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Replacing Eagle: The Comics That Didn’t Make It – Part 1 Lost Eagle and Lightning

Hultons Eagle Letter Head
April 1950 saw the publication of the first issue of the weekly boy’s comic, Eagle. It was an immediate success with its mixture of historical, modern-day and futuristic adventure strips with some humour plus factual articles and cutaways, and, unlike so many of its weekly story paper competitors, it was big, bold and colourful.

The original weekly Eagle comic ran from 1950 to 1969 and was the patriarch for a family of similar titles with the format feminised into Girl, aimed at a junior audience with Swift, and even turned into a nursery comic in Robin. Eagle and Girl were successfully revived in 1982 and 1981 respectively and, while Swift never returned, Robin reappeared for a brief run in 1985. Whilst ‘new’ Eagle retained Dan Dare and the cutaways from the original run, the other comics simply reused the existing titles and had little in common with their forebears.

However there have been other attempts over the years to recreate Eagle or an Eagle-style comic.

The spaceship in the top right on this Eagle dummy, featuring a cover by Frank Bellamy, is taken from a "Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire" strip
The spaceship in the top right on this Eagle dummy, featuring a cover by Frank Bellamy, is taken from a “Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire” strip

In early 1973, IPC (the then Eagle copyright holders) produced an internal dummy of what was intended to be a high quality glossy weekly relaunch of Eagle. At a time when weekly boys’ comics like Valiant and Victor cost 3p, this new publication would have been 10p, the same price as IPC’s glossy colour magazine Look and Learn.

This ‘lost’ Eagle was set in motion by IPC editor Jack Le Grand, who contacted “Charley’s War” artist Joe Colquhoun to paint the main Dan Dare strip for it. This was a revamped Dan Dare leading a squadron of space fighter-ships called Eagle Force, which was based on a space station designated D9 – and who were presumably going to come to the rescue of the planet Usupios which is seen being invaded in the first two panels.

"Eagle Force" art by Joe Colquhoun for a planned Eagle revival in the 1970s
“Eagle Force” art by Joe Colquhoun for a planned Eagle revival in the 1970s

Colquhoun painted four pages of colour comic strip artwork for this new Dan Dare strip over Christmas 1972 which, when they were sent into IPC, had the Dare faces modified by art editor and designer Doug Church to apparently make them look more like the character.

Church contacted former Dan Dare artist Frank Bellamy for a painted cover, which was paid for in March 1973 and modified into a dummy cover by an unknown designer after Church had moved on to another title. Before that, however, Doug Church had produced some interior artwork and layouts for the dummy that included features on footballer Kevin Keegan, comedian Spike Milligan and children’s fashion.

The first two pages of Colquhoun’s artwork and the Bellamy cover survive to this day and are in the hands of collectors but, for reasons that can only be speculated at, this was an Eagle that never found its wings.

Marcus Morris reviews L Ashwell Wood's cutaway artwork for Eagle Volume 1 No. 22 in 1950
Marcus Morris reviews L Ashwell Wood’s cutaway artwork for Eagle Volume 1 No. 22 in 1950

In the same year, Eagle’s founding editor Marcus Morris, then at the National Magazine Company (the publisher of Cosmopolitan), had a similar idea for a 32 page weekly publication called Lightning.

To be edited by journalist David Jefferis, now best known as a Look-In artist, it would have had “Trigan Empire” artist Don Lawrence on the cover strip, the first part of which was set in frozen northern latitudes, and potentially included work from original Eagle’s cover and cutaway artist Roy Cross and a young Dave Gibbons, long before his version of Dan Dare appeared in 2000AD.

"Ships of the Sky", art by David Slinn, commissioned for the Lightning comic project. With thanks to David Slinn
“Ships of the Sky”, art by David Slinn, commissioned for the Lightning comic project. With thanks to David Slinn

Other strips featured a fictional air force interceptor pilot and factual ‘great escapes’ with Winston Churchill’s escape from a Boer prison in 1899, possibly being illustrated by Gibbons. The dummy had a previously painted aircraft carrier by Roy Cross as its centrespread while David Slinn illustrated a factual strip about early airship designers entitled “Ships Of The Sky”. Some of Slinn’s artwork for this, featuring Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin, still exists at least as a black and white image. The dummy was printed up in late November 1973, however in early 1974 the decision not to go ahead with launching the title was made.

Like Lost Eagle, the concept of Lightning never struck home and no dummies of either title are known to still exist.

A third weekly comic concept for which some copies of the dummy do still exist was Terra Nova, which will be covered in the next part of this series.

REPLACING EAGLE – READ THE SERIES

Introduction – How do you write about Comics That Were Never Published?Lost Eagle and LightningTerra NovaThe first EurekaEureka Revived

Further Reading

• Lost Eagle is covered in more detail in Eagle Times Vol 26 No 2 dated Summer 2013 and Vol 27 No 2 dated Summer 2014, and Spaceship Away Issue 35 dated Spring 2015, all articles by Jeremy Briggs. Note that the images of the Colquhoun Dan Dare pages in Spaceship Away were digitally ‘cleaned up’ by the editor and do not represent the art pages as they currently exist.

• Lightning is covered in more detail in Spaceship Away Issue 9 Summer 2006, article written by Alastair Crompton, and Issue 11 Spring 2007, article written by Lightning editor David Jefferis.

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Jeremy Briggs

News, reviews, interviews and features for print and on-line: Spaceship Away (since October 2005), Bear Alley (since February 2007), downthetubes (since June 2007), and Eagle Times (since October 2008). Plus DC Thomson's The Art Of Ian Kennedy, Titan’s Dan Dare and Johnny Red reprints, Ilex’s War Comics: A Graphic History and 500 Essential Graphic Novels, and Print Media’s The Iron Moon and Strip magazine.

One thought on “Replacing Eagle: The Comics That Didn’t Make It – Part 1 Lost Eagle and Lightning

  1. Bearing in mind that most comics of the 1950s were “read once, pass on or throw away”, the production costs of the Eagle were surely much higher than, say, the Dandy or Beano. What were the relative cover prices of the three in 1950? Also, I seem to remember the paper the Eagle was printed on was of better quality than the other two. The ink costs were surely higher? Although I recall some of the pages were in black and white only; such as PC 49. And what about the wages paid to the graphic artists who drew all the art work? Marcus Morris would have needed a lot of financial backing to launch the comic. Yet it was an immediate success. I recall buying it (or having my parents buy it) every week – most likely not from week one, but fairly soon after.

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