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Motton’s Memories: An Interview with one of Dan Dare’s early writers

Eagle writer David Motton

Eagle writer David Motton

Thanks to a chance discovery on the Internet, we’re pleased to be able to present this rare interview with comics writer David Motton, whose career spanned three decades of British comics publishing, but is probably best known for his “Dan Dare” stories for Eagle, most drawn by Keith Watson.

Before he went freelance as a writer, David worked for the Fleetway on the editorial staff of Sun comic, becoming its editor in its final years, after which he took over the editorship of Knockout and Film Fun – simultaneously for a while. He also scripted many stories during his staff years, notably “Jet-Ace Logan” and “Max Bravo – The Happy Hussar”.

As well as “Dan Dare” (and at the same time), David’s many credits include “Skid Solo” for Tiger, “The Guinea Pig” for Eagle, “Burke’s Law” for early editions of TV Century 21, “The Woodentops” for Pippin, and “Space Patrol” and some “Doctor Who” stories for TV Comic.

“I produced much other work too, both before and after,” he says. “As time went by and jobs moved on in the nature of things, I wrote many articles for Tell Me Why and Look And Learn.

“In the early 1970s the London markets for my work closed down and I then spent a good few years, until the end of my writing days, working for D.C. Thomson of Dundee. My work spanned a wide range of their publications including, among others Commando (I actually wrote the opening issues of these under a pseudonym back in the early 1960s), Wizard, Hotspur, Valiant, Mandy, Bunty, Debbie, Judy and, finally, ‘Desperate Dan’ in The Dandy.”

David’s time on “Dan Dare” is considered controversial by some, but it’s clear he remembers working on the strip with fondness — and is somewhat stunned by the sheer volume of inaccurate information about him and his work on the web.

We’re delighted to be able to present David’s account of his comics career, together with questions posed about his work by several British comics fans, including Rod Barzilay, Jeremy Briggs, Stephen Winders and others. Over to David…

Some words from David…

It is a great source of amazement to me that there is so much interest in my career 26 years after it came to an end. Since there is this interest I feel honoured and very grateful that I have been given this chance to put on record for all the world to see, my version of my professional life as a writer with an explanation of the circumstances pertaining at the time.

On the downside, I feel saddened and indeed embarrassed by how much I have forgotten and how little of the remainder that I can clearly remember. I suppose to have remembered every detail of everything that happened 50 years ago and up to the present day I would need a brain cavity as large as the Mekon’s. To counteract the vagaries of memory I have spent several hours searching through old files, diaries and other stored material for as much physical confirmation as possible.

I have answered your questions as truthfully and as accurately as memory and my records permit. I must emphasise that what I have written below is my personal version of events as experienced and as remembered by me. Others may have recounted the same events differently, according to how these events appeared to them. It does not always mean that one of us is right and the other wrong, merely that our experiences, memories and conclusions from them are different. At least by being able to give my personal account, a clearer understanding of those unique times may be the result.

Rather surprisingly, although I have been derogatively described as one of “the professionals of Fleet Street” and Keith Watson “had to contend with my stilted writing”, my dire story lines, wooden dialogue and laboured attempts at humour, I seem to have left a long lasting footprint on this planet. (Some perhaps would say “a scuff mark”).

Had the despised “professionals of Fleet Street” not moved in, Dan Dare and Eagle would very likely have died long before they did. It is true that the take-over of Odhams by the IPC marked the end of a vintage era for Dan Dare. As the sole survivor from that golden age Keith Watson is seen as a hero figure, whilst as one of the “professionals of Fleet Street”, according to some comments on the web, I am on a hiding to nothing.

— David Motton, February 2011

Early Days

downthetubes: You worked for The Amalgamated Press/Fleetway on the editorial staff of Sun, becoming its editor in its final years, after which you took over the editorship of Knockout and Film Fun – simultaneously for a while. How did you become an editor and, indeed, come to work in publishing?

David: After my National Service, in the Royal Army Educational Corps, attached to 4Bn (Uganda) King’s African Rifles, serving in Kenya and Uganda, I was looking for work in journalism. My father happened to meet the Leonard J Matthews, who worked for Fleetway Publications, in the course of business. Leonard, [who later became a director of the company], was looking for a subeditor/writer and I was given the job on Sun [the comic, not today’s tabloid newspaper — Ed]. Michael Butterworth [best known for his work on “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire” for Look and Learn] was the script editor at that time and ‘taught me my trade.”

From then on it was a natural progression, writing “Billy The Kid”, “Max Bravo” and “Jet-Ace Logan” and other scripts. Nothing dramatic. I simply enjoyed the work and the writing. As an indirect result of take-overs in the industry the time came when it suited me to become fully freelance as a writer. This I did, and continued to write for Fleetway as well as other houses as a freelance.

