Friday, 6 August 2010

Dan Dare

In the mid sixties, when I was a young lad of some eight summers, I was struck down with Rheumatic Fever, a disease that attacks the heart valves, and was carted off to the children’s ward of St Albans hospital for 3 months. During my stay, my mother was obliged to traipse across town nearly every afternoon to see me. Of course, I was always glad to see her but it was her Thursday visit that I really looked forward to as it was on Thursday that she arrived brandishing my weekly comic, ‘The Eagle’.

And ‘The Eagle’ meant only one thing: Dan Dare. There are two abiding memories of those hospital days; Dan Dare and the ominous rattle of the blood-testing trolley. But blood aside, I’d been introduced to the delights of Frank Hampson’s iconic pilot by a school friend who had been following his adventures for some years and I’d badgered my parents to buy me ‘The Eagle’ on regular order – my first comic. Unfortunately I entered the fray too late to witness Hampson’s own celebrated artwork as he had left the strip in 1960 having completed a 10 year run on the characters he had created in 1950 but with artists Frank Bellamy and then Keith Watson doing a sterling job recreating the futuristic world of Dare and Digby, I was hooked.

In retrospect, the original Dan Dare stories come across now as a sort of WWII RAF squadron in space complete with pipe and banter, but they are still hugely imaginative and combine story telling with eye-boggling artwork in a way only comics can manage. It is why I still enjoy comics to this day, although in the face of the virtual demise of the British comic industry, I have now shifted my allegiance to the American comic-book.

But going back to Dan, I remember a story called ‘The Mushroom’ in which the green dome-headed Mekon attempts to invade earth via a mushroom structure built on the earth’s surface. It is the story that I read and re-read during those long hours in hospital and as the memory fades, I would love to see it again in print.

Luckily, Titan Books are reprinting the collected Dan Dare stories in hardback at the rate of about 40 weeks worth of comics per issue and two hardback releases a year. So far they have published 10 volumes with a further two promised for 2010 which takes Dan up to about the end of 1959. I have calculated that it will take them about another three to four years before ‘The Mushroom’ appears, assuming Titan have not stopped publishing. I can wait. After 45 years, a few more won’t make much difference.

But if they could see their way clear to speeding up the process, I wouldn’t object.


Kit Courteney said...

Hmmm... all sounds very 'boyish', so I sit here, tutting away at your childhood memories. Boys, eh?!

*She says Googling her fave childhood comics and drooling over 'Jackie'*

music obsessive said...

Hmm..could be because, well, I'm a boy. And another thing, where are the comics of today? They are more like magazines with precious little copy in amongst the graphics. My son is just the right age to start reading comics as a more interesting and self-motivating alternative to school reading books, but can we find anything suitable? Can we hell.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reminiscence. To answer your question, why not spend some money on comics of your youth that are cheap and buy from e|Bay and let your son enjoy them too. Some are really cheap during this recession!

music obsessive said...

Hi Anon - actually, that's not a bad wheeze, I might give that a go. Trouble is, whenever I look on ebay, I never see the issues I'm interested in and to get a reasonable sequence would take years - by which time the book will be out. Oh well!

luminous muse said...

Whatever happened to Rheumatic Fever? One of my friends got it in 3rd grade and spent the whole year in bed! Never hear about it anymore.

Speaking of R. Crumb, what is your opinion? I've always admired his work, and have a personal story to share on the blog when I get to it.

music obsessive said...

Luminous - Good question! According to Wikipedia, since the 60s (lucky me!) RF is rare in the western world as simple penicillin has done for it.

As to Robert Crumb, he was always one of those people whose work I was aware of without really being a fan. I must catch up with him one day.

Alan said...

I guess the current emphasis is on TV for children (as demonstrated by the number of children's channels) or on computer games. Why look at still drawings when you can watch a moving cartoon (computer generated) or use the Xbox to fly a space ship better than Dan Dare ever did?

However, while the young children may not read comics, they can read the comics when they get to university - see the attached story:

music obsessive said...

Alan - I'm afraid you are right. It's such a shame that I can't find anything for a 7 year old not-interested-in-reading boy to feel motivated to even look at.

Seems you have to be university age (but not reading age haha!)