Friday, 20 July 2007

Dan Dare - Pilot of the Paleo-Future

Back at the half way point of the last century comics were getting a lot of media attention. The post war increase of violence and adult content (along with actual maturity) was scaring the parents of the impressionable kiddies. Soon drastic measures were being taken.

In America this consisted of mass public book burning and a special US Congressional inquiry.

In Britain Vicar Marcus Morris was also concerned about the import of American horror comics but he had a different solution. Eagle was an anthology comic set up to other a more moral alternative to the horror imports, and it’s star was one Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare.

England 1996

Frank Hampson’ Dan Dare strip was a beautiful piece of work, fighting the horror comics shock appeal with shear quality and craftsmanship. While tales of manly adventuring in space were hardly a novel concept, the fully formed world Dan Dare adventured in was a wonder. The technology fetishism of the stories brought something from the cut-away drawings of spitfires and war ships, there was an inner logic too the 50’s visuals beyond mere fanciful drawings of space rockets. This attention to world building also led to giving the various alien civilisations their own distinctive technological aesthetic, from the Spacefleets curves to the Treens almost Kirbyesque Aztec transport.

The characters were rendered with a mixture of cartoonish exaggeration of facial characteristics and expression with realism that’s pretty rarely seen these days (mainly because it’s so bloody hard to achieve), Dan’s ‘Satanic’ eyebrows are a thing of wonder. Also in the cast is Professor Jocelyn Peabody who avoids all the usual ditsy space bunny troupes and instead tends to be the smartest, most competent, and, well, dashing of the crew, happy to disobey direct orders and dive a rocket into the atmosphere of the planet with a joyous shout of 'Tally Ho'

Dan Dare went on to have as massive an impact on British science fiction and comic as you’d expect from a magazine selling two million copies a week. The near obsessional attention to detail of the technology gave us Thunderbirds and the other Gerry Anderson shows, direct inspirations appear in Doctor Who, and the significantly more down beat Quartermass. And the British comics tradition which descended from Eagle eventually merged with the horror comics it was set up as an antidote to giving us 2000AD and all that followed. Dan Dare’s paleo-future world is also a clear starting point for Warren Ellis and Chris Weston’s Ministry of Space and Ian Edginton and D’Isreali’s Scarlet Traces sequel, not to mention the updated 1990’s political view on Dan Dare from Grant Morrison and Ryan Hughes in Crisis.

So maybe there’s a lesson there for contemporary times. Perhaps those concerned parties in Georgia should stop using legal manoeuvering shenanigans to try and drain the funds of a charity and instead put out a beautiful comic history of cubism without any nudity in at all.
Who knows what it could start.

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