Leonard J Matthews gave me my start, encouragement and opportunities, which we all need when we are young. I was in my very early twenties at the time. I worked on his staff and then as a freelance writer for his various publications over several years and in the minds of many I suppose I was always associated with him, although I did not become one of his inner circle.

He was a very talented man, quick with ideas, bursting with energy (frighteningly so at times).

He was an empire builder. In fact his hero was Napoleon (the “Max Bravo” connection here). He had considerable successes and some ‘Waterloos’. My career with him, as elsewhere, was that of a writer pure and simple. I took no active part in the political side of publishing but I was of course at times affected by it – both favourably and unfavourably.

downthetubes: What were the major day to day challenges editing comics and magazines back then?

David: Getting work in from freelance writers and artists on time (I believe editors had that problem with me later on!)

downthetubes: Do you think it’s harder for people to break into publishing these days?

David: I have no idea. It is probably just as hard, but it is hard to break into any job really. It usually means starting at the bottom and working hard and making the most of your luck.

downthetubes: You wrote many comic strips during your staff years, notably strips such as “Jet-Ace Logan” and “Max Bravo – The Happy Hussar”. Did you have a personal brief that you worked to in terms of the kind of stories you told, or did you respond to editorial briefings?

David: I don’t understand the question, probably because our method of working was not very formalised. Michael Butterworth created and wrote the first series of the two characters that you mention. I cannot remember now whether I was asked to carry them on or whether I asked to carry them on. Such things just tended to happen.

There was no grand plan, no formal editorial conference. I probably said that I liked the characters and was given them, so allowing Michael Butterworth to move on to other things. I am glad they did give them to me, to make ‘my own’ for quite a long while.

downthetubes: You also wrote “Captain Condor”… was that the first time you worked with artist Keith Watson?

David: I have no recollection of writing “Captain Condor”. I can find no mention of the strip in my diaries, nor any material relating to this character amongst other material from that period. If anyone can come up with hard evidence that I did write “Captain Condor”, I would be very interested to see it.

downthetubes: You wrote “Jet Ace Logan” stories for Tiger. What do you recall of that character and working on that title?

David: As far as I can remember, I wrote only one or two Jet-Ace stories for Tiger. I would have kept the characters the same and working for that ‘title’ would have made no difference to me as a scriptwriter visiting the office once a week. I also wrote several Jet-Ace Logan 64 page digests.

Operation Earthsaver - David's first Dan Dare story. Art by Keith Watson

Operation Earthsaver – David’s first Dan Dare story. Art by Keith Watson

The Dan Dare Years

David: Before I answer the questions posed, I have the feeling from some of them that the uniqueness of the Hampson Studio production method is not fully appreciated. It was a one off.

I was still in the Sixth Form when the first Eagle appeared, so my knowledge of the Hampson studio in its genesis is second-hand. Nonetheless it was still operating when I entered the industry and I understood that there was a team of artists working on Dan Dare. Two artists are always officially credited, as are always two writers. Frank Hampson drew Dan Dare, other artists drew other characters, or the backgrounds, or the machinery and so on, and this would have involved a great deal of ‘liaising’ and close co-operation and discussion.

Eagle was a highly staffed and expensive operation compared to the production methods extant in other publishing houses. On the one hand this was its strength; on the other its weakness.

All this had passed by the time I came to Eagle and Dan Dare. The Eagle office was then run much the same way as elsewhere in the industry, where the editorial office provided some of the initial ideas and some of the scripting from the staff, but was otherwise really no more than a sophisticated clearing house between scripts, artwork, lettering (done by hand in those days) and the printers. This was the system used to my certain knowledge by the Amalgamated Press/Fleetway, DC Thomson, TV Century 21 and TV Comic.

Operation Fireball by David Motton and Keith Watson

Operation Fireball by David Motton and Keith Watson

downthetubes: How did you come to write “Dan Dare”?

David: I was called in to write Dan Dare at the behest of Leonard Matthews, after Odhams was taken over by the IPC.

A few months previously I had been offered the editorship of Eagle, which I declined, preferring to continue as a freelance author.

downthetubes: You took over writing Dan Dare after 13 years of older storylines. How much did you know about the character and the strip’s backstory when you started? Did you need to read file copies of previous issues to bring you up to speed?

David: I remember that I had the first volume of file copies of Eagle. It would have been in these that I saw mention of The Last Three [in “The Ship That Lived”]. Other than having that file volume I was told that a fresh approach was needed. After all, to have attempted to recreate the series in the old style would have at best produced a pale imitation of the original if not something completely disastrous.

