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Saturday, March 07, 2015

Dan Dare’s Number One Fan

Dan Dare’s Number One Fan
by Jeremy Briggs

In 2008, for only the third time since 1950 there were two new versions of Dan Dare being published at the same time, the 1950’s styled Dan in Rod Barzillay’s Spaceship Away and what remains the latest version of Dan updated by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine and published by Virgin Comics. Before that, bar annuals, the last time there were two different non-reprint Dan Dare stories running at the same time in different publications was in 1990 when Dan Dare was in new Eagle and Dare was in Revolver. Before that you have to go back to 1964 when the character appeared both in original Eagle and in the Sunday People newspaper. The Eagle story at that time was All Treens Must Die! with art by Keith Watson while over in the Sunday People Don Harley was the artist on Mission To The Stars. Yet at the same time that Dan Dare was appearing in those two strips he was also making regular guest appearances in another weekly strip. The humour comic Wham! published a strip with artwork by Eagle Dan Dare artists Bruce Cornwall and Don Harley amongst others, a strip that has never been reprinted – Danny Dare.


Danny Dare was Dan Dare’s number one fan who day-dreamed about his hero as he went about his daily routine of school and play. Danny would use Dan’s inspiration to get him out of, and sometimes into, scrapes. The strip was conceived as two pages of black and white artwork telling a complete story each week. The Danny Dare sections were illustrated in a typical humour art style while the Dan Dare sections were illustrated in a more typical adventure style, often with a black and white wash, and the artwork in some of the initial issues was by one of the most highly regarded British humour artists, Leo Baxendale.


Wham! was the comic that lured Leo Baxendale away from DC Thomson for whom he had created such Beano favourites as The Bash Street Kids, Little Plum and Minnie The Minx. Dissatisfied with Thomson’s, Baxendale moved to Odhams in 1964 with the lure of more money and of effectively creating a new humour comic, a super-Beano, in the shape of Wham! which launched with a cover date of 20 June 1964. This was the same cover date as Eagle v15 #30 which printed the eighth part of All Treens Must Die! Wham! and the Danny Dare strip was promoted in Eagle with illustrated adverts and a tag line at the end of the Dan Dare strip of “Follow the hilarious adventures of Danny Dare each week in WHAM! – Britain’s latest and greatest fun paper”. While this tag line did not last long in Eagle, the tag at the end of the Danny Dare strips “Dan Dare fans follow his adventures in Eagle – on sale now”, or an equivalent, invariably appeared at the bottom of most strips.


For that first issue of Wham! Baxendale provided the artwork for ten of the title’s twelve comic strips - General Nitt and His Barmy Army, The Wacks, The Tiddlers, Eagle-Eye Junior Spy, Biff, The Humbugs, The Pest Of The West, George’s Germs and Footsie The Clown as well as for Danny Dare. Indeed the only strips he did not draw were the adventure strip Kelpie The Boy Wizard by John M Burns, who would go on to draw Dan Dare in new Eagle, and Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs which was a more realistic adventure/humour strip with art by Bill Mainwaring. This mammoth amount of strips illustrated by Baxendale in issue 1 could not be maintained and he only did two more Danny Dare strips, in issues 4 and 8, and signed all three of them. While it would appear that Baxendale did his own adventure art for his day-dream sequences, when regular humour artist Artie Jackson took over the strip Eagle Dan Dare artist Bruce Cornwall was brought in to do the adventure sequences with a few episodes covered by Don Harley. The story writing was initially by Leo Baxendale but was then passed over to Artie Jackson and finally to Walter Thorburn.


The Dan Dare sections in Danny Dare often reflected elements of the Eagle stories, mainly from the year before the launch of Wham! Danny had a home-made peddle powered go-cart which he imagined was his spaceship and, in early episodes, it was named after Dan’s time ship from Operation Time Trap, Tempus Frangit.


