MISTY LIVES!

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So delighted with the imminent reprint of Misty by 2000 AD, and the huge interest it’s generated.  I’ve just done an interview with Samira Ahmed for BBC Radio 4’s art and culture show Front Row for broadcast tonight at 7.15pm (6 Sept 2016).  And The Herald has a great in-depth Q&A with me on the subject (Graphic Content: Pat Mills tells the behind-the-scenes story of 1970s girl horror comic Misty).

But of course, that interest in Misty (and girls’ comics in general) has always been there. I first wrote the below post in October 2012 as a digression on a series of posts I wrote on Judge Dredd, back when the idea that Misty would actually get a decent reprint seemed like an impossible dream. In terms of reader comments, the Misty post is probably one of my most popular blog posts.

So here we are in 2016, and 2000 AD have done a fantastic job of reprinting two popular Misty stories: Moonchild (written by me, art by John Armstrong), and Four Faces of Eve (by Malcolm Shaw and Brian Delaney).

Coincidentally, I’m in the middle of writing the first text novel in a series with Kevin O’Neill that could be described as a darkly humorous alternative history of UK comics publishing in the 1970s.  And right this very week I’m writing the fictional account of how Misty was created. You could say, it’s my own vision of how Misty could have been.

The novel series is called Read Em And Weep Volume one is called Serial Killer. Did I mention that it’s also a thriller?

If you’re a fan of murder mysteries, flawed and eccentric characters, 70s nostalgia, insider knowledge on creating comics, childhood revenge, and film noir (it’s got a lot of noir!), you’ll probably like Read Em And Weep.  It’s due out in February 2017 and volume 2 will be published later the same year.

I’ll be releasing more info over the next few months (look out for a cover reveal at the end of October), so click here if you want to stay in touch and get the latest news.

One more thing: I also wrote a series of posts called The Formula around the subject of Misty, prompted by questions from Catherine, a PhD candidate studying scary kids’ stories, who was producing a sample Misty-inspired comic as her final project. She wanted to know how comics are produced and this prompted me to explain some of the inner workings of the creative process. So if you’d like to know more about creating comics, with particular reference to Misty, check out Part 1 – Inspiration.

And here’s my original October 2012 post!

Apologies for this digression from the Judge Dredd story, but there is so much interest in Misty – the female 2000AD – that there is now a Bring Back Misty Facebook group.  Because Misty was connected with the origins of 2000AD, I thought I’d talk about it here.

It was the last few weeks before I left 2000AD and I was looking forward to starting work on my next creation: Misty. I took the title from the film, Play Misty For Me and my plan was to use my 2000AD approach on a girls’ comic: big visuals and longer, more sophisticated stories with the emphasis on the supernatural and horror. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.  John Sanders and I had several meetings to discuss its content and we could both see how it could be a hit; potentially bigger than 2000AD as girls comics sales were always higher than boys. (On launch: Tammy: 250,000 copies per week; 2000AD: 220,000 copies per week; Misty: 170, 000 copies a week. Approximate figures.)

But given the success of 2000AD, I felt if I was going to create another hit for IPC juveniles, I should really have a share of the profits. John Sanders said his board of directors would never agree but I wouldn’t budge either.  So I left and went back to freelancing. Later, I relented and agreed to be the consultant editor for Misty and guide it on its way, but without taking responsibility for it, like 2000AD. I also agreed to write the lead story for Misty – Moonchild – inspired by Carrie; and later Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel, inspired by Audrey Rose, a story about reincarnation.

Without my direct involvement, the stories were not as hard-hitting as I would have liked them to be and some punches were pulled. There were far too many short, self-contained stories, some a bit weak, not enough serials – which are vital to hook the reader – and more than a little “old school” thinking slowly starting to creep back in. Despite this, Misty was still very good, the art was fantastic – often better than 2000AD – and it was very much  part of the Comic Revolution. Here’s how Will Brooker, author of Batman Unmasked and an expert on popular culture recalls Misty: “Pacts with the devil, schoolgirl sacrifice, the ghosts of hanged girls, sinister cults, evil scientists experimenting on the innocent and terrifying parallel worlds where the Nazis won the Second World War.”