As a writer, I would not have found it helpful to have made too close a study in detail of the preceding stories. To do so would have cluttered up my mind with what had gone before, good though it may have been, thus making it difficult to break out with something fresh and breathe new life into the series.

downthetubes: Did you meet with Eagle editor Bob Bartholomew to discuss story development?

David: I submitted story lines for serials to Bob which he would read, comment upon and approve. I had a good working relationship with him.

downthetubes: Were you given any kind of brief regarding what the editor/publisher wanted from “Dan Dare” when you started, as while still being a popular character, he was no longer being given any special front cover treatment during most of your tenure?

David: As I said, I was told a fresh approach was needed. Briefings, as you call them, were the function of any editor, and they would be ongoing as necessary. Regarding my time working for Eagle, they would have been in the broadest terms, rarely about plot details.

downthetubes: Can you recall any particular inspirations for any of your “Dan Dare” stories, and what were they?

David: No. I did not rely upon inspiration. Had I done so as a professional writer I would have starved.

I certainly would not allow myself to be ‘inspired’ by another work, mine or that of another writer, to the extent that I would copy it. All my ideas and writings were original and individually worked for the story in hand.

I valued my professional integrity.

The Mekon returns to cause havoc in 'The Wandering World'. This is the original art for an Eagle cover by Keith Watson.

The Mekon returns to cause havoc in ‘The Wandering World’. This is the original art for an Eagle cover by Keith Watson.

downthetubes: The public credits for you suggest you wrote “Platinum Planet’, drawn by Don Harley, but is this correct? Some suggest it was written by Eric Eden and your first story is actually “Operation Earthsaver”.

David: My first “Dan Dare” script was “Operation Earthsaver”, which I submitted on 24th January 1962.

downthetubes: Shortly after you started, Keith Watson returned to draw the strip. Was this anything to do with your past connection with him on Lion?

David: I had no connection with him in Lion. It was probably due to Keith’s past connection with “Dan Dare” that he was given “Captain Condor”. In the Fleet Street ‘village’ it would have been widely known that Keith had worked on “Dan Dare”. As a freelance scriptwriter, I would not have been involved in the making of such editorial decisions.

downthetubes: As Keith had worked with the Frank Hampson studio team and was something of a fan, Keith tried to return the look of the strip to how it had been in the 1950s. Did you liaise with him on the kind of stories that would work best in light of this? For example, the strip goes back to the Hampson uniforms and ignores the later designs from Bellamy and others.

David: Keith may have liaised with the various editors of the day on ‘the look of the strip’. If he did, I would not have known. That would have been a matter strictly between artist and editor. We never liaised, not on the stories, not on anything. The stories were entirely mine.

It may surprise you to know that I only met Keith Watson once – maybe twice. Although a photograph of us together did appear in Eagle. I recall that it was posed as though we were liaising.

Let me explain.

In some cases, the writer and artist did meet. That would be when the writer was on staff and the artist was also on staff (a very rare thing in my day) or worked directly for the editor – that is, without an agent. An instance of this was when I was on the staff of the Sun and writing “Max Bravo” and the artist was Eric Parker, who did not use an agent.

However, if the writer were freelance he would post or hand the script to the editor who would read it then post it on to the artist or hand it to the artist’s agent. Thus writer and artist would hardly ever meet. That was the situation with Keith and myself.

The Tempus Frangit in flight in 'Wandering World'.

The Tempus Frangit in flight in ‘Wandering World’.

Even if the writer was on staff but the artist worked through an agent it would be highly unlikely that they would meet. Most agents were very protective of their artists. They kept their addresses ultra secret from the editorial staff.

There was a time when I was editing the Sun and writing “Jet-Ace Logan” for The Comet, the offices of which were adjacent to mine. John Gillat was the Jet-Ace artist and he worked through a very secretive agent, who also provided some of the artists that I used on the Sun. I was living in North London at the time, and one weekend I went to visit my godfather who lived in Peterborough. On arrival my godparent told me that a picture strip artist had moved in next door. “Would I like to meet him?” I did meet him. It was John Gillat with my latest Jet-Ace script pinned to his easel!

The agent, when I told him on Monday morning, was not a happy man.

When I say that writers and artists hardly ever met, and that I never liaised about scripts, there is always an exception to the rule. Whilst editing Film Fun I had regular weekly lunchtime meetings with Reg Parlett to discuss ideas and scripts in detail. He was a very talented comic ideas man.

Then again, during all the years that I wrote for D.C. Thomson of Dundee, I never once met an artist.

A cover for the Dan Dare story 'Wanderng World' by David Motton. Art by Keith Watson.

A cover for the Dan Dare story ‘Wanderng World’ by David Motton. Art by Keith Watson.

downthetubes: Did you know that Keith Watson was colour blind and that the previous scriptwriter Eric Eden was doing the colouring or backgrounds for Keith?

David: I was never aware of this. It is news to me.

downthetubes: Did you notice a change in the artwork or colouring when Eric Eden was unable to assist Keith in later stories?

David: As I said, I was never aware of this. and in any case as an outside scriptwriter I never handled the artwork, that was entirely within the editorial province.

A page from David Motton's best-remembered Dan Dare tale, 'All Treens Must Die'.

A page from David Motton’s best-remembered Dan Dare tale, ‘All Treens Must Die’.

downthetubes: In “All Treens Must Die” you used a group of Treens called “The Last Three”, which is perhaps the only reference to the original Frank Hampson stories in later Eagle. Was using these characters your idea, or Keith’s? Did you come up with a look for them or did Keith just run with your idea and provide designs?

David: It was my idea. All the scripts that I wrote were entirely my ideas, approved by the editor of the day. Keith drew the pictures as broadly specified in my scripts. He would create and provide the detail of costume, background, flora and fauna and much else. His part of the process was to illustrate the script. A story could fail or succeed according to how well an artist did this.

downthetubes: You mentioned ‘All Treens Must Die’ was cut short. Can you recall how the story would have played out if it hadn’t been ended sooner than you expected?

David: It would have ended as it was published, but in much more depth and with more incident and explanation.

And yes, I did have the longer version written. I think I may have the scripts, but I think that they should remain with me.

downthetubes: You also wrote the ‘Big City Caper’ which appeared in the Eagle just as gangs were fighting on the streets… was that intentional or pure luck?

David: The quick and honest answer is – pure luck. Although in hindsight there was probably ‘something in the air’ at that time that I picked up on.

David's creation Xel was a self styled rebel "Stolian Overlord", introduced to Earth from the planet Meit by the first voyage of the Tempus Frangit. A violent rogue of unknown origin, he was brought back to Sol system accidentally, and proved a dangerous and disruptive foe.

David’s creation Xel was a self styled rebel “Stolian Overlord”, introduced to Earth from the planet Meit by the first voyage of the Tempus Frangit. A violent rogue of unknown origin, he was brought back to Sol system accidentally, and proved a dangerous and disruptive foe.

downthetubes: You created the alien Xel (in ‘Operation Time Trap’), who became almost as popular a recurring villain as the Mekon, forming at times a three-sided conflict. Did you feel the need to make your mark on the strip with such a character nemesis for both Dare and the Mekon?

David: Yes. In those days Dan Dare was ‘my script’ which I was proud to be writing.

downthetubes: Connected with this, were you asked not to use the old characters Hampson had created too much , such as Professor Peabody, Sir Hubert etc.? (Although they did turn up occasionally)

David: Originally – yes.

downthetubes: Is this why you created your own characters for the strip – Banger, Spencer and Cob – and invented the time ship Tempus Frangit?

David: I would assume so. I really cannot recall my reasons for doing some things after all these years. Dan’s original spaceship Anastasia was limited in range to the solar system . The Tempus Frangit was a time breaking ship able to go to the stars.

downthetubes: Was Xel meant to return from the waters of the arctic at the end of the ‘Moonsleepers’? We never saw him fall in.

David: I cannot remember.

downthetubes: Was there a specific reason why Professor Peabody was married off? Was there an editorial decision not to have female characters?

David: Female characters had become acceptable in the 1950s and 1960s. In the Sun the eponymous Dick Turpin (scripted by Leonard Matthews, Mike Butterworth and myself, with art Hugh Mc Neil) had a very curvaceous companion — Moll Moonlight. In the same paper, Will Bonny, aka Billy the Kid, had a female companion. In “Jet-Ace Logan” I wrote a whole series with a youngish woman as Jet-Ace’s protagonist.

As for Professor Peabody, she had not appeared for a while and I thought an explanation was perhaps necessary. So I decided to marry her off. It would give a touch of realism and authenticity to the characters. All my idea. I remember wondering if it would be acceptable.

Then I went a stage further and decided to write out Sir Hubert in a heroic blaze of glory (literally) in a spaceship accident. Not approved. I think he was tamely retired.

downthetubes: Would you have written any of the strips that appeared in the Eagle Annuals from 1962 on?

David: I don’t know. It is possible, of course, but I doubt it very much.

downthetubes: The format of the Dan Dare strip changed several times during your tenure as writer – from cover and one colour page, to two interior b/w pages, to colour spread, to cover and one colour page again, and then a single colour page.

Can you remember how it changed the structure of your storytelling? For example, the covers were usually a single large frame with a few smaller frames (i.e. a lower frame count overall)?

