This series of articles by Jeremy Briggs covers the dummy comics that were created through the years as potential ‘modern’ versions of the original Eagle comic from the 1950s and 1960s, none of which ever made it to newsagents’ shelves. Lost Eagle and Lighting from the 1970s are here and Terra Nova from the 1980s is here, while the story moved into the 1990s with Eureka which is here.
However, Eureka did not die with the original version from 1998 as a second very different looking Eureka emerged at the turn of the century.
After the original Eureka dummy had been printed, artist John Ridgway received a copy and got in touch with Derek Lord. John became Art Director for Eureka and put his skills with computers, and his contacts in the comics industry, to good use revamping Eureka into a more modern looking product. This second incarnation of Eureka retained some of the strip ideas of the first and expanded on them.
This version of Eureka retained “Ocean Interpol” with artist Martin Baines creating two pages of black and white artwork which was then digitally coloured by John Ridgway. This time, the script is actually credited to Jim Bond and while it retains the initial attack from the air on a supertanker near Bermuda and a surfacing submarine from the previous version, it tones down the more overt science fiction elements of its predecessor giving it more of an action adventure feel.
“Hadrian’s Heroes” was also retained but with the death of its original artist, Gordon Matthews, was handed over to Nigel Parkinson who had Nick Pemberton write a new script for him to work from. Nick also wrote Nigel’s “Grange Hill” and “Baywatch” strips in the BBC’s Fast Forward comic and between them they created a much improved Asterix-style two page strip that Nigel coloured (and has since had his Beano colourist Nika Narkova recolour it for his own blog).
Nick completed three other “Hadrian’s Heroes” scripts, which Nigel never had time to illustrate and while Derek Lord and Eureka production manager Bob Brimmell had talks with several publishers, and were considering doing standalone Hadrian books if Eureka fell through, unfortunately nothing more came of the strip.
New to this version of Eureka were two strips created by John Ridgway himself, the science fiction space opera “Frontiers” and the fantasy “Wereworld”.
For Eureka, “Frontiers” is set in 2096 and involves Commander Sarita Pike of the UN Interplanetary Survey Corps being called back from holiday to pilot a zeno-paleontologist to Ares to help survey the large ant-like lifeforms recently discovered there. John chose to illustrate the full colour strip using computer graphics rather that his more traditional line and ink.
“Wereworld” was set in a middle ages style land in which humans existed with half-human, half-animal were-creatures. A young nobleman called Darrak is ambushed in the woods and a were-wolf and were-stag come to his rescue.
John was both the writer and artist on “Frontiers”, whilst “Wereworld” was handed over to Commando writer Ferg Handley and 2000AD artist John M Burns, who completed two pages of painted colour strip work as well as a painted single page illustration that could have be used as a cover or a pin-up.
Daily Express “Gun Law” artist Harry Bishop had previously created an unpublished western strip called “Arrowsmith”. Set in 1887 Arizona two youngsters are about to be strung up by a mob when ex-lawman Wade Arrowsmith interrupts them.
Bishop had written and illustrated it as a three panel newspaper strip and Ridgway reformatted this into two full pages and coloured it. As Bishop’s vision was fading at the time, he would not have illustrated it if the title had gone weekly and while Ridgway had approached Chris Weston to consider taking on the art duties, no new art was created.
The new humour strip for this version of Eureka was ‘Myth-Adventures’ written and illustrated by Marvel UK artist Tim Perkins. This was a two page colour strip set in a world of knights, dragons, fairies and ogres which, as the title might suggest, played on words with the text often being at humorous odds with the image presented.
Also humour, this time three-panel humour, was writer John Gatehouse and Dandy and DFC artist Dave Windett‘s “Wacky World Of Animals” which in addition to appearing in this version of Eureka has had various homes, including the Pet Mad and Born Free Foundation websites.
Finally, Eureka had a painted centrespread dated 1999 by artist Graham Bleathman under the title “Eureka Spotlights: Firefighters”. The painted illustration depicted both a cutaway of the Kent Fire Service’s Brigade Headquarters as well as short sequential depiction of how the brigade responded to a 999 call.
This image was requested by Derek Lord, and may have been used elsewhere by the brigade, while John Ridgway wrote a factual text page to go along with it for the electronic dummy.
Other factual text articles written for the dummy were all two pages long and included “Hill Walking, Scrambling and Gorge Walking” by the appropriately named Tony Greenbank, “Ephesus: A Jewel Of The Ancient World” by Andrew Coffey, “Understanding Horses” by Sheila Morley, and “Astro: Astronomy And AstroPhysics” which asked “Where Did The Moon Come From?” and was not credited.
No professionally printed dummy of this second Eureka was ever published, as technology had reached the point where dummies could be sent to prospective clients on computer disc. John Ridgway formatted the dummy in a variety of different ways, including as a weekly comic and as a longer monthly comic magazine.
As can be seen from the “Frontiers” cover version included here, which has no on-cover date or cover price, at least one version displayed the possibility of using sponsorship or exclusivity to specific seller as a potential launch pad.
It was also formatted as a Sunday newspaper supplement and as a shorter Saturday newspaper insert. The Sunday Times was running its Funday Times comics supplement at the time and Eureka was offered to the Mail On Sunday as a similar newspaper section but was turned down. Despite this, John Ridgway continued to develop his own “Frontiers” and “Wereworld” as standalone projects.
In the end, despite all the effort and man-hours of unpaid work put into it, nothing came of either version of Eureka as a publication. Derek Lord passed away on 23 September 2004 at the age of 77 after a short illness and Eureka effectively died with him.
A decade and a half later and non-licensed weekly comics for a post-nursery audience have all but disappeared from the newsagents’ shelves. But there is one modern weekly comic title that could be said to fit into the Eagle mould, or at least the mould that these Eagle wannabes were using.
With adventure strips mixed in with humour strips as well as factual strips and how-to features, The Phoenix, now in its seventh year of publication with over 380 issues under its belt, and backed up with many compilation reprint books, has perhaps finally filled the gap that Lost Eagle, Lighting, Terra Nova and both Eurekas were targeted at.
REPLACING EAGLE – READ THE SERIES
• Martin Baines – martin-baines.co.uk
• Harry Bishop (1920-2015) – Bio at Illustration Art Gallery
• Graham Bleathman – grahambleathman.co.uk
• Nigel Parkinson – nigelparkinsoncartoons.blogspot.co.uk
• Tim Perkins – wizards-keep.com
• John Ridgway – Profile on Wizard’s Keep
• Dave Windett – davewindett.com
• The Phoenix – thephoenixcomic.co.uk
With thanks to Martin Baines, Graham Bleathman, John Freeman, Nigel Parkinson, Tim Perkins, and John Ridgway