The pages below give you a taste of Misty (apologies for the poor scan quality).  They’re from Moonchild, by me and John Armstrong, the top artist in girls comics. And my short story called Roots.  Don’t know the artist, I’m afraid, but it’s beautifully drawn. I’ve blanked the last picture out which was too safe and reassuring and was added by editorial, against my wishes. I wanted it to end on this note of horror with no punches pulled. Some of my other horror stories were similarly toned down by editorial, applying “old school” thinking – not to scare the readers “too much”.

Next are three pages from The Sentinels by my colleague Scottish writer Malcolm Shaw about a tower block which shares an alternative reality with a Nazi-occupied Britain.

Many Misty readers recall The Sentinels with particular affection. Malcolm, who sadly died very young, was same generation as John Wagner, myself and Gerry Finley-Day (creator of Tammy). Why was it mainly guys on girls comics, I hear you ask? Answer: because all the younger female magazine journalists looked down on girls comics and didn’t want to write or edit them, aspiring to teenage and women’s glossy magazines instead.

Malcolm was a brilliant writer of girls comics and also some early Judge Dredds. We started Jinty together, dreaming up a selection of stories, before Mavis Miller (previously editor of June) was appointed editor and turned it into a very successful comic with a strong science fiction edge. Malcolm really deserves a separate article on his important contribution to the Comic Revolution, but I only worked with him for a brief period, so my knowledge of his work is rather limited, I’m afraid. Another of his excellent Misty stories was Four Faces of Eve about a girl who looks absolutely normal but is really a female Frankenstein’s monster-  she’s actually made up of four girls. That was a truly awesome and scary serial with great art by Brian Delaney.

I’ve always regretted not creating Misty the way I created 2000AD. I’ve little doubt if I had, it would still be around today and it could have changed the British comics landscape for the better.

Alas, Misty eventually died, for the reasons I’ve given, but it’s still well-thought of to this day.  Many of us hope it could be reprinted with collected stories, just as 2000AD stories have been successfully collected. There’s a huge archive of supernatural girls comic stories from Misty that would make a great Best of Misty which would appeal to new readers as well as nostalgia readers and their daughters. Although they would need to be the right stories. A Misty Souvenir Special (2009) bombed because – as Misty  readers confirmed to me – it was The Worst of Misty. Whoever put it together hadn’t got a clue what the comic was about and just slung together a collection of boring features, text stories, and “nice” safe, mildly creepy, self-contained comic strip stories.

But it seems to me there is a chasm in the market for female comic readers.  Significantly, Twilight,Vampire Diaries and House of Night are in the same genre and are trying to fill that gap by adapting their text to graphic novels. And Misty works for us guys, too, of course. Great stories and great artwork cross generations, age-groups and gender.

To assess if this was still the case, my wife and I did a straw poll of local kids aged 8-11. The feedback on our poll was very encouraging. The kids read episodes from three stories:  Moonchild, The Four Faces of Eve and my Glenda’s Glossy Pages (a supernatural story I wrote for Tammy) and enjoyed them all.  Here are just two of their many positive quotes:

Moonchild

I loved how it was building up and how they discovered her powers after a while. I would like to read more of those sorts of comics.

The Four Faces of Eve

It’s really exciting, and it always leaves a mystery at the end of each page.

Clearly they are timeless classics, rather than ephemeral.  None of these young readers thought they were old fashioned.

A contact of ours (Jo Bevan) is passionate on this subject and recently carried out a larger, more detailed survey on kids’ reading habits, with encouraging results.  Over two thirds wanted to see more comics available.  Jo is active on the influential Mumsnet and started an interesting thread where many mums were complaining that there were no decent story-based comics for their daughters – or  their sons, for that matter.

I know several women in the media who grew up with and were influenced by Misty, just as 2000AD inspired many artists, directors and writers. A few months ago it was mentioned in the Daily Mail You magazine where renowned artist and designer Julie Verhoeven found Misty’s dark and mysterious content an inspiration.