David: They were all editorially imposed changes, and fortunately I was a fairly flexible writer in that respect, after all, I wrote for many formats and ‘frame counts’ in many magazines.

downthetubes: In the 1960s there seemed to be more text boxes on pages to tell the story than there was in the 50s, when it was mostly speech bubbles. Was this a 60s policy?

David: I assume you mean in “Dan Dare: scripts. It was not a policy as such, it was my style.

downthetubes: Only two original stories were published after your run on the character – “The Jupiter Menace”, which sees Dan promoted, and a short take about possible alien invasion, “Underwater Attack”. Why did you stop writing “Dan Dare” before these stories?

David: I was asked to stop. This is not an unusual happening for a professional, even one of long standing. There could be various reasons for this happening. For instance, when a new editor brings in his preferred writer, or the magazine is closing down, or the character is being replaced, or times are hard and all scripting is to be done ‘in house’, or there is a change of format or editorial policy etc., etc.

Looking back at the end of Dan Dare (or my part in it) there was probably a lot of boardroom activity going on at that time of which I would not have been aware, and even now is only a guess on my part. It does seem in hindsight that they had decided at a high level on a policy of using Dan Dare reprints or old stock. I don’t know.

The decision to hold a ‘boom issue’ that resulted in the truncating of “All Treens Must Die” would have been a board decision involving an additional budget, advertising and promotion schemes, a larger print order and distribution. Leonard Matthews was on the board, but he was just one amongst many, so I don’t think that we can blame him personally. Nor do I think that the decision was made to spite me or Dan Dare. Much wider considerations would have been at stake.

downthetubes: What were the high and low points on Dan Dare and do you recall what were favourite and least favourite stories? (and why)?

David: When you are writing a story it should always feel that it is the best story that you have ever written, so there are no highs nor lows as such. But if pressed I would say “All Treens Must Die” is my ‘favourite’ and the low point its enforced truncated ending.

downthetubes: Do you recall artist Brian Lewis ever working on Dan Dare?

David: No.

downthetubes: Are you surprised by how popular Dan Dare still is and how do you feel about your role in his success?

David: Yes… and pleased. Fiction is written to give pleasure and it is gratifying that one or two of my Dan Dare epics are continuing to give pleasure after so many years. I am proud that you think that my role has contributed to this success.

downthetubes: If you were asked to write a Dan Dare story today, how do you think you’d handle him?

David: I have no idea. It would depend on the format, the publisher/editor specifications etc. etc.

downthetubes: Would you bring back Xel?

David: Same answer.

downthetubes: Did you ever see any of the revived Dan Dare strips (2000AD 1977-1980) and Eagle (1982-1992), and if so, what did you think of them?

David: I never took an interest in them.

downthetubes: If Dan Dare is pilot of the future, how come no one has ever made a rip-roaring sci-fi blockbuster about his adventures (a film is apparently in development)? If you were to consult on such an endeavour what recommendations would you give the director? Who should play Dare and the Mekon?

David: I believe that the film rights were bought about a year ago by Richard Branson. Do directors ask for recommendations? As I understand it, actors will not be involved – some form of animation technique will be used.

Space Patrol in TV Comic Issue 705, written by David Motton.

Space Patrol in TV Comic Issue 705, written by David Motton.

After Dare

downthetubes: The Fireball XL5 annuals for 1965 and 1966 have a ‘D Motton’ in their writer credits. Do you recall writing for these editions (and if so, what?), and did you also wrote for Eagle‘s main competitors in the 1960s – TV Century 21 and Lady Penelope?

David: When I agreed to do this interview I decided to spend a few minutes researching myself on the web. What a strange concept! Instead of a few minutes I spent an entire evening. There was so much material. It was a very strange feeling and quite unnerving that there was so much about me that I had forgotten or could not remember even when my memory was jogged.

On the web, amongst other discoveries, I found that I had been credited with Fireball XL5 Annual 1966. I was so surprised in fact that I bought a ‘rare’ second hand copy on Amazon. It came from Australia. On first looking through I did not recognise anything. I have since discovered that I wrote all the text stories.

Has anyone ever thought of a word frequency count to identify authors?

In those days I wrote for all the main publishers and one or two of the smaller ones.

Alas, I cannot remember all the things that I wrote. Your readers probably know more about me on that subject.

downthetubes: You said earlier that you wrote ‘Burke’s Law’ for TV Century 21 – with licensed material like this, did you watch the series, or were you given material like scripts/photos to work from, as some other TV/comic writers were?.

David: I wasn’t given any aids for these, I simply watched TV. The rights were owned by Century 21’s parent company AP Films. Whilst editing Film Fun, I was in close contact with the film companies in Wardour Street and would attend press/ magazine/ or private screenings of films and be given the film scripts to aid me in adapting the film to picture strip or text stories, such as The Magnificent Seven, The Alamo, Spartacus and The Lost World.

downthetubes: Do you remember what stories you wrote for Doctor Who in TV Comic?

