In Praise of… Dan Dare and Trigan Empire Comic Artist and Illustrator Oliver Frey

CRASH Issue 32 - Dan Dare cover by Oliver Frey

Illustrator Oliver “Oli” Frey is well known for his work in many fields – as a book and magazine cover artist, and as a comics artist. Although he started his comics career in the 1960s on Fleetway’s War Picture Library, he’s perhaps best known for his work on “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire” for Look and Learn,Terminal Man” (written by Kelvin Gosnell) for the computer magazines CRASH and Zzap64 – and, of course, “Dan Dare” for the revived Eagle of the 1980s.

He studied film at the London School of Film Technique and began drawing comic strips to support himself, initially working for Fleetway’s picture libraries.

No Mercy from 'The Monsters of Caton' - an episode of
No Mercy from ‘The Monsters of Caton’ – an episode of “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire” by Oliver Frey for Look and Learn, published in 1977. Via Book Palace | © TimeUK

He continues to earn acclaim to this day for his celebrated 1930s-style opening sequence for the film Superman: The Movie, released in 1978.

Hot for Boys by ZackThrough the late 1970s and the 1980s Frey was a prolific creator of gay erotic art, usually published under the pen name Zack. These included “Rogue”, a comics series featuring a big, muscular bad-boy hero for HIM Magazine, a monthly gay male pornography publication which he and his partner Roger Kean owned, along with related titles.

(The entire strip was republished in Hot for Boys in 2011 – we suspect the current price for a copy of over £1000 may be an error).

Oliver also produced, edited, and illustrated several issues of Man-to-Man Magazine. Some of his gay erotic work was included in an exhibition at the British Library in 2014.

Oliver’s interest in Dan Dare began at an early age. Now a British resident, Oliver was born in Zurich in 1948. When he was almost eight, the Frey family went to live in Britain and on the flight, a steward handed the puzzled Oliver a Dan Dare badge.

He had never heard of the Pilot of the Future, but discovered, tucked under the cushions of a sofa in the hotel the family stayed in for a week, copies of Eagle comic, and the badge and the Dan Dare strip matched up.

At school in Wembley, he discovered his school friends were comics mad – a new experience, as the kind of weekly comics then published in Britain weren’t a feature of his Swiss life. He was immediately taken by the quality of the artwork in Eagle, immersing himself in the deeds of Dan Dare and the dastardly Mekon, and learning to draw in part by copying the stories, particularly influenced by Frank Bellamy’s work for the comic.

Despite pitching several times, he never gained work on the original Eagle but later in life he got the chance to combine his cover work for CRASH and Zzap 64 with his love of Dan Dare for two covers to promote two of Virgin’s Dan Dare computer games.

Shown below is the original artwork for both covers and the final, published cover of the issue of Zzap64 published in 1988.

CRASH Issue 32 - Dan Dare cover art by Oliver FreyZzap64 36 - Dan Dare Cover art by Oliver Frey

Zzap64 36 - Dan Dare Cover by Oliver Frey

Several of Frey’s painted front covers for Fleetway’s War Picture Library were reproduced from the original art in two of David Roach’s books, Aarrgghh!! It’s War in 2007 and The Art of War in 2008.

Frey has illustrated numerous books under his own name, and over twelve under the pseudonym Zack. The classic video gaming magazine Retro Gamer has also featured Frey’s artwork on its cover, and their are huge galleries of his art on his official web site.

Crash has recently been revived as an annual by Oliver, Roger Kean and Chris Wilkins. It’s been funded via Kickstarter and should be back from the printers soon. You can pre-order it from Fusion Retro Books.

Web Links

• Oliver Frey Official Site: oliverfreyart.com

• Zack Art: zack-art.com

ComicArtFans: Oliver Frey Trigan Empire Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3 | Gallery 4
Compiled by Geoff West from the Illustration Art Gallery/ Book Palace

Buy The Fantasy Art of Oliver Frey by Roger Kean on Amazon.co.uk (using this link helps support downthetubes)

A Guide to The Trigan Empire strip
This site is the work of the Don Lawrence Collection and includes links to buy the high quality collections of the strip

Jeremy Briggs’ Bear Alley piece about Oli Frey’s work on his short lived Frighteners magazine

CRASH Online

The best online site dedicated to CRASH magazine (1984­92), with full screen covers, editorial detail and game reviews — a chance to see what much of Oliver Frey’s artwork looked like when it was plastered with cover lines

With thanks to Richard Sheaf and A Stuart Williams

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.

%d bloggers like this: