by Alastair Crompton
by Alastair Crompton
Back in the 1950s, when four-colour printing meant preparing and etching four huge cylinders, when paper-rolls tore and sisal got trapped in the doctor blades to spread streaks of ink down the page, off-register printing was the bane of the comic artists’ life. Frank Hampson, who spent more time than most over his easel, used to spit blood when he saw what Eric Bemrose, printers of Eagle, did to his work. The problem was solved when John Crosfield developed the Autotron colour register control system, the first off-the-shelf system to guarantee perfect register on large gravure presses. It revolutionised printing and allowed Bemrose to print 12,000 Eagles an hour, 200 a minute, just over three a second.
But the Autotron did not arrive before Bemrose had printed over 100 pages of Hampson’s Dan Dare art, and managed to let the register slip on at least part of almost every run. This mis-register carried through to Hawkey’s Dan Dare facsimiles, and later into some of Titan’s reprints. Attempts to gather together the full 150-or-so pages of the Venus story, and print again, were years too late. The boards had been secretly on sale for years and in the sixties and seventies anyone with £20 or so to spare could buy a Hampson original. £20 looks a silly price today. Chris Beetles art gallery has a small selection where pages cost between £3,500 and £6,500.
However Hampson fans were gathering original boards. Paul Stephenson, partner in PS Art Books, bought Dan Dare art from as far away as Italy. Other collectors (notably Terry Doyle, Andrew Skilleter and myself) had either original boards or 5” x 4” colour transparencies of the calibre you could print from. Scores of these boards were put together and now some are to be reproduced on fine art paper, in a 200 page book, Tomorrow Revisited, due to be published in time for the 60th anniversary of Eagle and Dan Dare.
This was just one tiny frame in Eagle issue 4 but look at the detail. Quite unnecessary, of course, but an example of how much work FH could put into a frame to add what he called 'interest'.
The book will also include copies of Hampson’s ‘lost’ strips, drawn when he had completed The Road of Courage, and wanted to give new life to Eagle with a series of new stories. But Longacre didn’t want to work with Hampson any more and contrived a way to accuse him of breaking his contract. To rescue his house, car and pension, Hampson agreed to quit, whereupon Longacre insisted all his new strips be handed over to them. The boards were consigned to the art vaults where they languished for a bit then were stolen away. PS Publishing has secured copies of these strips, refurbished in some part, and they are included in the new book.
The book is also lavishly illustrated with sketches, photographs, doodles, ‘reminders’ and ‘trail runs’ taken from Hampson’s notebooks. These include style-guides of the principal characters, and to-scale templates for the Mekon, his Treen soldiers, the Therons, Atlantines and various space-fleet personnel.
Raff Royal, a contemporary adventure featuring a pilot with NATO, the original scamp here redrawn by Don Harley
Text for the book, part of which appeared as The Man Who Drew Tomorrow in 1985, is totally rewritten, using sources not available (or unwilling to contribute) while Hampson and Dorothy his wife were alive. The wholly new manuscript has been read cover-to-cover by Peter Hampson who has contributed were he has seen fit. Other details have come from Living with Eagles, the biography of Marcus Morris by two of his daughters, who together with their publishers, Lutterworth, have kindly granted permission to quote from their work.
This is Hampson’s complete story, from birth to demise, never published in one place before. It covers his schooldays, army service, the birth of Dan Dare, 12 years of Eagle glory, the traumatic firing, the suicide attempt, bouts of depression, the onset of throat cancer, and the struggle to continue after Eagle. It culminates at the 11th International Convention of strip cartoons and animated films, held at Lucca in Tuscany from 26th Oct to 9th Nov 1975, when an international jury of his peers gave Frank Hampson a Yellow Kid Award*, and voted him prestigioso maestro, the best strip-cartoon storyteller since the end of the Second World War.
Tomorrow Revisited can be pre-ordered from the PS Publishing website. More Raff Royal can be found at the Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website.