Monday 7 November 2016

Frank Bellamy and Dan Dare - Trip to Trouble!

Eagle 28 Nov 1959 Vol 10 No 41
NOTE: Difference in artwork styles by Frank Bellamy, Don Harley,
Gerald Palmer and Keith Watson

GUEST POST from David Jackson
Frank Bellamy and Dan Dare - Trip to Trouble!

In "Al Williamson and Frank Bellamy recycled" - posted here 8th September 2016 - Norman writes:
"Frank Hampson (Don Harley, Gerald Palmer, Keith Watson inter alia) created "Dan Dare" over a 10 year period before Bellamy, Harley and others took over. Bellamy, unfairly I think, gets a lot of criticism by those who were reading "Dan Dare" at that time because he was asked to upgrade things. Fortunately he agreed from the start to do it for one year and that's what his contract stated."
It seems appropriate to unpack the above quote as a follow-up to my previous posting "Frank Bellamy - Sight Unseen"

The situation described came about when Dan Dare's creator Frank Hampson relinquished hands-on involvement with the strip - having originally signed away his copyright of his creation to the publisher, no doubt under the impression that 'that was the way things were': it was sign on the dotted line or no publication.  (For a flat fee or weekly wage). Interestingly, that's not the case in book publishing - fortunately for its authors - but it was what was done in periodical publishing.

The 1985 book 'The Man Who Drew Tomorrow' by Alastair Crompton, with additional material by Alan Vince, states (p134):
"Frank [Hampson] says today that his understanding with Odhams was that he should hand over his Dan Dare strip to Frank Bellamy for as long as it took to finish "The Road of Courage" and then take the space-adventure back again."
"Frank Bellamy - Sight Unseen" previously described the ill-fated first FB rendered "Dan Dare" frame (Eagle 29 August 1959 Vol.10 No.28) whose face - only - was subsequently reworked by Don Harley on editorial edict; the original artwork being thereafter lost to posterity and never seen again (hence its inclusion under the title of that post) - unless anyone out there knows any different...
So the (I have also argued, in print, unjustified - see article below) criticism of the Frank Bellamy "Dan Dare" was there at the outset and from the top. Understandably, the fact that this occurred could of itself account for FB's subsequent feelings towards the feature.
At that point Frank Bellamy might well have wished he had never agreed to take on "Dan Dare" - even for only a year. Creativity is not just a learned competence plus time spent, it is the product of mental states facilitated by circumstances congenial to the right frame of mind. Alastair Crompton referred to FB's first "Dan Dare" page (quoted from, in part previously in the "Sight Unseen" post and this, further, here):
"So the artwork which Bellamy had spent painful hours producing to the brief he thought he had been given was altered back to something approaching Hampson's style; when Bellamy saw the changes he was devastated."
Speakeasy #109 has a three page feature "Dan Dare - Pilot of the Past" by Alan Woolcombe with Don Harley and Keith Watson which includes the following:

"For several years, Hampson ran his studio like a tight ship, working all hours, sometimes to the point of overwork and consequent ill health.  In 1959, however, a series of publishing takeovers brought in a new, economy-minded management who couldn't see the point of such a complicated set-up.  Hampson found it increasingly difficult to maintain overall control over Dan Dare, and his estrangement became complete when he discovered that they were planning to make a film of his creation without paying him a penny.  He resigned, vowing to have nothing more to do with the strip.  The new owners lost no time in disbanding the Dan Dare team. [...] It was not a happy time.  Frank Bellamy, brought in on the recommendation of Frank Hampson as his successor, had been told by Marcus Morris and Clifford Makins (assistant to Morris) "We don't want any more of these cardboard characters, we want you to give Dan Dare another dimension."  Inspired by this brief, he produced his first page, only to see Morris and Makins have Don Harley alter it because it didn't look like Dan Dare!  Nonetheless, despite being deeply hurt by this mistreatment, Bellamy did produce a very different, modern-looking Dan Dare."

The Fantasy Advertiser Vol.3 No.50 interview (hereafter FA) says (here only in part, in selected extracts compiled together):
FA: " ...You went on to "Marco Polo", but only a few months later, you switched strips again to "Dan Dare", why was this?

