Organised comics fandom in the UK is usually considered to have begun in the late 1960s when the first zines began to appear, starting with Tony Roche‘s Merry Marvel Fanzine and, later, Heroes Unlimited.
But there was an earlier attempt to start a comics-related fan club, launched in 1964 – and unlike Tony Roche’s publications its focus was on a British hero, Dan Dare, not imported superheroes whose arrival in comics such as WHAM! spurred a growing, dedicated following.
The first Dan Dare Club Newsletter was published in Autumn 1964, produced by Eric MacKenzie (aged 15) and Andrew Skilleter (aged 16), today better known as a top artist well known for his Doctor Who work and, of course, for publishing the first edition of The Man Who Drew Tomorrow, Alastair Crompton’s story of the then recently deceased Dan Dare creator, Frank Hampson, in 1985.
Eric, who died in 2015, would go on to pen the “Dan Dire” parody in Comic Media News International in the 1970s and from 2004, in Spaceship Away.
Printed using a mimeograph on foolscap paper, the newsletter was just two pages long. Eric had had a letter published in Eagle in the issues cover dated 13th June 1964 and 7th November 1964 concerning his interest in Dan Dare and the newsletter. This must surely have helped raise awareness of the DDC, just as a letter published in WHAM! issue 140 in February 1967 helped Tony Roche bring attention to his Merry Marvel Fanzine.
While not the earliest comics fanzine produced this country the Dan Dare Club Newsletter is the earliest fanzine about a particular character.
Of course, what we want to know is – who did the drawings?
Looking back on the time, Andrew Skilleter exclusively told downthetubes, “It was heading for the mid 1960s, I was captivated at the time by the way Dan Dare was re-energised by Keith Watson’s art and David Motton’s storylines. I was a huge fan of Keith’s art and then along came “All Treens Must Die” in 1964 which was the icing on the cake. Dan back in two pages of colour with the Mekon, Treens, Venus and the Anastasia. It was a simply fantastic at the time and it was this inspired me to do something. I guess there must have been other factors but I can’t recall the sequence of events. Certainly Eric MacKenzie got in touch but I imagine we must have formed the Club together. We were certainly ignited by the same passion. Robert Bartholomew and later the Eagle staff were supportive and unbelievably printed a nice little plug for DDC on Eagle’s letters page!”
As for the question of who drew the artwork, Andrew said, “Certainly Eric grabbed the art duties initially although his style was not really suited to reproducing Frank Hampson’s creations. At some point the legendary Des Shaw, now of Spaceship Away, came on the scene with his wonderful line drawings of Frank’s Dan Dare which even impressed Frank Hampson who was like a God to us! Not only did Des do the art but provided the printed sheets to accompany the newsletter. I had no desire (or time) to draw myself. Later the simple newsletter evolved into the more mature Astral fanzine with more contributors, still with Des Shaw providing even better reproduced art. I did attempt a spin-off strip which I had to draw & ink on tracing paper but I prefer not to remember it! My skills were editorial and production and these are still in play with the current revival of the legendary Who Dares Publishing.”
The Dan Dare Club Newsletter morphed into Astral: Official Journal of the International Dan Dare Club with Issue 7, published in January 1966 and Dan Dare fandom has continued in many guises to this day, now represented by the Eagle Society and its quarterly publication Eagle Times.
Although better known for his work illustrating Doctor Who, as well as being one of the founders of the original Dan Dare Club and publisher of The Man Who Drew Tomorrow, Andrew also published a book of ex-Eagle artist Frank Bellamy‘s Radio Times Doctor Who illustrations, Timeview. Today he now runs Who Dares Publishing with Matthew Doe and his web site features a lovely homage painting depicting Frank Hampson and some of the Dan Dare characters, which was included as a frontispiece to Alastair Crompton’s Tomorrow Revisited (published by PS Publishing).
It was Matthew Doe who had the inspired idea of bringing together their skill sets and relaunching Andrew’s legendary 1980s publishing company, Who Dares, beginning with the first ever Target Art Calendar featuring a selection of Andrew’s cover paintings. During 2017, Who Dares intends to launch a number of high quality art based projects of distinction.
Their most recent release is Evolution: Variations on a Theme, a beautiful-looking limited edition Hardback Art Portfolio featuring the work of concept artist Chris Thompson, known for his work with Big Finish and Anderson Entertainment, amongst others. His stained glass Dalek image for the Big Finish production Order of the Daleks went viral late last year.
Andrew has also recently released a limited edition print of his Radio Times cover that promoted The Five Doctors, first published in 1983.
Other great art projects are also in the works.
• The current Eagle Society, the modern club dedicated to all things Eagle and Dan Dare, has documented many of the activities of earlier fan groups in the pages of its publication Eagle Times
Article with thanks to Richard Sheaf and the Boys Adventure Blog