As John Freeman (Down the Tubes) said to me, “With writers Jacqueline Rayner out there (as well as yourself) pushing girls comics, why the hell is no-one reprinting them?”  Jacqueline’s Guardian article is here, and she also has a very entertaining blog on the subject.

Good question. And with films like Hunger Games – a typical girls comic story – and Black Swan and Twilight, doing so well, how risky is it to do a Best of Misty?  My good friends at Titan Books had the option to reprint Misty, but unfortunately they couldn’t find anyone to edit it at the time. That’s totally understandable. It is a specialist subject and you do have to know which were the cool and popular stories. (Damn! I should have suggested I’d edit it, just to get it out there.) So Titan handed the project back to copyright holders, Egmont, who have since turned down at least one publisher from reprinting it because they weren’t big enough. They may be hoping for a larger publisher, but I fear only Titan is the likely contender. I’ve suggested it to other publishers I know but it’s simply not their genre.  So it doesn’t look good at the moment, but we can still hope. If Egmont gave Titan a new license, I’m sure it would do well for them.

If you’d like to see Misty reprinted, do give Bring Back Misty a look. Or ask Titan to reconsider (readerfeedback@titanemail.com).  Or I’ll pass on your thoughts to them. If there’s no-one else available, I’d edit a collection, just to see it return.

I hope to come back to the subject of girls comics soon because that’s where the Comic Revolution actually began with Gerry Finley-Day, creator and first editor of Tammy. Bunty was great, but Tammy was revolutionary!  For example, these astonishing stories from the early 1970s, all created by Gerry:

Slaves of War Orphan Farm. The wartime evacuee farm is run by the cruel Ma Thatcher (based on Mrs T, then infamous as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher) and was truly terrifying with the evacuees having to fight, escape and defeat genuinely evil monsters.

Ella on Easy Street – a profound and cool attack on middle-class values with beautiful artwork by Casanovas. Ella sabotages her parents plans to better themselves. She wants to stop them becoming high-achieving yuppies because she fears it could break up their happy family.

And Aunt Aggie: a working class, eccentric, ‘salt of the earth’ TV personality and national treasure with a heart of gold who makes children’s dreams come true on her mega-popular TV show, visiting orphans and helping the sick and the vulnerable. Behind the scenes, she cheats and mocks kids, hates them and lives a secret life of luxury, driving around in a customised Rolls-Royce. The heroine is Aunt Aggie’s orphan side-kick who sets out to sabotage her cruel plans.

Okay, sorry for that interruption, my normal Dredd chapter will be continued in my next post with:  “Don’t mention the Silver Surfer”.

2016 edit: If you want find out more about my new novel, Read Em And Weep: Serial Killer, due out in February 2017, click here to stay in touch!

ADULT SUPERHERO SERIES ARE STILL AFFECTIONATE HOMAGE TO THE GENRE

Then there’s

Marshal Law

No affection

No homage

Biting the hand that feeds him.

Marshal Law

Giving a boot up the genre  on 30th April.   From DC Comics

Deluxe hard cover collected edition, 480 pages.

I’ll be signing copies of Marshal Law with Kevin O’Neill at Gosh! in London on Saturday 20th April, 2-4pm.

Image

BEHIND THE MASK…

Secrets.

Secret identities.

Secret lusts.

Secret hates.

The dark and sordid world of Superheroes.

Pull down the trunks.

You won’t like what you see.

When supermen go rogue, you call on the Court of Last Resort.

 

MARSHAL LAW

The government have commissioned living weapons of mass destruction to wage war on terror.  

The survivors return home broken, bitter, insane.

Some form gangs.

Some go psycho.

Some turn into ‘A’ list celebrities with ‘A’ bomb fists.

The city is now a war zone.

San Futuro needs a Super Cop to enforce summary justice.

His eyes will reflect the rocket’s red glare.

He is Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

MARSHAL LAW

A bad choice is better than no choice.