Also from Operation Time Trap came Xel, the Stollite leader who normally appeared when Danny needed to imagine an enemy for Dan. Tempus Frangit was name checked in Wham! issue 1 while the Stollites first appeared in issue 4 and Xel himself in issue 5. Dan, of course appeared in most issues while his side-kick Digby also put in some appearances, being name checked in issue 1 and first appearing in issue 2.


By issue 10 the generic Stollite soldiers appearing in the background had become Treens although they were still commanded by Xel. Surprisingly Xel remained as the main villain with the Mekon only putting in a single appearance in issue 15, dated 26 September 1964. In this issue he is not referred to by name, just as Dan’s enemy.


Since the Dan art in this issue was not by the regular artist Bruce Cornwall but by another Eagle Dan Dare artist, Don Harley, it is tempting to assume that Don was acting as holiday or sickness cover and drew who he considered to be Dan’s enemy. When asked about this for this article Don Harley confirmed that the art for that issue was indeed his but that, after four decades, he had no recollection of doing any Danny Dare strips.


After references to the Tempus Frangit were quietly dropped, the various ships that Dan flew in the strip tended to be generic spaceships or flying cars although normally incorporating Bruce Cornwall’s typically impressive technical detail. Despite being Dan’s regular mount in Eagle during 1964 it would be issue 33 in January 1965 before the spaceship Anastasia made an appearance in Danny Dare, again in art by Don Harley.

Harley would also draw Anastasia in the Danny Dare strip in the first Wham! Annual cover dated 1966. In this annual both the Danny Dare strips were in colour and lasted four pages each. In later episodes of the weekly comic, Artie Jackson provided both the Dan and Danny art and the Dan Dare spaceships again became more generic and humorous designs bearing little or no relation to the designs in the Eagle strip.


Wham! began in 1964 as an impressive comic with colour photogravure front and back covers with school-boy Biff on the front and Footsie The Clown on the back while the centrespread was similarly colourful with Eagle-Eye Junior Spy, all for the cover price of 6d. Indeed the idea of having two different artists working on Danny Dare would have been expensive from both a financial and a time point of view. The strip continued at two pages until issue 42, dated 3 April 1965, when it was reduced to a single page. Danny was one of the victims of the cost cutting that went on in the title at that time but luckily survived what was to come. Issue 43 had the normal twenty-four pages for 6d with Biff and Eagle-Eye in colour their usual positions but by then the back cover was the domain of cave-boy Glugg. One week later the price had gone up to 7d, the page count had come down to twenty and only the cover was still in colour. Indeed it is obvious that issue 44’s Eagle-Eye and Glugg, while being printed in black and white, had been created for colour printing which suggests that the cost-cutting exercise was a hasty one.


As with the Danny Dare strip, Wham! itself lost some of its polish as it went along with Baxendale doing less and less art and his last issue was number 96. By issue 100 in May 1966 the photogravure colour cover had been replaced with simple yellow, red and blue colours, while by issue 150 in April 1967 the title was reprinting American Marvel strips in black and white with The Fantastic Four taking up a quarter of that issue. Despite this Danny Dare remained in the title, albeit sometimes at only half a page, until its final issue - number 187 dated 13 January 1968 - only missing ten odd issues along the way. It was an impressive achievement for the humour strip which outlasted its mother strip in Eagle, Dan Dare having gone to reprint with Volume 18 Number 2 almost exactly one year beforehand.


With the modern copyright minefield being what it is and the fact that the strips use some characters that belong to the Dan Dare Corporation and others that belong to Time Inc UK (the former IPC Media) there is little hope of an official reprinting. Today the strips are amusing diversions, with some interesting due to their artists but with the majority not really worth the effort. That said it is still a part of Dan Dare history that deserves to be better remembered.

(* Originally published in Eagle Times v22 #3, Autumn 2009)

2 comments:

Lew Stringer said...

Excellent article! Not being a subscriber to Eagle Times I hadn't read that before. Thanks for showing it here Steve.

Ken said...

Really enjoyed this article. Those early Wham comics are a great read.

Ken.