Edited by Marcus Morris (Mermaid Books)
ISBN: 0-7181-22119 (trade paperback) ISBN:0-7181-1566X (hardback)
A little hard to find but well worth the effort is this upbeat pictorial memoir from the conceptual creator of arguably Britain’s greatest comic. Eagle was the most influential comic of post-war Britain, and launched on April 14th 1950, running until 26th April 1969.
It was the brainchild of a Southport vicar, The Reverend Marcus Morris, who was worried about the detrimental effects of American comic-books on British children, and wanted a good, solid, Christian antidote. Seeking out like-minded creators he jobbed around a dummy to many British publishers for over a year with little success until he found an unlikely home at Hulton Press, a company that produced general interest magazines such as Lilliput and Picture Post.
The result was a huge hit spawning clones Swift, Robin and Girl which targeted other demographic sectors of the children’s market, as well as radio series, books, toys and all other sorts of merchandising.
A huge number of soon-to-be prominent creative figures worked on the weekly, and although Dan Dare is deservedly revered as the star, many other strips were as popular at the time, and many even rivalled the lead in quality and entertainment value.
At its peak Eagle sold close to a million copies a week, but eventually changing tastes and a game of “musical owners” killed the title. In 1960 Hulton sold out to Odhams, who became Longacre Press. A year later they were bought by The Daily Mirror Group who evolved into IPC. In cost cutting exercises many later issues carried cheap Marvel Comics reprints rather than British originated material. It took time but the Yankee cultural Invaders won out in the end…
With the April 26th 1969 issue Eagle was merged into Lion, eventually disappearing altogether. Successive generations have revived the title, but never the success.
Here Morris has selected a wonderfully representative sampling of the comic strips that graced those pages of a Golden Age to accompany his recollection of events. Being a much cleverer time, with smarter kids than ours, the Eagle had a large proportion of scientific, historical and sporting articles as well as prose fiction.
Included here are over 30 pages reprinting short text stories, cut-away paintings (including the Eagle spaceship), hobby and event pages, sporting, science and general interest features – and it should be remembered that the company produced six Eagle Novels and various sporting, science and history books as spin-offs between 1956 and 1960. Also on show are many candid photographs of the times and the creators behind the pages.
Of course though, the comic strips are the real gold here. Morris has selected 130 pages from his tenure on Eagle that typify the sheer quality of the enterprise. Alongside the inevitable but always welcome Hampson Dan Dare are selections from his The Great Adventurer and Tommy Walls strips.
Other gems include The Adventures of PC. 49 by Alan Stranks and John Worsley, Jeff Arnold in Riders of the Range, by Charles Chilton & Frank Humphris, Chicko by Norman Thelwell, Professor Brittain Explains…, Harris Tweed and Captain Pugwash by John Ryan, Cortez, Conqueror of Mexico by William Stobbs, Luck of the Legion by Geoffrey Bond & Martin Aitchison, Storm Nelson by Edward Trice & E. Jennings and Mark Question (The Boy with a Future – But No Past!) by Stranks & Harry Lindfield.
There are selections from some of the other glorious gravure strips that graced the title: Jack o’Lantern by George Beardmore & Robert Ayton, Lincoln of America by Alan Jason & Norman Williams, The Travels of Marco Polo by Chad Varah & Frank Bellamy, The Great Charlemagne and Alfred the Great (both by Varah & Williams).
Extracts from Bellamy & Clifford Makin’s legendary Happy Warrior and the less well known The Shepherd King (King David), run beside The Great Sailor (Nelson) by Christopher Keyes, as well as The Baden Powell story (Jason & Williams) and even David Livingstone, the Great Explorer (Varah & Peter Jackson), and the monochrome They Showed the Way: The Conquest of Everest by Peter Simpson & Pat Williams makes an appearance.
The book is peppered with nostalgic memorabilia and such joys as George Cansdale’s beautiful nature pages plus a host of cartoon shorts including the wonderful Professor Puff and his Dog Wuff by prolific Punch cartoonist David Langdon. Also included is The Editor’s Christmas Nightmare by Hampson, a full colour strip featuring every Eagle character in a seasonal adventure that is fondly remembered by all who ever saw it…
These may not all resonate with modern audiences but the sheer variety of the material should sound a warning note to contemporary publishers about the fearfully limited range of comics output they’re responsible for. But for us, it’s enough to see and wish that this book, like so many others, was back in print again.
Text © 1977 Marcus Morris. Illustrations © 1977 International Publishing Corporation. All Rights Reserved.