Dan Dare “Lost Film” eBay find, and Les Edwards’ unused Mekon design

Dan Dare: Return of the Mekon - Film ad, Variety October 1975
Recently spotted on eBay by Hibernia Comics fan Paul Dowson was this advertisement cut carefully from an October 1975 issue of Variety for a never made Dan Dare film, a project from Phenomenal Film Productions, which owned both the film and TV rights to the much-loved British comic character.

Hibernia Comics publisher David McDonald also drew my attention to a second advertisement for the project was published in Variety in 1976,  promoting Dan Dare: The Return of the Mekon at the Cannes Film Festival, was previously offered and sold on eBay by the same seller, rareads4u.

Dan Dare: Return of the Mekon - Film ad, Variety 1976

As noted in Ian Wheeler’s article for downthetubes on lost Dan Dare projects, the Paul A. de Savaray mentioned as working at Phenomenal Film Productions (alongside Malcolm Aw), owned the TV and film rights to the Dan Dare character, and continued to do so into the 1980s.

Artwork for the project had been created and a Space:1999 producer was also apparently involved in the project.

Mekon design by Les Edwards for the unmade Dan Dare film planned by Phenomenal Film Productions
Mekon design by Les Edwards for the unmade Dan Dare film planned by Phenomenal Film Productions

Some of the art for the project was the work of Les Edwards, including a design for the Mekon.

Les has worked in many fields and areas for over 40 years but is best known for the huge number of book jackets he has produced in the fantasy, SF and horror genres. He’s created two graphic novels based on stories by Clive Barker and worked on many major advertising campaigns.

He’s also created posters for films including John Carpenter’s The Thing and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and he has worked in film production and gaming.

His Mekon art was painted for Phenomenal Film Productions, “which actually looked as if it might go ahead,” he notes, unlike other, later attempts. But it was not to be.

“Eventually. of course, there was no film. A shame, as I would have liked to see this guy on screen. However, when one of the producers told me that they were going to use an actor in makeup to play the Mekon I knew the project was doomed.”

Some early Dan Dare test pages for 2000AD written by Ken Armstrong. Pat recalls an unidentified Argentine artist and Italian artists were commissioned to draw samples.
Some early Dan Dare test pages for 2000AD written by Ken Armstrong. Pat recalls an unidentified Argentine artist and Italian artists were commissioned to draw samples.

The planned Phenomenal Film Productions project impacted both Dan Dare’s look in 2000AD, and on New Eagle and its Dan Dare strip. Pat Mills had already begun work on a new look Dan Dare for 2000AD written by Ken (“Hookjaw”) Armstrong, with samples drawn by an Argentine artist, he recalled in 2010, but reworked the strip,  after hearing more about the De Savary version when he met Paul in 1976.

“Paul Da Savary had film rights to Dan Dare and showed Pat his “fantastic artwork” for a movie and also a retro TV series. Pat noted in 201o: “His producer, who has worked on Space:1999, thinks our spaceship would not make good merchandising because of all the projecting solar panels. I formed the impression they weren’t keen on us reviving Dan Dare.

“My publisher tells me that Da Savary might buy 2000AD as an outside contractor to IPC Magazines. Myself and John Wagner (Judge Dredd) will be creative partners in the enterprise and thus receive a share of the cover price. John Wagner creates Dredd with this in mind. IPC board of directors then say no , John Wagner withdraws from the project and Dredd, and I create 2000AD for a fixed fee as a freelance.

“The Argentine version of Dan Dare is very good – from a purist point of view,” Pat continues. “It was in a semi-Sydney Jordan style with a cool inking style. I know SF fans will like it then (and now) – but I also know that it won’t appeal to my mass audience. I’m aiming for kids. I’m not interested in minorities of purists. His figures are small, under-characterised, and his storytelling is hard work. Awed by the Da Savary version, I decide to write a new, less NASA and more compelling version with my editor designate Kelvin Gosnell.

“We write an exploration of Jupiter’s red spot with astronauts wearing anti-grav suits and alien life forms based on microscopic life in the National Geographic. Story-wise I think its basic plot is valid in Dare terms. We try out one or two artists – I believe two Italian brothers – but their version looks dull to me.

“Artist Bellardinelli submits a wild version on spec. At least it’s exciting and eye-catching and – most important – helps us over the poor quality paper. A TV21 look won’t work on bog paper. Bellardinelli’s black line is the best in the business.”

The approach worked, with 2000AD‘s take in Dan Dare regularly rated highly in reader polling.

Angus McKie's design for the Mekon's headquarters.
Angus McKie’s design for the Mekon’s headquarters for the planned 1980s Dan Dare series for ATV.

Former Fleetway editor David Hunt recalls how the planned film and TV projects also affected Dan Dare in the 1980s incarnation of Eagle.

“Not so much the artwork, of course, but most definitely with regard to the storyline,” he says.

“The fact that our Dan Dare was the great, great, great grandson (was it three times removed?) of Hulton’s Dan Dare was contrived rather than meant. In 1982 the De Savary Group owned the TV and film rights to the Dan Dare character.

“I recall Barrie (Tomlinson) and myself meeting De Savary and his team in a plush London office to discuss the creation and development of our Pilot of the Future, soon to star in the new Eagle. But after lengthy talks it became clear to us that if the De Savary organisation was ever going to do a TV series then the whole project was still very much in its planning stages. So, rather than clash with their ‘eventual’ creation we made the decision to pitch our Dan forward a few generations.

“On reflection, this was the wrong decision because, of course, De Savary never pulled it off. If we had known this at the time I feel our first Dan would have reflected the original character more, something scriptwriter Tom Tully and the brilliant Keith Watson did so well at a later date.”

There’s more information here on Pat Mills Facebook page on how Paul de Savary’s plans for a Dan Dare film influenced 2000AD and Eagle at the planning stage

Check out the ad on eBay – on offer for $125

With thanks to David McDonald of Hibernia Comics, publishers of official limited edition collections of classic British comics – hiberniabook.blogspot.co.uk

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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