Deluxe hard cover collected edition.  DC Comics Late April

MARSHAL LAW: THE DELUXE EDITION HARD COVER (DC COMICS)

Delighted to confirm that Marshal Law is due out in the UK at the end of April, and to show you all the new cover that Kevin O’Neill has specially created for this deluxe edition.

MARLW_Cvr_Front

The sadistically crafted, classic barbed wire-wrapped adventures of Marshal Law will be collected for the first time in a single hardcover edition. Featuring over 450 pages of cape-crushing action, this deluxe volume also includes an appreciative introduction from British TV personality and longtime Law fan Jonathan Ross as well as a new afterword from me and a special gallery section from Kevin.

Hatched from classified military labs to fight in America’s vicious secret wars, genetically modified “heroes” roam San Futuro’s broken streets in super-powered gangs, tripping each other’s hair-trigger reflexes in a never-ending binge of adrenaline-laced fury.

One of these discarded veterans, however, has made it his personal mission to bring law and order back to this urban battlescape. He feels no pain. He shows no remorse. His burning hatred for superheroes is all that keeps him warm. He is San Futuro’s finest. His name is Marshal Law.

“I’m a hero hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven’t found any yet.”

THE LAST SUPPER CLUB – Celebrating The End Of The World

Marshal Law artist Kevin O’Neill said to me yesterday, “My Mayan advent calendar is a bit of a downer…today’s window shows Earth as a blasted wasteland.”  I, too, took the Mayan prophecies seriously, so last week my wife Lisa and I went to the Last Supper Club, a pop-up restaurant in East London where we had a fantastic Mayan-style meal to celebrate the forthcoming end of the world.  The pop-up ran for three weeks, with a different theme each week (The Salvation Menu, The Mayan Prophets Feast, The Doom’s Day Diner).  The cocktails were top notch: mine involved tequila, horchata and grated dark chocolate.

lastsupperclub menu

IMG_0639

Feast of the Jaguar: grilled market fish

But before dinner, two very friendly young priests had set up a confessional box, where diners could confess their sins before enjoying their last supper and preparing for The End.  Naturally, Lisa and I went to confession and I regaled the priest with the most lurid sin I could recall committing.  I think he was impressed, or possibly depressed, because he wanted to take our photos, perhaps to pass onto the police. But he used the most ancient, massive and funky-looking circa 1980s Polaroid camera I have ever seen which needed five minutes to warm up properly (!) and clearly had a dodgy viewfinder, so the results were thankfully rather ‘off-centre’.

Preparing to take confession.

Preparing to take confession.

Secrets of the confessional

Secrets of the confessional!

The mobile confessional.  All sinners welcome.

The mobile confessional. All sinners welcome.

2012-12-14 20.23.31

Happy after confessing my sins!

But I loved the idea of their mobile confessional. The reverends revealed that they regularly de-sin clients at gigs like the Last Supper Club and festivals.  So do look out for them if you feel the need to confess.  I thoroughly recommend them and confession is a lot cheaper than therapy. Check out some of their pictures at uberschnap.tumbir.com

I explained to the holy fathers that Kevin and I had also come up with the idea of a mobile confessional in our hero-hunting graphic novel series Marshal Law.  The priest would drive through the red light district of San Futuro, California, imploring sinners to “Stop Me and Confess”.  Like they used to do with ice-cream.  I thought it was an excellent religious idea.  A sinner could commit the most unspeakable sins, have them instantly forgiven, and then step outside and do it all over again.

Below are some images from Marshal Law featuring our mobile confessional to put all this in context. You’ll see our priest is also promoting Armageddon, spreading a message of fear to bring the punters back.  And I have to say it works.  I recall meeting a priest at a christening and asking him how work was going?  Like you do.  “Sadly,” he said, with a pious smile, “it takes a disaster like 9/11 to bring people to their senses (or their knees?) and fill the churches once again.”  I’m just no good at faking it, he must have seen the expression on my face, because when he left early to “visit the sick” he deliberately avoided my outstretched hand.

This has probably been a good week for him.

ML confessional1

ML confessional2

ML confessional3

ML confessional4

The collected Marshal Law de luxe edition from DC Comics is available in April 2013.  It comprises all our Law stories, apart from the cross-overs. More news on Marshal Law soon.

