Dan Dare in Britain

Chaplain Dan Dare of the Spacefleet from the 1949 dummy comic
Eagle comic 1 - 14th April 1950
2000AD comic 1 - 26th Feb 1977
New Eagle comic 1 - 27th March 1882
Spaceship Away 1 - Autumn 2003

It has been suggested that I complete this list of Dan Dare by country, by including info on the UK. I am a little loath to do this as there are many great sites detailing The Eagle and Dan Dare in Britain (see Links page for other sites), and I have no wish to rehash the Dan Dare saga. So, with apologises to older readers, I will make this as short as I can.

Dan Dare was originally "born" in 1949, the brain child of artist Frank Hampson, born in Audenshaw, near Manchester, England on 21st December 1918. Hampson had been asked by clergyman Marcus Morris to create a Christian hero that he planned to use in a new comic that he was devising. At Morris' prompting Hampson created "Chaplain Dan Dare of the Inter-Planet Patrol", the character later lost his dog-collar at the insistence of the prospective publisher (Hulton Press). The adventures of Dan Dare and friends were to run in The Eagle from April 14th 1950 until 26th April 1969 - a total of 991 issues.

The period between 1951 and 1960 was the highpoint of the comic. Hampson, a perfectionist who was frequently late meeting his deadlines, (he once finished a board whilst he was on the train to the printers) created a staff of artists to help him out with colouring, lettering and finishing. These included Don Harley, Desmond Walduck (a freelance artist not attached to the studio), Harold Johns and Greta Tomlinson. It was also during this period that Dan Dare fever swept the nation and manufacturers were quick to release all kinds of products with a Dan Dare connection - or no connection at all.

Hulton was bought up by Odhams in 1959, and a year later Odhams was bought by the giant Fleetway Group (see Fleetway Artists). The studio was disbanded apart from a small cottierie of artists (including Harley and Keith Watson) who moved down to London, and Hampson was replaced by Frank Bellamy. Bellamy, had previously worked on other Eagle "back page" strips including The Happy Warrior and Marco Polo (after Dan Dare he went on to create the life of Montegomery - later reprinted with Happy Warrior as High Command by Dragon's Dream in 1981) and he took the Dare work on the condition that it would only be for a year.

After Bellamy followed a number of other artists the best of which was Keith Watson. The Eagle was merged with its former rival The Lion Comic in 1969.

However, the story does not end there, imagine the surprise of old Dan Dare fans to discover the new Dan Dare drawn by Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli that appeared in issue 1 of a new comic called 2000AD. This Dan Dare is the tough leader of a spaceship full of hardened space fighters. Gone is much of the comical aspects that appealed to readers of the 1950’s, replaced instead with a new gritty realism.

When Bellardinelli left the strip, it was continued by Dave Gibbons. Although 2000AD is still appearing on the newsstands of the UK, the Dan Dare strip only lasted for two years (1977-1979) due to copywrite disputes with its publishers.

In 1982 a New Eagle Comic appeared featuring, yes you have guessed it, Dan Dare this time drawn by Ian Kennedy. This characterization was less tough and more traditional, and therefore more acceptable to older die-hard fans, than the 2000AD version. The New Eagle ran from 1982-1991 and the Dan Dare strip was variously drawn by Carlos Cruz, John Gillat, John Page and veteran Dan Dare artist Keith Watson.

The year 2000 was the 50th anniversary of the strips first appearance, and to mark the occasion a metal bust of the space colonel was erected in the town of Southport, the adoptive home of Frank Hampson, as a permanent tribute. As a further tribute an exhibition of original artwork, comics, games, and other Dan Dare memorabilia attracted thousands of fans – so much so that to date the exhibition has toured every major city in the UK and is currently (2004) on its way to the United States.

In 2003 another magazine appeared in Britain, Spaceship Away! featuring the old 1950’s Dan Dare drawn in the style of that time by veteran Eagle artists Don Harley and Keith Watson. On the death of Keith Watson, Don Harley continues to draw the strip by himself.

This year (2004) UK publishers Titan Books, have started to re-print the original Dan Dare adventures drawn by Hampson for a new generation of space fans. For over fifty years Dan Dare has continued to weave his magic over the boys of the UK - many of them now retired pensioners! Through many incarnations, many different comic titles, and myriad adventures – although hard to define, there is something about this hero that is unlike anything ever seen before.

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