David: I wrote three stories for TV Comic, and also wrote “Deadly Cargo” and “The Pets” for the 1967 Doctor Who Annual.

The strip had been running for a while [since late 1964 – Ed], when the editor of TV Comic, George Marler, called me in to write the script, which I did. I recall that I was asked to stop because the original writer wanted the scripting back… and I think that it was the artist himself. I can’t recall the name of the artist.

downthetubes: You also wrote some nursery strips, which just had text boxes (in Rupert Bear format) that were completed in one or two pages as opposed to ongoing full comic strip stories. Was that a challenge?

David: Writing The Woodentops was different, of course, but I was versatile (says he modestly). It was for Pippin in 1967.

downthetubes: You worked on several comics for DC Thomson in the 1970s. Do you remember any particular strips or characters you enjoyed writing?

David: The era writing for DC Thomson was a highly enjoyable and pleasant one, with the opportunity to write a varied amount of material for boys, girls, text stories and comic characters. The editors always insisted upon a good story. A very satisfying thing for an author.

It would be invidious to single out particular stories, I like to think that they all had their merits, from the first one that I wrote for them… “Clumsy Claudia” in Diana (my daughter is convinced that I based this character on her) to the final item of my career, “Desperate Dan” in The Dandy.

downthetubes: It’s clear you did a huge amount of stuff for DC Thomson. The one thing to stand out other than Commando, is Desperate Dan. If the four most recognisable British comics characters to the general public are Dennis The Menace, Desperate Dan, Roy of the Rovers and Dan Dare then you wrote two of the four of them.

Did writing humour stories of such a recognisable character as Desperate Dan raise any particular problems compared to writing adventure strips or factual text articles?

David: Writing different characters was usually a matter of thinking myself into the character, nursery, comic or fighting man and then racking one’s brains for an idea and a storyline at an appropriate level. Factual texts required a great deal of research. There was no Google in those days so it required reading for each article perhaps three or four books, text books on history, astronomy, science, biography or whatever.

downthetubes: Commando is still going strong today, 50 years on from first launch. Are you surprised by its longevity?

David: I haven’t seen any recent issues, but those that I wrote some 50 years ago would probably put me in prison today when patriotism is equated with racism and almost every country in the world, especially Europe was portrayed as an enemy.

downthetubes: Did the fact that you were presumably geographically separate from the Dandy office in Dundee affect your way of working on the strips when you would have been used to being in or close to the offices of the London based comics?

David: The system of working was this. Once every six months the editors for the boys’ magazines would tour the UK meeting writers and artists. I would have a half of a day session with a group of two or three editors discussing storylines and ideas. Then I would go away and spend the following months writing the scripts. A similar procedure would be followed for the girls’ papers and again with the comics.

downthetubes: You wrote for both boys and girls comics – the latter no longer published, despite selling more than boys at one time. Did you approach strips for girls comics differently?

David: Of course. Boys required more action and spectacle. Girls enjoyed more plot, a deeper, stronger and more emotional storyline. In some ways there was more satisfaction writing for girls.

downthetubes: Do you have any thoughts on why boys comics have survived into the digital age buts girls haven’t?

David: No.

The Uninvited Death by David Motton

The Uninvited Death by David Motton

Finally…

downthetubes: What are you doing today?

David: Writing a novel, The Uninvited Death. I’m on the last couple of chapters. The writing is the easy bit. Finding a publisher will be the hard part…

downthetubes: Looking back, which parts of your comics career did would you rather forget…

David: I don’t know what I would rather forget. I’ve probably forgotten it!

downthetubes:  — And which parts did you most enjoy?

David: I enjoyed all my writing whilst I was doing it. When you stop enjoying writing you should stop writing, because it won’t be any good.

Having reviewed my long and varied career, writing the whole gamut of picture strips for boys and girls, text stories, educational features, comic characters and nursery (did I mention The Woodentops?) during which one of my stories was used as a basis for a film, two others were made into TV plays one of which was later written up as novel, I now conclude that those editors over those many years had a truer value of my qualities as a writer than a self-appointed critic on the web.

downthetubes: As someone with a long career editing and writing comics, do you think comics still have a future in the age of TV film and the Internet?

David: No. For some years now, they have been largely replaced by TV super hero cartoons and video games.

David, thank you very much for your time and your answers to the questions.

David: I thank you very much for your interest.

Further Reading…

Dan Dare Story Checklist – Google Docs

• There are many exampes of the art from David’s period on Dan Dare on Paul Stephnson’s ComicArtFans Galleries.