 

TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK

A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write.  It was to be called:

THE COMIC REVOLUTION

Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action

My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book.  Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.  

Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE? and PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB.

PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK

Frank Plowright, journalist and organiser of UK comic conventions, once interviewed me about Nemesis the Warlock and said how he envied Nemesis co-creator Kevin O’Neill and I our Catholic childhood because it clearly influenced and inspired our work. I hadn’t realised it showed, but of course it does – big time – and especially on Torquemada, the Warlock’s greatest enemy, so I need to digress a little here and talk about the Grand Master as well as Mega City’s finest.

The principal source of my inspiration was the De La Salle Brothers who taught me at my old school, St. Joseph’s College, Ipswich in Suffolk.

They were like cops, or Batman-style avengers: black-robed, fanatical figures.  They were incorruptible, stern, driven by some higher power, and I was awe-struck by them.  I imagined them sleeping in some kind of vampire-like hive: rather like John Hicklenton imagined Dredd slept in a cryotube.  They appeared to have no lives outside their job and no interest in sex, having taken strict vows of chastity.  Hence Torquemada’s famous words (once scrawled on the Berlin Wall):  “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” The smallest infraction of discipline and you would be punished severely. Dirty shoes? The cane. Talking? The cane. Smoking? The cane. You don’t mess with these guys. They are the Law!

My older brother, Terry, was less impressed. His cynicism was a great inspiration to me. (He was thrown out of the altar boys for frying onions on the charcoal in the incense thurifer, which made our church smell like a transport cafe.)  He told me he’d discovered that behind the scenes, the Brothers ate posh food, drank wine and smoked and watched telly. Wine? Fags? TV?  No!  Surely not! They weren’t ordinary human beings. They must exist on a strict diet of bread and water, accompanied by constant prayer, before self-flagellation, then suspending themselves, like bats, from the rafters of the Hive to sleep, before, suitably refreshed, going out to do more “good work”.

I saw them in fantasy comic-book terms, like the cartoon strips in the movie, The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys. “Good work” was Torquemada’s euphemism for his genocidal onslaught on the Galaxy. Already, I was creating the future basis of my evil monks in Nemesis the Warlock. I guess such comic book fantasies are common amongst kids. Graham Linehan, co-creator of Father Ted, told Kevin O’Neill that he used to day-dream about Nemesis flying down in his Blitzspear to rescue him from his school playground.

I know the feeling. I could have used some rescuing myself. But there was only the classic Dan Dare in my day and he was a signed-up member of the establishment, originally a space chaplain, so he wouldn’t have listened to my complaints. And this is an important point.  Eagle was a middle-class comic, thoroughly approved of by parents and schools and created by a vicar – the Reverend Marcus Morris. (A colourful character in his own right).  2000AD was a comic of the streets, and loathed by the middle-classes. I wanted all my heroes in the Comic Revolution – in Battle, Action and 2000AD – to defy, fight, expose and challenge the evils of the establishment. That’s why I had a rule never to feature officers as heroes in my comics.  So even today I write Defoe, The Last Leveller – the last survivor of Britain’s first revolutionaries – up against the evils of the ruling class.  Because it is so important for readers to have their role models, too, who are fighting on their side. Even if the Blitzspear never actually managed to land in Graham’s school playground.

Brother Solomon was primarily my role model for Torquemada and Brother James the basis for Dredd. Brother Solomon rejoiced in the wonderful title “Prefect of Discipline” and was responsible for administering corporal punishment. Errant boys would appear before him in a room set aside for the purpose and present him with tickets detailing their crime.  He would read their offences, hear their excuses and then pronounce and carry out sentence, inevitably guilty as charged. This required them to prostrate themselves over a desk for a classic caning. He was judge, jury and executioner.  He was a figure of fear and yet I also admired him because he gave us the most brilliant musical appreciation classes.  He brought his friend Peter Katin, an internationally famous pianist, to play concerts in the school hall and as a result I have a love of classical music which I value to this day.

