Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bruce Cornwell (1920-2012)

Bruce Cornwell, who died on 2 March, is best known as one of the original artists who chronicled the early adventures of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. It was Cornwell who, as one of Frank Hampson's team of artists, sent the Kingfisher spacecraft soaring from the launch pad of the Interplanet Space Fleet headquarters on page one of the very first Eagle comic. It was the destruction of Kingfisher as it approached Venus and Dan Dare's conviction that the cause was its impulse engines that led Dan to lead the next mission ... and (future) history was made.

The early Eagle's sold 900,000 copies apiece, but none of its readers could have known that the thrills generated by each week's cliffhanger ending were nothing compared to the far greater tensions that existed behind the scenes. With only weeks to go before the launch, Frank Hampson was constantly re-writing and re-working each page, assigning different panels to his five-strong team, and the situation became worse when Hulton Press brought forward the release date for the first issue by two weeks. In correspondence, extracts from which appeared in Spaceship Away! in 2009, he recalled "It didn't matter how tired one got, we had to press on. After two weeks I came to the conclusion that the amount of skill and finishing required was never going to fit into a forty hour week."

The first page of Dan Dare with Cornwell's contributions highlighted.

Arthur Bruce Cornwell was the son of Arthur Redfern Cornwell, an English architect and draughtsman, and his Scottish wife Margaret C. Cornwell. Bruce was born in Canada, but the family relocated to California, in October 1923 where Arthur Cornwell became a naturalized citizen in 1924 and worked for the film industry. A second son, John, was born in California in 1927.

After growing up in Long Beach and Culver City, Bruce Cornwell came to England at the age of 15, accompanying his father who worked in the mid-1930s as an assistant art director for London Film Studios at Denham Studio, Buckinghamshire. Arthur was art director on 1937 movie 'The Green Cockatoo', based on a story by Graham Greene and starring John Mills; he died in 1941 at the early age of 56.

Bruce Cornwell studied art at Regent Street Polytechnic in London and the Académie Julian in Paris. As an American citizen, he was not called up during the war but joined the Merchant Navy, transporting supplies to beleaguered Britain in U-Boat infested waters. He still found time to paint and one of his oil paintings, 'The Coaster' was exhibited at the Royal Academy and purchased by the President and Council through the Edward Stott Fund in 1942.

After the war, Cornwell established himself as a technical and general illustrator, working for women's and engineering magazines. However, the wartime paper shortage had forced magazines to slim down considerably and Cornwell, who had married Peggy Brenda Huggins in 1941 and had a young son, sought out regular work, responding to an advertisement in a trade paper. A badly printed reply outlining the duties came from Southport; unimpressed, Cornwell consigned the form to the bin.

A few days later he received an irate phone call from the Reverend Marcus Morris asking why he had not replied. Bruce sent over some samples and was offered a job. He made his way to Churchtown, Southport, and found himself working in a corrugated lean-to known as The Bakehouse, which he would later describe as "a hell-hole".

2007 illustration for Spaceship Away!

The small team assembled by Frank Hampson was working flat-out to complete the early episodes of Dan Dare and Cornwell's talent for technical drawing meant he was usually called upon to draw the strips spaceships which filled the early episodes. The team were also responsible for three other pages of Eagle artwork each week, with Cornwell also working on Tommy Walls, a full-colour strip advertisement for Walls Ice Cream.

After only a few months Cornwell left: "Frank started questioning my technical skills and that was where I dug my heels in ... Even moving us to a room over a pub down the street didn't ease the situation. We were sacked. I was pleased, as the prospect of putting up with that programme for an indefinite period filled me with horror!"

To ease pressure, Hampson and his team were moved to Epsom and Cornwell was invited to rejoin, promising that things would improve. "In the end I gave in. But it was the same as before; crazy hours, no time off and a massive work load. Eventually, the hours, travelling and stress of the whole thing was too much and I became ill. My doctor told me to have a rest and I asked Frank for some holiday time. His reply was that he was ill too, and if he couldn't have time off, I couldn't either. I went back home that night and didn't come back." On his return from holiday, Cornwell discovered a letter had been delivered telling him that he was fired.

Inspired by advances in rocketry and the success of Dan Dare, there was a boom in juvenile science fiction, and Cornwell found work illustrating of the adventures of Kemlo, E. C. Ellott's popular series about a young space-born cadet from Satellite Belt K, which orbits Earth; as well as nine Kemlo novels, Cornwell also illustrated Elliott's two Tas novels, which had Australia's Woomera rocket range as a background.

Cornwell also drew Space Cadet Jim Stalwart for Junior Mirror, Sammy in Space for Swift and took over the artwork for Express Weekly's adventures of radio star Jet Morgan. Following Hampson's departure from Dan Dare, Cornwell was tempted back to assist Don Harley (another Hampson studio alumnus) on the strip. Cornwell also drew the Dan Dare elements of Danny Dare - described as Dan Dare's biggest fan - for Wham!.

Cornwell also worked in commercial advertising, producing artwork for the Post Office and Pilkington, the glass manufacturer. In recent years he had produced a number of illustrations for the Dan Dare magazine Spaceship Away!. A rough sketch of a commission showing the Kingfisher launch is due to appear in issue 26. A tribute will appear in issue 27. The next issue Eagle Times will contain an article on his contributions to the Eagle's centre-spread cutaway drawings.

Cornwell lived in Ruislip and is survived by a son.


Ship's Crew. Educational Supply Association, 1953; revised, Ward Lock Educational, Dec 1962.
Ships. Educational Supply Division, 1961.
Adventure of Ships. Littlehampton, May 1969.
Book of Ships. Littlehampton, Oct 1969.

Kemlo and the Sky Horse by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1954.
Kemlo and the Martian Ghosts by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1954.
Tas and the Space Machine by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Tas and the Postal Rocket by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Kemlo and the Space Lanes by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Kemlo and the Craters of the Moon by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Kemlo and the Star Men by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Okara the Hunter by Frank Denver. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
The Scuttlers by Arthur Catherall, illus. with Drake Brookshaw. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Kemlo and the Gravity Rays by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1956.
Kemlo and the End of Time by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1957.
Kemlo and the Purple Dawn by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1957.
Great Moments at Sea by A. B. Campbell. London, Phoenix House, 1957.
Kemlo and the Zombie Men by E. C. Elliott. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1958.
Great Moments in archaeology by Ivor Noel Hume. London, Phoenix House, 1958; New York, Roy Publishers, 1958.


Shaqui Le Vesconte said...

Bruce Cornwell also did illustrations for 'The Dalek Book' (1964) and 'The Dalek World' (1965) but the latest issue of the Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society magazine FAB attributes him to having'worked on at least one of the Collins Fireball XL5 annuals'. News to me, although there are a couple of strips in the ©1966 edition which has a few strips by unknown artists. But neither compare in style to the Dalek work. Any views on this?

Steve said...

Wasn't it Eric Eden who worked on the Fireball annuals? If it isn't a straightforward error of memory, maybe the implication is that Cornwell helped out with some airbrushed backgrounds to Eden's endpapers.

Shaqui Le Vesconte said...

Eric Eden did a lot of artwork for the XL5 annuals but there were others, such as Gerry Wood, Gerry Embleton and Rab Hamilton. I was of the opinion Eden was no mean airbrush artist himself, whereas Cornwell was more technically minded. It shows in the Cornwell Dalek work - figurework and faces don't appear to be his forté.