications, DC’s parent company, awarded Siegel and Shuster $20,000 a year each for the rest of their lives and guaranteed that all comics, TV episodes, films, and, later, video games starring Superman would be required to carry the credit that Superman was ‘created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’. The first issue with the restored credit was Superman #302 (August 1976)].



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