Brother Solomon AKA Mike Mercado, The Swinging Monk

Then he suddenly disappeared in mid-term with no official explanation why, although we all knew the reason: although us day boys were subject to his canings, it was the boarders who had to endure far worse. Brother James wrote a glowing tribute to all Solomon’s “good work” in the school magazine that year. But rumours were rife he’d gone to a De La Salle establishment in Jersey, which we believed was a reformatory for Brothers who messed with kids.  We would joke about ship-wrecked sailors staggering up onto the rocky coast of Jersey only to see all these monks descending on them so they would hurriedly turn and flee back into the sea. We needed such trench humour to survive.

In fact, Solomon went on to teach at St. Joseph’s College, Beulah Hill – presumably as part of the Catholic policy at that time of moving abusers to another parish or school when there were complaints. A Beulah Hill old boy angrily relates online that “as if there weren’t enough very strange, totally weird, ‘Christian’ Brothers, they brought in Brother Solomon.”  He was unaware that Solomon had just been thrown out of my school. He characterized him as perverted, debauched, detestable, monstrous, evil, and brutal.  Other posts on the site are in a similar vein. Brother Solomon’s predilection for schoolboys had not ended when he left my school.  Distinguished poet Paul Wilkins, in his book Truths of the Unremembered Things wrote about Solomon’s sexual assaults on him and his verses makes for chilling reading. In 1965 Solomon was eventually dismissed from the school and the De La Salle order and went into show-business to become a pop pianist, calling himself Mike Mercado: The Swinging Monk. He had a couple of minor hits. That’s a toupee in the photo, of course; he was actually bald. His smile reminds me of how Torquemada was sometimes depicted, leering at the readers with a similar knowing grin.

Kevin and I made Torquemada as warped and perverted as we could possibly get away with and we got away with a lot. Torque might preach against ‘deviants’ but he was quite a deviant himself, mirroring the hypocrisy of these De La Salle monks who were preaching strict moral codes, which at least three I knew never adhered to.

I hope this doesn’t shatter anyone’s illusions about the Grand Master? Creating characters is not just about having a vivid imagination or drawing on movies or books. All great fictional heroes and villains are based on someone, whether the writer chooses to admit it or not. I think if you’re going to create villains they should be genuinely evil; I’ve no time for pantomime villains. I’m sure that this is why Torquemada regularly won awards as comic’s favourite villain, because readers sensed he was real. And yet at the same time I mocked him, and enjoyed humiliating and defeating him, so no one could admire the terror that he stood for, that was inspired by the terror I had escaped. Nemesis the Warlock was my catharsis, my poetry (Kevin’s original Nemesis serials will be reprinted next year in a special colour edition, based on his Eagle comics version).

The writer above describes the De La Salle Brothers as “very strange, totally weird.”  Which makes them perfect material for a science fiction comic where I was looking for very strange, totally weird characters.  And amongst the Brothers was Brother James, part hero, part villain, and my role-model for Judge Dredd.

END OF PART EIGHT

DAN DARE – MY PART IN HIS REVIVAL

This is an edited version of an article I wrote for Spaceship Away – the classic Dan Dare fan magazine – in March 2010, and subsequently published on my Facebook page.

