Sunday, June 12, 2011

The OTHER comic for boys

If you were to ask me what my formative experience with comics was, I'd tell you without blinking that it was 2000AD. And I'd be lying. There were a few comics I read casually before The Galaxy's Greatest. Usually they were one-offs, because I didn't have the pocket money or the stamina (or the town's bookshops didn't seem to have the get-go for sequential ordering?) for a decent run. One or two disparate Star Wars comics, ditto Ghost Rider, and the one success, a two-shot Blade Runner adaptation which I still have. My actual comic collecting however began in 1982, with Eagle magazine.

Eagle is, was, and was again, a time warp. Initially launched in the Fifties and spearheaded by the still iconic Dan Dare, it was rested a year before I was born, and then was resurrected fresh-faced for my teens. Dan Dare was back, alongside a host of new heroes and topical features, and recalling the title now it seems to me that if the original comic was a naive throwback to more innocent times, the comic of choice to the Baden Powell generation, then the revived title arrived just in time to try to recapture that same innocence. Britain was entering the Eighties, a decade that promised pride and prosperity after the fag end and bleak winters of the latter Seventies. The Queen's eldest son had married his future queen in Westminster, Manchester United - the 'red devils' were top of the FA Cup league, and the Falklands War alerted my maturing eyes and mind to the new generation of battlefield technology - Harrier jump jets, Mig Foxbats, infra-red night vision goggles. This was the flavour of the new Eagle, a mission statement of pop stars (Suggs! Easton! Stevens!), celebrity athletes (Coe! Thompson! Dando!), and the various comic guises of Lenny Henry. It was, to a fault, cheerily British, and I lapped it up as I did Noel Edmonds' Late Late Breakfast Show.

The early revival was a bit of a misfire, though. Photostrips - the style usually adopted by girls' Romance comics, was a prevalent style, with drawn strips the poorer sibling, and this was the model for some time, with only Dare in colour (and drawn effectively in the Frank Hampson style by Gerry Emberton) but rubbing shoulders with darker and more intriguing illustrated fare - Doomlord, The London Mad Max-style Tower King, and the grand guignol of Jose Ortiz's artwork in The House of Daemon. Years later I'd see why these stories appealed - while the straightforward adventure of Tower King was by Alan Hebden, a then-2000AD roster writer, the more tongue-in-cheek and visceral Doomlord and Daemon came from the minds of John Wagner and Alan Grant, creators of 2000AD's titanic Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog. Small surprise then that some twenty or so years later the illustrated Doomlord would see an unauthorised fan reprint, as would Wagner's other serial from Eagle's final years and mingling with ill-fated horror comic Scream, The Thirteenth Floor. All of which would be beyond me by those days, as I'd long since abandoned the earnest but ultimately juvenile Eagle and properly discovered Wagner and Grant's superior stomping ground (along with would-be Dare revivalist Pat Mills) in 2000AD. By 1989 I'd abandoned 2000AD, for a few years at least, and the Eagle had crash-landed.

So far as I can tell the revamped Eagle isn't fondly recalled to this day, though the aforementioned strips do get the odd mention on the forums. I've always felt that the title suffered from an identity crisis - too young and establishment to be 2000AD, and not as polished to even equal sometime 'AD rival (and the true home of Strontium Dog) Starlord. And yet, it's where it all began, and perhaps its time will come again.


  1. EAGLE was my formative comic. I bought it off and on, pocket money allowing, for a couple years. Then SCREAM came and I bought every issue of that, and when it merged back into EAGLE I followed. I stuck with it for years, far beyond when I should have, as the quality tumbled down and the target audience went from smart 10-year-olds to average 7-year-olds.

    But there were indeed some gems in there. DOOMLORD was marvellous - and probably the best of the photo strips to boot. And I liked some of their non-fantastic strips, like the football series THUNDERBOLT & SMOKEY, the action drama NEWS TEAM and the the very odd DOLE BUSTERS.

    I stuck with it though for the strips it inherited from other comics - THIRTEENTH FLOOR and the wonderful, wonderful MONSTER, both from Scream, and JOHNNY RED and CHARLIE'S WAR from Battle.

    (Also I stuck with it because I was an awful obsessive collector type and I didn't know how to make myself stop...)

    Marvellous. Thanks for this post JetSim, once again our interests coincide...

  2. I never read Eagle. Before latching onto 2000AD (which my brother read before I started to recognise its brilliance) I read funny comics like "Buster" and "Whizzer and Chips." They're a bit throwaway, though there was some fantastic artwork and subversive humour scattered throughout, especially by Frank McDiarmid, Leo Baxendale, or Ken Reid.

    Anyhoo, mention of Starlord reminds me of the brilliant colour spreads of Ro-Busters drawn by Ian Kennedy.

    Hmm, I seem to have gone off topic.

  3. I loved the Eagle for introducing me to comics (thankfully the supply of photo stories had dried up by the time I started reading) I still fantasise about owning an original page of art from The Fists Of Danny Pyke. Both that strip and DoleBusters were drawn by John M Burns, I'm going to try and meet him at Bristol comic convention this year so I can ask him about it. Wish me luck!