Dan Dare’s Number One Fan
by Jeremy Briggs
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.
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)