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Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future

Entry updated 14 February 2022. Tagged: Character, Comics, Radio.

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UK sf Comic-strip character, distinguished in appearance by his long chin and by the zigzag on the outer end of each eyebrow. Dan Dare was created by Frank Hampson for the weekly boys' comic Eagle, in which – with the sobriquet "Pilot of the Future" – he appeared with his Lancashire batman Digby from 1950 until the comic's demise in 1969. Hampson supervised a team of artists, model-makers and photographers to create a totally convincing scenario of the future, as governed by the United Nations Organization. Artists working under Hampson at various times included Jocelyn Thomas, Joan Humphries, Harold Johns, Greta Tomlinson, Bruce Conwell, Terry Maloney, Eric Eden, Don Harley (Hampson's main assistant from 1951), Keith Watson and Gerald Palmer. Dan Dare stories generally dealt with the exploration of the solar system, individual stories often centring on conflicts between Dare and the Mekon, a green-skinned, dome-headed Venusian despot (see Little Green Men). Under Hampson's firm control, pictorial authenticity was achieved through the use of scale models, and characters were drawn from photographs of real people; Hampson was himself the strip's first writer and researched every element of the story to ensure scientific accuracy (Arthur C Clarke was adviser for some months). Graphic stories also appeared in a number of Eagle annuals: one of the best loved of these, "Operation Moss" (in Eagle Annual Number 8, graph anth 1959), sees London overwhelmed by a plague of rapidly and explosively spawning Alien puffballs.

Overwork and illness meant that Hampson could not always involve himself in the final artwork; in these instances, visuals were produced by Hampson's studio under his supervision and the final artwork was produced by Desmond Walduck. Scriptwriters were brought in to lighten the load, including Guy Morgan, Chad Varah, Basil Dawson and Alan Stranks.

Following Hampson's departure in 1959, Frank Bellamy's year-long attachment to the strip was not welcomed by all; Dan's face was often redrawn to make him look like Hampson's Dan and many episodes had pages painted by others, primarily Don Harley working with Bruce Cornwell, and Gerald Palmer. Harley and Cornwell (along with Eric Eden, now as scriptwriter) took over the strip in 1960-1962 in an attempt to reverse the changes.

New writers (David Motton, Willie Patterson and Robert Bartholomew) extended their themes beyond the limitations of the original conception in a series of less convincing adventures across the galaxy. Continuity became strained and, despite a period of revitalization at the hands of artist Keith Watson, the strip declined, only one brief new story being published after January 1967. A Dan Dare newspaper strip of seven frames per week was published in the UK Sunday newspaper The People, 3 May-26 November 1964.

Written by Tom Tully and drawn at first by Massimo Belardinelli and subsequently by Dave Gibbons, the character was revived in name only in 2000 AD (from #1, 26 February 1977). The voluble adverse reaction to this from fans of the original strip, along with news of plans for a nostalgic Dan Dare television series (to be produced by Paul de Savary), persuaded IPC, Eagle's erstwhile publisher, to relaunch Eagle in 1982 as a weekly pulp comic with new Dan Dare stories featuring the "great grandson" of the original Dan Dare. At first top-line artists were used – Gerry Embleton (although he quickly became disillusioned by inconsistent editorial directives and left) and then Ian Kennedy (until 1984) – but the series failed to recreate the credibility of the original, and for a time IPC used less able artists on it until, for a six-week period in 1989, they returned once more to Hampson's original conception (with Keith Watson as artist). The new incarnation of Eagle failed to achieve significant sales and became a monthly, reprinting earlier strips alongside new Dan Dare stories written by Tom Tully and drawn by David Pugh; it survived to 1994. A few more recent incarnations, most notably a seven-issue series published by Virgin Comics in 2008, failed to ignite the interest of buyers.

In 1982 de Savary's television series was abandoned unfinished; a different Dan Dare live-action television series was in early 1992 said to be in the process of production by Zenith Films, but this too failed to materialize; much later, the computer-animated series Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future (2001-2002), produced by Netter Digital (later Foundation Imaging) for the UK Channel Five, ran for one season of 26 episodes, each of 22 minutes. There have been two Radio adaptations: the first, starring Noel Johnson, ran continuously on Radio Luxembourg from 2 July 1951 to 25 May 1956; the second, starring Nick Ward, adapted Eagle's original Dan Dare story and was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 1990. Book-length reprints of Hampson's Dan Dare stories have been published by Dragon's Dream – The Man from Nowhere (graph 1979), Rogue Planet (graph 1980) and Reign of the Robots (graph 1981) – and by Hawk Books Pilot of the Future (graph 1987), Red Moon Mystery & Marooned on Mercury (graph omni 1988), Operation Saturn (graph 1989), Prisoners of Space (graph 1990) and The Man from Nowhere (graph 1991). Dan Dare also starred in a political-Satire comic strip written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rian Hughes, which appeared 1990-1991 in Revolver and Crisis and was published in book form as Dare (graph 1991). A comic-strip Parody of Dan Dare, lampooning contemporary UK politics with Margaret Thatcher in the Mekon role, ran as Dan Dire – Pilot of the Future in 1991 in the satirical UK magazine Private Eye. There have also been two novels: Dan Dare on Mars (1956) by Basil Dawson and Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future (1977) by Angus P Allan, the latter a novelization of the original Eagle story. Three Videogames were based on the series, released for various computer platforms in 1986, 1988 and 1990.

For more on Dan Dare's creator, see The Man Who Drew Tomorrow (1985) by Alastair Crompton, and for more on the character see The Dan Dare Dossier (1990 chap) by Norman Wright and Mike Higgs and Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future: The Biography (2010) by Daniel Tatarsky; the latter includes synopses of more than 30 of Dare's adventures. [RT/ABP/JE/SH/JP/DRL]

further reading

See Frank Hampson for further titles.


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