                                                            2000AD

  1. 1976.  I realize that the science fiction comic I’m creating, 2000AD, needs a space hero.  I think about bringing back Dan Dare – the publisher, John Sanders, is agreeable, he tells me not to worry about the original fans and I study the bound Eagle volumes. I’m hugely impressed by the original Venus adventure.  I commission writer Ken Armstrong (he wrote Hook Jaw in Action) to write a NASA-style version, with something of the realistic tone of the original.
  2. By now it’s clear 2000AD’s paper won’t be web offset, which takes ‘fair’ colour, it will be ‘pulp’ letterpress with rudimentary colour. This could be a real problem for Dan Dare. Ken designs a superb, authentic NASA style-spaceship with lots of projecting bits and pieces, based on modern orbiting spaceships.  I commission an Argentine artist to draw it – in black and white.
  3. Paul Da Savary has film rights to Dan Dare and shows me his fantastic artwork for a movie and also a retro TV series featuring the Treens. His producer, who has worked on Space 1999, thinks our spaceship would not make good merchandising because of all the projecting solar panels. I formed the impression they weren’t keen on us reviving Dan Dare.
  4. My publisher tells me that Da Savary might buy 2000AD as an outside contractor to IPC Magazines. Me and John Wagner (Judge Dredd) will be creative partners in the enterprise and thus receive a share of the cover price.  John Wagner creates Dredd with this in mind.  IPC board of directors then say no, John Wagner withdraws from the project and Dredd, and I create 2000AD for a fixed fee as a freelance.
  5. 1977.  The Argentine version of Dan Dare is very good – but only from a purist pov. (No visuals available, I’m afraid)  It was in a semi- Sidney Jordan style with a cool inking style. I know SF fans will like it then (and now) – but I also know that it won’t appeal to the mass audience I’m aiming for.  The artist’s figures are small, under-characterised, and his storytelling is hard work.  Given that the story was also a realistic slow burn, I just know it won’t appeal to kids. I decide to dump it.  Awed by the Da Savary version, I decide to write a new, less NASA and more compelling version myself with my editor designate Kelvin Gosnell.
  6. Kelvin and I write an exploration of Jupiter’s red spot with astronauts wearing anti-grav suits and alien life forms based on microscopic life in the National Geographic.  Story-wise I think its basic plot is valid in Dare terms.  We try out one or two artists – I believe two Italian brothers, one of whom drew Death Game 1999 for Action – but their version looks dull to me and I turn them down. I want Dan Dare to be special.
  7. Artist Bellardinelli submits a wild version on spec. At least it’s exciting and eye-catching and – most important – helps us over the poor quality paper.  A ‘TV21’ look won’t work on bog paper.   Bellardinelli’s black line is the best in the business.    I know his work from the past on Battle and Action and there his figure work is not bad. Distinctive but not weak anatomy.  But on Dare his weak anatomy increasingly starts to show. This would get worse throughout his subsequent career (on Slaine etc) because of his origins as an excellent inker, not penciller.
  8. The basic character design is also wrong – an over-reaction against the old Dan images.  Kevin O’Neill, my art editor, points this out to me and I arrange a straw poll to see what everyone in IPC juveniles think: some thirty or more people. If they agree with Kevin, I’m still prepared to dump it – even at this horribly late date.   But my straw poll (I was told by my pollster) really liked it apart from the managing editor who thought it was a bit “fantasmagoric”.   It’s now two weeks to press date and encouraged by the straw poll, I decide to go for it.
  9. 2000AD appears, it’s a success and Dan Dare is popular – about 3rd or 4th in the popularity charts.   Certainly not at the bottom in a comic where the readers liked all the stories. I don’t recall any critical letters apart from things along the lines of “my dad doesn’t like it, but I do”.  And sometimes, “my dad likes it, too.”  Lot of criticism in the press, however, but we don’t care about annoying them. In fact we quite like it.
  10. The first Dan Dare story concludes some 10 or 12 weeks later. By now, I’ve realized that the readers appreciate really wild SF which – most importantly – compensates for our poor quality paper.  So I want the second story to be even visually wilder and this was written by Steve Moore. There was a great vertical opening spread showing Dan Dare arriving at a London teleport station.
  11. It’s now time for me to exit. My brief is to create comics and, once they’re successful, move onto the next comic to start up (Misty).  I see Dan Dare is still 3rd or 4th in the votes.  Judge Dredd had similar votes but then – with the robot rebellion – in around week eleven Dredd went to number one.  I wanted Dan to also increase its share of the votes and I therefore commissioned Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons to do a new incarnation of the character.  I knew Dave’s art would have the sf quality and realism that Bellardinelli’s lacked and Gerry had a successful track record as a war comics writer because of his background in the TA.  So I felt I was leaving Dan in safe hands, just as Dredd was safe in John’s hands. People are divided on Gerry’s writing – professionals didn’t like it, but the readers often did and still do. (In the end, the professionals won and Gerry left 2000AD)
  12. After I leave, I hear Tom Tully has taken it over and given him a power hand and a superheroish costume.  Neither of these moves would meet with my approval, but it’s no longer my gig.  I’m aware there are subsequent attempts to get it right, but of course the more you change writers, artists and realities, the more you can lose the readers’ interest and I believe that’s how Dan Dare eventually died in 2000AD.