• Spaceship Away has published numerous interviews with Eagle and Dan Dare creators. Published three times a year, check it out at www.spaceshipaway.org.uk

• The Eagle Times is the magazine of the Eagle Society, dedicated to documentng Eagle and related title. Check out their blog for details of subscriptions at: http://eagle-times.blogspot.com

Obituary: Leonard Matthews (The Independent, 5th December 1997)

David Motton – Credits

An issue of the Sun comic

An issue of the Sun comic

Editorial Work

• The Sun comic (became editor)
Knockout
Film Fun

Writer

Adventure Comics

Commando
• Jet Ace Logan (Tiger, Space Picture Library)
• Max Bravo – The Happy Hussar
• Skid Solo – Tiger (circa 1965- 1966)
• Dan Dare – Eagle
• The Guinea Pig – Eagle
• Burke’s Law – TV Century 21
• Space Patrol – TV Comic (703 – 719)
• Doctor Who – TV Comic (699-709, 713-715 (May-August 1965)) Three stories: “The Gyros”, “Home to Hamelin” and “In Reverse”
TV Comic Annual 1967 – “Doctor Who – Deadly Cargo” (published as “Deadly Vessel”) and “Doctor Who – The Pets” (published as “Kingdom of the Animals”). The annual was published September 1966. The stories were untitled on publication; ‘Deadly Vessel’ and ‘Kingdom of Animals’ were later fan inventions. ‘Deadly Cargo’ and ‘The Pets’ were the correct titles on Motton’s scripts.

Also wrote strips for Wizard, Hotspur, and Valiant

Thanks to Paul Scoones for the Doctor Who strip information

Girls Titles

• Clumsy Claudia – Diana

Also wrote strips for Mandy, Bunty, Debbie, Judy

Humour

• Desperate Dan – The Dandy

Junior Titles

• The Woodentops – Pippin (20 – 34 (March 1967))

Features

Look and Learn
Tell Me Why

Work to Come…

The Uninvited Death from DAVID MOTTON

A writer reborn

Not Jet-Ace Logan

Not Dan Dare

Not a picture strip of any kind

but a MURDER MYSTERY

told in a strongly written collection of tales set in and around a market town hotel in Norfolk

David’s Dan Dare Credits

David’s many comic credits include the following Dan Dare stories (synopses from Nicholas Hill’s Dan Dare site)
• For a full guide to Dan Dare’s many appearances, see this downthetubes Google Doc
• There are many exampes of the art from David’s period on Dan Dare on Paul Stephnson’s ComicArtFans Galleries.

• Operation Earthsaver
Vol. 13, No. 10 to Vol. 13, No. 23.

The plant-life on Earth begins to grow at an alarming rate and the extra growth appears to be connected with a new satellite that was sent up into space to study cosmic rays. Dan, Digby and Professor Grainger travel to the satellite to investigate finding it damaged by signals from a distant planet where plant-life rules supreme. Dan and his team find themselves caught up in a “harvesting” spaceship from the planet that sucks them up together with other raw materials. Once on the planet, they teach its humanoid life-forms how to master the plants, thus ending the threat to Earth.

• The Evil One
Vol. 13, No. 24 to Vol. 13, No. 32.

Evil scientist Van Malus is being sought by a fleet of alien spaceships that cause havoc in the course of their search. He is eventually located in a funfair in Blackpool, where he has a secret base and killed. The aliens, satisfied that the “Evil One” is no more, return to their home planet.
Art by Keith Watson on ComicArtFans

• Operation Fireball
Vol. 13, No. 33 to Vol. 13, No. 42.

A cargo of highly unstable solvent being transported from Mars explodes and the spaceship carrying it crashes to Earth. The resultant intense fire is unquenchable and begins to spread, destroying everything in its path. Dan and Digby go to Mars to find out more about the mysterious cargo. A solution is found, but is itself very unstable. Eventually Dan and Digby manage to bring it back to Earth and the fireball is destroyed.

• The Web of Fear
Vol. 13, No. 43 to Vol. 13, No. 52.

Spiders living and breeding on a comet passing through the Solar System are intent on taking over the Earth. Their webs can destroy almost anything that touches them. When the great white webs are found all over the world, Dan is sent to the Moon to investigate. Some of the spiders stowaway on his ship and are brought back to Earth and begin to spread all over and around Spacefleet H.Q. T, where they pose an even greater threat by their ability to exert mental control over certain personnel.
Dan, Digby and Space Cadet Young, who first discovered the webs, decide to destroy the comet and thus put an end to the spiders’ breeding ground but, unbeknown to the spacemen, two rockets with atomic warheads have been dispatched to the comet. Cadet Young manages to destroy the warheads and thus saves Dan and Digby, who in turn are able to lay explosives and destroy the comet.
Their breeding ground gone, the spiders are soon overcome and life, once more, returns to normal at Spacefleet H.Q.