FB:  Well, I think Frank Hampson was getting a bit tired of "Dan Dare" by this time.  So Marcus Morris, editor of EAGLE at that time, asked me if I'd like to take over.  I had a chat with Frank Hampson, who also wanted me to take over, and under the agreement that it would be for one year only, I started drawing "Dan Dare".

FA:  But didn't you have to refer back to the Hampson version quite a bit?

FB:  Oh, yes.  But drawing is like handwriting.  It belongs to an individual so another person's is bound to be different.  You can see a vast difference between Frank Hampson, Don Harley and Keith Watson's version of "Dan Dare".  To me the difference stands out like a sore thumb, even though the uniforms are the same. ...

[There was a later editorial edict to update the whole look]:

FB:  "They asked me to redesign "Dan Dare".  The uniforms, space fleet, everything. ...

FA:  Did you have any qualms about revamping Frank Hampson's personal creation?

FB:  Oh, yes.  I didn't like doing that.  But it was a directive from upstairs - that's what they wanted, and you can only give the client what he wants, so that was it.

FA:  You drew "Dan Dare" for exactly a year.  Why did you stop?

FB:  I'd only wanted to draw it for a year.

FA:  Have there been any sets you particularly disliked drawing?

FB:  Well, once again, "Dan Dare", because I felt cramped on it, as I've said."

The business side - editorial decisions and takeovers, printing strikes and the resultant consequences - impacted badly on Frank Hampson, the "Dan Dare" 'team' and Frank Bellamy in the fallout. And some of the most devoted readers were not happy either.  It all showed the publisher also lacked insight into the minds of readers.  Arbitrary stylistic changes - not internal to the narrative - of themselves go against the willing suspension of disbelief.  In some cases the contemporary reactions of young readers and fans brought up on the Hampson "Dare" have themselves been argued out in print retrospectively; such as those published in Terry Doyle's series for Eagle Times, scanned extracts from which provide additional supporting text, and the re-borrowed title, for this post. 

Opinion by David Jackson (& Terry Doyle)
Eagle Times Vol 8: 1 Spring 1995

Opinion by David Jackson (& Terry Doyle)
Eagle Times Vol 8: 1 Spring 1995
All that said, we do have the FB "Dan Dare" to appreciate on its own terms, and as can be judged from the many examples which have appeared previously on this blog, the Frank Bellamy "Dan Dare" pages speak for themselves as stand alone works of art in their own right.
Eagle 6 Feb 1960 Vol 11 No 6

Thanks for all this David. It ties together a lot of thoughts on Frank Bellamy's run on "Dan Dare", surely one of the strangest productions in British comics at that time!

1 comment:

Norman Boyd said...

David subsequently wrote to say:
As chance would have it the EAGLE pages from Vol.10 No.41 would be a guess for Phil Harbottle's "ugly berk" and "Karl Malden" epithets which at lower left is a fairly apparent attempt by FB to render a 'Hampson team look' following the fall out from the first page..

I would argue that this page only looks the way it does look as a consequence of the editorially directed paste-over of FB's first Dan Dare. Creativity is extraordinarily sensitive to such circumstance, professionalism or no professionalism.

Frank must have realised and regretted ever by chance electing to focus on a first frame close-up of Dan when he didn't have to...

Readers might be forgiven for assuming that such work is invariably produced under ideal circumstances - that the artist isn't seriously ill but still has to meet a deadline, or produce work during some emotional family crisis - with no effect on the quality of the work.

Phil's other criticism which he defended as "Bellamy had no understanding of science fictional icons or extrapolations based on science or mechanics, resulting in sf imagery" is not borne out, I'd say, in any number of examples I could point to. However, what I think he might have been referring to would be some of the schematic designs type craft conceived as aerodynamic sleek shapes, as distinct from starting with 1930s 1940s style aircraft and ship heavy engineering assembled from component parts, rivets and nuts and bolts.

The EAGLE Vol.11 No.6 front page above is an excellent concluding example and great to see as an original.

Many thanks..!