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Friday, January 04, 2008

Comic Cuts

The Mail on Sunday's Craig Brown dedicated a whole page to reviewing The Bumper Book of Look and Learn in the most glowing terms which would have been great had it been published back in September when the book came out. Shouldn't complain really as it really is a cracking review: "A lavish new selection ... Beautifully illustrated stories ... The gorgeous full-page illustrations alone are worth the price ... On virtually every page, I learned something I didn't know before ... I expected an old-fashioned imperialist bias to the history section, but often I found quite the opposite ... etc." The 'Critic of the Year' gives the book four stars out of five and makes it his 'Book of the Week'.

Brown (who also writes for Private Eye, so I forgive him his weekend job) spends half a column on The Trigan Empire and is going to earn the ire of a few by claiming that "It makes its more famous rival, Dan Dare, seem pretty flimsy stuff." But before you jump down his throat...

I suspect that, like Look and Learn, he hasn't read Dan Dare for forty years and may be remembering the stories as colourful space adventures, forgetting just how well written it was and how much detail went into the artwork. Most of the stories were shaped by people who knew how to tell a story (Alan Stranks especially) and Frank Hampson then used his interest in science to develop all the elements within the stories into workable technology and environments. Hampson had already populated the stories with interesting characters who grew as their adventures continued.

Mike Butterworth, who penned The Trigan Empire, drew on his fascination with history to create a world full of heroes that would have been at home in The Odyssey. The science in the science fiction was mostly ray guns, futuristic-looking cars and aircraft, the odd ray-machine... and the science fictional elements were mostly classics: the invisible man, the war of the worlds, the lost city of gold -- tried and trusted story-telling devices to generate more heroics. Butterworth was a fine storyteller but prone to have his heroes leap to freedom out of any tight spot; I've typed up most of the stories for the Trigan Collection reprints and I can promise you that Trigo and his family are like grasshoppers. It doesn't detract from the epic nature of the stories but you do kind of wait for the moment in a story when Janno will leap through a window or from a wall.

My point, which is a long time coming, is that they're both good for very different reasons. The more technology minded reader will probably prefer Dan Dare; if you're into heroic science-fantasy, The Trigan Empire is for you.

Then there's the generation gap: The Trigan Empire was rising just as Eagle was failing. The majority of "original Eagle" fans feel that Dan was at his peak in the mid-1950s, a decade before The Trigan Empire even began. I'm a good for instance of someone who grew up with The Trigan Empire not knowing who on earth Dan Dare was. I think the first time I saw Dan Dare was the 1974 Annual. Thanks to the Hawk reprints I was able to read the stories in full -- as new fans can through the Titan reprints -- so I can now appreciate them for what they are. But they don't register the same nostalgia quotient as The Trigan Empire.

Talking of Dan Dare...
The Dan Dare audiobook mentioned previously has now been officially announced by Orion. Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus Part 1 (ISBN 978-0752898766) will be released on 1 May 2008. The release is a 2 CD set with a running time of 2 1/2 hours. Orion have yet to release any further information beyond the release date and a synopsis: "Dan Dare and his crew travel to Venus, hoping to find new resources to feed a starving Earth. But the planet is already the lair of the pint-sized megalomaniac The Mekon, who plans to conquer Dan's homeworld!"

A couple of bits of news from elsewhere...

* Lew Stringer reports that the latest issue of Death Ray includes a 6-page interviews with Dave Gibbons and Gary Erskine, artist of the new Dan Dare comic.

* Paul Grist is interviewed by Steve Ekstrom over at Newsarama (2 January). (link via Journalista)

* Slipping briefly into my 'paperback collector' hat, there was an interview with John Harvey in The Guardian recently (29 December) in which he discusses his career as a 'Piccadilly cowboy' and crime writer and the upcoming release of the 11th Charlie Resnick novel, Cold in Hand. Harvey was the 2007 winner of the Diamond Dagger, the lifetime achievements award from the Crime Writers' Association. I interviewed John many years ago for an issue of PBO and last saw him (briefly) at a CWA awards banquet back when my own The Trials of Hank Janson was up for one of the Dagger awards. I still don't understand why people say that being nominated is honour enough... I really wanted to win!

2 comments:

  1. I noticed an error in the Look and Learn book when I opened it on Christmas day (thanks Santa!). In the contents page Culloden is named as the last battle on *ENGLISH* soil!! What a subject to get the old 'British/English thing' wrong with! I'm half-Scot, half-English so I guess I'm British, but I do so hate this sort of complacency ;(

    Great book though, and a bargain to boot.

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  2. Hi Ken,

    It's a very English thing to use English and British as interchangable. I've done it myself, although I'm usually fairly careful not to. Despite aggrieving your Scottish half (and please note that I didn't say Scotch!) I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

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