• Operation Dark Star
Vol. 14, No. 1 to Vol. 14, No. 9.

A new “dark star” and its attendant planet are discovered, and Spacefleet investigate. The expedition is led by an incompetent officer named Captain Egon who causes his spaceship to crash into the planet. Dan and Digby go to the rescue and find that Egon and his crew have been taken prisoner by some of the inhabitants of the planet. Dan rescues the prisoners, but Captain Egon is killed saving the crew from an alien who has managed to get on board.

• Operation Time Trap
Vol. 14, No. 10 to Vol. 14, No. 38.

While testing a new experimental faster-than-light spaceship, the Tempus Frangit, Dan and Digby land on a mysteriously changing world where they encounter the alien Xel. Xel intends to steal Dan’s ship to make his get-away from the planet. After many adventures and battles against the Stollites, who are under Xel’s influence, Dan takes off — unaware that Xel has stowed-away on his ship!
• Art by Keith Watson on ComicArtFans here and here

• The Wandering World
Vol. 14, No. 39 to Vol. 15, No. 13.

Dan, Digby and the stowaway Xel encounter a strange “Wandering World” on the edge of the Solar System. Exploring, they are cut off from their ship and discover that the world is being controlled by The Mekon who, with the aid of Xel, tries to capture Dan’s spaceship.
The two “baddies” fall out with each other and eventually Xel escapes in The Mekon’s spaceship.
Dan and Digby are both captured by the world’s inhabitants, known as Navs, but manage to escape and reach their spaceship. They begin their journey back to Earth with an injured Xel, and The Mekon, their prisoners!

• The Big City Caper
Vol. 15, No. 14 to Vol. 15, No. 22.

One of David’s favourite stories. Once back on Earth, The Mekon is put in a top-security prison and Xel is put in hospital to recover from the burns he received in the previous story. However, he escapes from the hospital and starts a rebellion amongst the teenagers of London. The rebels are eventually cornered by Dan and Digby at the top of the Post Office Tower. Xel is not a pleasant character and his followers are beginning to find him worse than the society they are rebelling against. The rebellion collapses and Xel is taken prisoner again.

• All Treens Must Die
Vol. 15, No. 23 to Vol. 15, No. 42.

Another of David’s favourite stories. The Mekon escapes from his high-security prison. He heads for Venus in the space clipper Magenta where he causes much mischief, using a ray that makes the Treens commit suicide. The Mekon is once more trying to conquer the Solar System, and this time he enlists the help of a mysterious group known as the “Last Three”. Dan and Digby follow and the Last Three are all eventually destroyed, the final one by The Mekon himself who thinks he has been betrayed by them. The Mekon appears to fall to his death in the final battle.

• The Mushroom
Vol. 15, No. 43 to Vol. 16, No. 6.

An enormous metal mushroom grows from a missile that lands in London. The Mekon is at work again and threatens destruction if his demands are not met. Eventually the satellite from which The Mekon is controlling the mushroom is destroyed by Dan and Digby.

• The Moonsleepers
Vol. 16, No. 7 to Vol. 16, No. 29.

Xel rears his savage head again in this story. With the help of The Mekon he has captured Sir Hubert and uses him as a hostage while he prepares to invade Earth from his base on Triton, one of the moons of Neptune. The Mekon, meanwhile, prepares to launch his invasion of Venus. Dan and Digby discover the twin plots and after being captured, they escape and return to Earth in a stolen spaceship to warn Spacefleet of the impending invasions. With the aid of the Therons, Xel and The Mekon are defeated.

• The Singing Scourge
Vol. 16, No. 30 to Vol. 17, No. 6.

Dan and Digby investigate a mysterious radiation emanating from Lapri, one of two planets orbiting the star Vega. They encounter the friendly Trons and the enslaving Vendals who use a ray projector to emit the “Singing Scourge” and hold their peaceful neighbours in bondage. Dan leads a successful revolt against the Vendals and then returns to Earth, taking with him the secret of the ray that will allow new forms of energy to be developed.

• Give Me the Moon
Vol. 17, No. 7 to Vol. 17, No. 26.

F.I.S.T., a terror organisation led by Laslo Romanov, disrupts food supplies coming to Earth from Venus. The organisation demands the Moon as its price for allowing the food supplies to come through unharmed. The World Government gives in to the demands, but plans to capture the FIST forces on their way to the Moon. Things go slightly wrong however and Dan’s craft is damaged and spins towards the Earth, where it crashes into the craft in which Laslo Romanov is making his get-away. Romanov is killed and without their leader the FIST operatives are soon overcome.

Dan Dare and Eagle are © Dan Dare Corporation

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