On this day in history : 14th April 1950 – The first issue of ‘Eagle’ is published with hero Dan Dare on the front cover…. The children’s comic was an instant success selling 900,000 copies of the first issue….
Eagle was founded by Marcus Morris, vicar of St. James’ Church, Birkdale in Lancashire and artist Frank Hampson…. Morris had produced a Christian magazine entitled ‘The Anvil’ which was based on the humour and art of popular magazine of the time ‘Liliput’…. The Anvil had several well-known contributors including C.S. Lewis and Harold Macmillan…. In 1948 he hired Frank Hampson, a young aspiring artist, to work as illustrator of his Christian magazine….
Morris was unimpressed by children’s magazines available at the time…. Publications such as ‘The Rover’, ‘Schoolgirls’ Own’, ‘Adventure’ and ‘The Hotspur’ all had stories written in text form and were not very visual. Some children, particularly the boys, were buying unsuitable American horror comics aimed at G.I.s…. Morris, whilst admiring the artwork of these comics, was horrified by their content…. He also realised there was a substantial gap in the market….
The vision was for a comic filled with role models that set a moral example based on Christian values….the aim to entertain and educate…. Morris and Hampson set about creating a dummy comic – working at Hampson’s kitchen table…. They then showed it to several Fleet Street publishers, initially with no success – but then Hulton Press agreed to take it on….
A large-scale advertising campaign was launched…. The comic was a totally new concept; a new printing technique using vivid colours….nothing like it had been seen before…. The original artwork with its outstanding visual quality was done by Frank Hampson – who was always obsessed with getting detail and consistency right….
The publication format was twenty pages, eight of which were printed in full colour…. The very first edition introduced ‘Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future’ on its front cover…. Dan Dare, with his side-kick, Albert Digby, battling with the egg-headed, green-skinned Mekon – the evil alien who ruled Venus and planned to take over Earth…. The stories were set in the late 1990s and the very first issue saw Earth in the grips of a food shortage that threatened to destroy mankind…. Dan Dare was off on a desperate mission to reach Venus and win salvation…. It was relevant to the times as Britain was still under food rationing after World War II….and Hampson had always wanted to be a pilot…. Other stories that appeared in Eagle included ‘Riders of the Range’ and ‘P.C.49’…. It also featured news and a sports section….
Eagle was published every Friday and before long it was selling nearly a million copies a week…. To keep up with production 8 hour shifts were worked, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week…. It was published from 1950-1969 – when it merged with its rival comic ‘Lion’…. It was relaunched in 1982 and ran until 1994 – before disappearing again, seemingly forever….but you never know….