Eagle, “The New National Strip Cartoon Weekly”, was launched in April 1950.
With the end of the post-war paper rationing this big, tabloid-sized, colourful comic immediately made the small, limited colour, text heavy and illustration light, story papers that to then had dominated newsagents counters for the weekly young boy’s market look very dated. That first issue introduced the country to Dan Dare and Captain Pugwash while the comic would publish Tintin the following year, the first time that the now famous strip was printed in English. The comic’s format was so successful that it was sold to many different countries and the title continued in Britain from 19 years before being amalgamated into Lion in 1969.
Organised Eagle fandom began while the title was still being published in the mid-1960s with what today look like relatively crude, typed newsletters. However they provided a focus for Eagle fans that has continued right through to the present with Eagle Times, the Eagle Society’s quarterly A4 magazine, which has now reached its 26th year of publication. With such fan appreciation and examination for over forty years, Eagle rivals 2000AD for the title of the most heavily researched and documented British comic. Indeed Eagle fans could well be forgiven for thinking that all that could be discovered about Eagle has been and there is nothing left to uncover. However over the last few years that has not been the case.
While it had been long known that there was a dummy copy of issue 1 that included early incarnations of familiar Eagle characters including ‘Chaplain Dan Dare’, plus a few that didn’t make it to the published version, 2008 saw the discovery of a dummy of issue 2 that had never been seen before, 2011 revealed for the first time the original pencils for one of L Ashwell Wood’s 600+ cutaway paintings that were featured throughout the title’s nineteen years of publication, while 2012 saw the publication of an immense amount of information on the fondly remembered, but incredibly poorly documented, Dan Dare radio series broadcast by Radio Luxembourg in the early 1950s, plus the rediscovery of several recordings of individual episodes.
2013 has now turned up another unexpected piece of the Eagle jigsaw puzzle.
In 2011, here on downthetubes, we highlighted a page of original artwork that was published in Daniel Tatarsky’s Dan Dare biography book. This page appeared to be Dan Dare commanding a space fighter squadron called “Eagle Force” – but no-one recognised it from a comic publication or could agree on who the artist was.
We suggested that it might be something to do with a piece of Frank Bellamy Dan Dare artwork what was published in 1998 in the Eagle fanzine Sufferin’ Satellites and which was attributed to a previously undocumented 1970s era Eagle re-launch that never happened.
Since that piece on downthetubes, a second page of Eagle Force artwork has surfaced but, unfortunately, added no new information to the search. The trail has remained cold, a British comics mystery that, despite the best efforts of the British comics community, both fans and professionals, refused to give up its secrets – until now.
David McDonald, while researching the latest in his series of Comic Archive publications Beyond 2000AD, has uncovered the backgrounds of both the Frank Bellamy and the Eagle Force artwork. He has discovered that this lost Eagle from the 1970s was indeed genuine and the reason that he knows that with certainty is that he has interviewed its commissioning editor, Doug Church.
During the interview David asked Doug about the pages, who confirmed that the Dan Dare strip that we have been calling “Eagle Force” was indeed created for this lost Eagle and that the artist who was commissioned to illustrate it, and whose identity provoked so much debate when downthetubes originally ran that first Eagle Force page, was in fact Joe Colquhoun, better known, of course, for his work on “Roy of the Rovers” and “Charley’s War”.
IPC’s Managing Editor Jack Le Grand tasked Doug with producing a new version of the Eagle in 1972. He was sent to Joe Colquhoun, and Doug told David he recalled that up to four pages of colour art were produced by Colquhoun for the comic.
Doug also commissioned Frank Bellamy to draw a cover, but didn’t design the one that has been published in various zines and on various web sites, including downthetubes, and also did some interior artwork and layouts, including several features, one on football and rising star Kevin Keegan, another on Spike Milligan and even one on children’s fashion.
The two pages of art that have surfaced in the intervening years are the ones he
commissioned Joe Colquhoun to do, but Doug pointed out that the face of Dan Dare was redrawn by him in the pages to have a more familiar ‘Dare’ look. He thinks the writer of the strip would have been either Tom Tully or Geoff Cowan as these were Le Grand’s “go-to” script writers.
Doug doesn’t recall what happened to the planned comic as he was transferred to the ailing Practical Hi-Fi magazine, and was there only a short while and was made managing editor. When he left, the artwork was all unlettered and the
cover had no design – but the price suggests it was probably going to be published on high quality paper as 10p back then was a high price for a comic, on a par with Look and Learn – most comics cost much less.
• David’s full interview with Doug Church about lost Eagle, Eagle Force and much more besides is published in Comics Archive: Beyond 2000AD which is available directly from David’s Hibernia Comics on-line shop as both printed and e-publication versions. There are more details of Beyond 2000AD and David’s other titles at the Hibernia Comics blog