Remembering Nick Spender: A Personal Tribute by John Ridgway

John Ridgway pays tribute to comic artist and writer Nick Spender, who died in Janaury, pondering roads sadly not taken and what might have been…

I worked with Nick Spender on two occasions, both of which, sadly, came to naught. I’m afraid I can’t remember how we came to work together initially, but I asked Nick to work on “Frontiers”, a long-standing idea I had for a science fiction series I had first started to develop for Eureka, a comic magazine proposed by Derek Lord, who was the editor of the famous Eagle comic. “Dan Dare” had been a great influence on me, and I wanted produce something along similar lines but with a background of up-to-date science. Sadly, Derek died and that was that for the time being.

Then Print Media Productions STRIP magazine came along, and I offered [the Bosnian publisher, Ivo Milićević, a revised version. For STRIP, I was colouring my black and white series, “Age of Heroes” by Jim Hudnall, with the intention that Jim would write more stories. So I asked Nick to produce the artwork for “Frontiers”.

Nick had been trained in art by Frank Hampson, the creator of Dan Dare, and there are great similarities between Nick’s style and that of Frank Hampson. Both worked meticulously from photos, producing very strong and realistic line art. In addition to the script I supplied Nick with 3D models of the spacecraft and equipment. These models could have been the basis of toys and provided and additional source of revenue for Nick and I as well as the publisher.

"Frontiers" by John Ridgway and Nick Spender © John Ridgway
"Frontiers" by John Ridgway and Nick Spender © John Ridgway
"Frontiers" by John Ridgway and Nick Spender © John Ridgway
“Frontiers” by John Ridgway and Nick Spender © John Ridgway

I was very pleased with Nick’s work and we talked at length about the imaginary planet Ares we had circling the star Lalande 21185 which is 8.1 light-years from Earth. Nick suggested that Ares might be tidally locked and I started to work in the consequences of that. Unfortunately, STRIP was abruptly cancelled, and our work went for nothing.

When Rod Barzilay decided to retire from Spaceship Away, his “Dan Dare” story, “Green Nemesis” was nearing conclusion. At that time Don Harley, one of the early Dan Dare artists, had dropped out of drawing the story and the art duties had been taken over by Tim Booth, and I approached him with the idea for a Dan Dare story set at a time after Dan had returned from Terra Nova. Dan’s trip to that planet had been to try to find his father. Frank Hampson dropped out of “Dan Dare” half way through that story, and the story appeared to me to change direction.

I read somewhere that Frank had envisaged Dan travelling from world to world to find his father. Instead, Dan’s father had been killed in a war and Dan returned to Earth. The strength of length of Dan Dare stories fell and the Eagle declined into near oblivion.

As Dan had never found his father’s grave, I reasoned that his dad may have survived. My story would take Dan back to Terra Nova, and continue the search. Tim didn’t like my script, so I approached Nick. I had produced the first page using CGI models and Nick reworked the page and drew page two. At that point, I pulled out of Spaceship Away, after a disagreement. And that was that.

Dan Dare - Return to Terra Nova by John Ridgway and Nick Spender - Page 1
Dan Dare - Return to Terra Nova by John Ridgway and Nick Spender - Page 2

About that time, Nick had moved to Scotland and later split with his wife. I believe he tried to obtain work on Commando stories at DC Thomson. I knew he was completing a e-book on The Story of The Dambusters, but was worried about work and lack of income. I tried to help him by giving him my contact at Oxford University Press, but I don’t know how that went.

Nick was a great guy to work with. He produced well-researched meticulous work. He should have been able to work anywhere – very like his mentor Frank Hampson.

John Ridgway

Our full tribute to Nick Spender, outlining just some aspects of his 40-year career as an illustrator, comic artist and writer is here on downthetubes

Categories: British Comics, Comics, Creating Comics, Features, Obituaries

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  1. In Memoriam: Comic Artist and Writer Nick Spender –

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