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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Eagle Cutaways of Bruce Cornwell

The Eagle Cutaways of Bruce Cornwell
by Jeremy Briggs

One of the staples of Eagle comic over its nineteen years was the cutaway. These fascinating and educational illustrations weathered the changes to the comic throughout the 1950s and 1960s, running with few gaps from an electric train in the first issue to a truck in the penultimate issue. Both these cutaways were illustrated by Leslie Ashwell Wood who was by far the most prolific cutaway artist Eagle had, contributing almost two thirds of the near 960 cutaways published in the weekly title.

While not all the cutaways are signed and therefore attributable to a specific artist, there were at least 23 artists other than Wood who contributed cutaways, from the familiar names of J Walkden Fisher with 59, Lawrence Dunn with 48 plus Geoffrey Wheeler and John Batchelor with 44 each, to the less familiar names of Brian Watson, T C Renwick-Adams and Alan Crisp who provided one each. One familiar name not normally associated with the Eagle cutaways is Dan Dare artist A Bruce Cornwell.

Bruce Cornwell’s earliest published Eagle cutaways were of the Rotor Cruiser and the Theron Duty Cutter for the 1953 Dan Dare Spacebook, not done in the coloured half centrespread style of the comic at the time but as highly detailed full page black and white images in keeping with the rest of the Space Book. Ten years later he would also draw several more simplified cutaways as part of larger articles in the 1963 Dan Dare Space Annual with one, the Faroe Jet, signed with his ABC initials.

None of these black and white cutaways were in the style of those that the weekly comic was known for. However he did paint four colour cutaways for the weekly Eagle and, perhaps unsurprising for a former merchant seaman, they were all of ships. Bruce remembered that “the subjects were all chosen by the editor, but I always wrote the text and key.” As to whether the amount of detail in the illustrations required him to increase the size of his original artwork he recalled, “sometimes it was half up or one up but never any larger.”

The first of these colour cutaways appeared in Eagle v11 #37 (dated 10 September 1960) and showed the passenger/cargo ship, RMS Windsor Castle, which was then used by its owners, Union Castle Line, to sail between England and South Africa. The ship had a relatively tall superstructure and funnel in comparison to its length and to help overcome this within the confines of the requirement for a long, narrow illustration, he buried the lower bow well into the sea and effectively off the page to allow more room for the height required.

In v12 #4 (28 January 1961), at a time before communications satellites, HM Telegraph Ship Monarch, operated by the state run General Post Office, provided the means of worldwide communication by laying undersea cables. When asked if he had ever had the chance to see or visit any of the cutaway subjects before he began his work, Bruce remembered, “Only Monarch, I went on board when she was up the Thames loading cable. The design department were very helpful in supplying me with a roll of blueprints.”

Asked what the response if any there was to his cutaways in the comic, he recalled, “When Eagle published the Monarch work the GPO contacted me to produce another cutaway for them, of course it was a different angle but with the same detail. They wanted to send it to schools who were always requesting details.”

Rather closer to home in v13 #32 (11 August 1962) was the Woolwich car and passenger ferry which ploughed its trade on the Thames between Woolwich and North Woolwich. Of the four ships that he produced cutaways for Eagle of the Woolwich ferry was the one that had the best chance that Eagle readers would actually travel on. How then was he able to get enough information on the vessels to make the cutaways accurate and was there a need to make educated guesswork? “No guesswork ever,” replied Bruce emphatically, “there’s always some ‘clever’ individual out there waiting to pull you up.” However the Woolwich ferry did pose a different challenge, “I had to dig out information on the new Woolwich ferry only to find out that it had been ordered but not built. The agency supplied me with engineer’s plans and wished me luck!”

Bruce Cornwell’s final weekly Eagle cutaway was of the first of only four civilian nuclear powered cargo ships ever built, the NS Savannah. This ship was operated by the American State Marine Lines and the cutaway appeared in v13 #52 (29 December 1962). To modern eyes this is perhaps the most usual subject of the four cutaways but the Savannah was in service from 1962 until 1972 and still exists today berthed at Baltimore in the United States where she has been declared a Historic National Landmark.

There are a few other cutaways by Bruce Cornwell associated with Eagle that are worth mentioning. In 1952 he illustrated a short factual series entitled Ships Through the Ages and, as part of the 16th And 17th Century Craft section of this in Eagle v3 #8 (30 May 1952) he presented the sectional cutaway of a high-sterned Elizabethan warship in a large, signed panel.

However there was another Eagle cutaway that he did even before the first issue of the comic was published that was, ironically, his last cutaway to be published. The illustration was of Dan Dare’s Number 2 rocket ship from the Voyage to Venus story. “Frank requested it”, Bruce recalls, “even the layout and left the job to me. This was before we went to press. He was pleased with the finished job, but after that, I don’t know what happened to it.”

What happened to it was that it lay forgotten for decades until it was rediscovered and was finally published, along with a new key devised by Bruce himself listing its different sections, as the colour centrespread of Spaceship Away issue 22 in Autumn 2010.

His most detailed Eagle cutaways were his four ships. Asked if he enjoyed the challenge of painting his four main Eagle cutaways Bruce replied, “I did enjoy them; the sea and ships have always been a passion of mine.”

(I was fortunate to correspond with Bruce Cornwell for a year or so before he passed away on 2 March 2012 during which time he helped me in writing several articles on his non-Dan Dare work, articles that were written for Eagle Times, the journal of the Eagle Society. Bruce was generous with his time while his memory of events, people and his work from more than half a century beforehand was quite remarkable. This article on his cutaway work was the last one I completed with his help. The original version of this article was published in Eagle Times v25 #1, Spring 2012).

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