NEW EAGLE

  1. Perhaps a year or so later (I don’t recall exactly) I hear from Tony Dalton, a film critic connected with the BFI, who tells me he now has the Dare film rights and would John Wagner  and I like to do a film treatment of the character?  He has studio interest already. With Star Wars so popular, we agree.
  2. We meet Gareth Hunt billed to play Dan Dare and also a great fantasy artist from the Young Artists group who has drawn some fantastic scenes.  The brief clearly has to be Star Wars and we come up with a strong storyline (on spec).
  3. We hear nothing more, months pass, and then we learn that Eagle is being revived with photostrip.  But Dan Dare is to feature in a colour, fully painted strip by Gerry Embleton. Would John and I like to write it?  Of course we do, it’s a way of using our detailed film treatment.
  4. Only there’s a catch.  Dan now has to be the original Dan’s great grandson (!!) and there’s some story about him going through a time warp as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. This is to tie in with a film version and we understand this is connected with Da Savary who now has the rights again. Loaded down with this awkward extra, we make the best of it and the story is number one.  Readers like our sf ideas – such as aliens with flying sharks on leads. Very Star Wars.
  5. But Embleton eventually leaves, Ian Kennedy takes over, John Wagner drops out and I’m left ‘holding the baby’.  By now, I’m so appalled by the numerous changes to Dan, both on 2000AD and Eagle, I think – no matter how difficult – I have to ‘get it right’.  I begin by doing a grounded NASA style version which, because it’s Ian, looks pretty good and stands up well today.  I write man’s first trip to the stars with authentic detail and some critical aspects based on The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe which covered the appalling treatment of Ham, the chimpanzee.  Ham 2 features in my story.
  6. The story works and now I decide I need to get it back to as close to the original as is viable.  I’ve made contact with a young astronomer and science fiction model maker Julian Baum based at Liverpool observatory.  He has produced some excellent planetary photographic landscapes and models which were integrated into the strip, in the tradition of the original classic series. But as the story moved back towards science fiction I couldn’t see how to use his great talents further.
  7. While Dan had been away on his first star mission, the Treens had invaded Earth and the Grand Canyon was the rebel redoubt (useful for star fighter Death Star-style scenes).  The head of the United Nations Space Force was British and everything was as close as I could get it to the original, despite the grandson tag.
  8. I also wanted Dan to have a credible back story, so I looked back at the original classic series.  I think it’s a legitimate device to rationalise earlier notions with modern science, so I found NASA maps of the Venus continents under the cloud cover and used those as the basis for the classic continents of the Therons and the Treens.  Heavy industrialisation by the Treens had caused a runaway Greenhouse effect which explained the hellish atmosphere of the fire belt.
  9. Increasingly I was drawing on the past, not least because I was becoming more fascinated with Frank Hampson’s original.  Whereas later classic stories by other original associates of Hampson are sometimes somewhat dated in either story, art or character, I loved the vibrant energy of Hampson’s original.   So I worked some flashback scenes in with tremendous help from Dan Dare fan Alan Vince who sent me relevant images.  I also tried writing the story in the minimalist style of the first Eagle adventure with its floating headshots.
  10. Dan and co. were victorious at the battle of the Grand Canyon and I now had to consider whether I should continue. The story was still number one in the comic, but I felt I’d done my penance for reviving the character. Unless I could make it even closer to the original, there was no point in going on. This was not possible and I walked away from it. I believe Tom Tully took it over.

Subsequently there have been versions of Dan Dare by Grant Morrison and also Garth Ennis. No doubt there are others in the works.

Moral of the story? Stick to the original vision of the creator. Reinvent or re-imagine at your peril!