Tuesday, March 20, 2012
30 Year Flashback: The new EAGLE No.1
This week in 1982 IPC relaunched Eagle, a comic they'd killed off in 1969 when they'd merged it into Lion.
The phrase "Be careful what you wish for" may have applied here, because although many fans of the original Eagle had been hoping it would one day return it's a fair bet they hadn't anticipated it in this format. The editorial by Dave Hunt acknowledged the importance of the original 1950 Eagle and promised that the revived version would also "break new ground". Indeed it did, - in the form of photo-strips for boys.
Strips in photo-form had proven to be very popular for girls comics in Britain, and had worked for adults in Italian "fumetti", but trying to make them work for 7 to 11 year old boys was a challenge. Photo-strips were ideal for girls comics because many of the themes were about emotions and relationships rather than action. On the other hand, boys comics had traditionally thrived on dramatic tension and physical escapades, which proved far harder to convey in photo-strip form.
Doomlord was probably the best attempt at photo-strips in Eagle No.1. The writing, actors, lighting, and composition were all pretty good, but one still couldn't get away from the fact that the alien himself looked like a bloke wearing a rubber mask and an outfit left over from a pantomime.
Another photo-strip, Thunderbolt and Smokey, was about two young footballers, but it all looked so staged and stiff that it distracted from the story. As for Sgt.Streetwise... the model chosen for the part looked anything but. Dredger he wasn't.
To be fair to the comic, I was in my twenties when it was published so I'm sure the target age of 7 to 11 year olds found the photo-strips far more compelling than I did.
Thankfully, some traditional artwork strips were in the comic as well, and both were superbly drawn. A brand new Dan Dare strip took up the full colour centre pages and back cover, with Return of the Mekon illustrated by Gerry Embleton and a script credited to B.J. Tomlinson (although other sources say that Pat Mills and John Wagner were the writers). In subsequent issues we'd learn that this new Dan Dare was the descendant of the original.
The other comic strip serial was The Tower King, a promising tale of a Mad Max style future where failed technology has plunged civilization back to basics. Written by Alan Hebden with great artwork by Jose Ortiz.
There was also another photo strip, a complete tale from The Collector combining photos and Ron Smith artwork (with, I think, art by Pat Wright for the framing sequence).
Like the original Eagle, the new version included pages of features on technology and sport.
I remember IPC giving new Eagle a big push at the time. It really was their major launch for that year and the idea was to interest new young readers as well as their nostalgic dads. Although there were few similarities between the new Eagle and its original namesake, using that title did gain the comic a lot of publicity. I'm sure it also earned the new comic some respect from the trade as well, no doubt gaining it higher orders from retailers than an unknown title would have.
I don't know how well it sold initially but eventually falling sales caused IPC to drop all the photo-strips (which were quite expensive to produce) and replace them with traditionally drawn strips. A move to cheap newsprint also took place at the same time, and later it even absorbed the long-running Tiger, which was a rival of Eagle's original incarnation.
Although the new Eagle featured solid storytelling and some top class artwork, it was still a very tame comic, and far less edgier than titles such as Action, 2000AD and Battle Picture Weekly. Nevertheless it had its loyal followers and enjoyed a 12 year run, ending in 1994.