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.


Adrian (the) Hood said...

I seem to remember it was only really worth buying for the Dan Dare strip. Possibly a little unfair but I remember particularly hating Sgt Streetwise. With hindsight, this would be because he looked like a model from a clothes catalogue!
I also couldn't get on with Eagle because I was still pining for Starlord.

Ian Wheeler said...

It had its loyal followers indeed. The new Eagle was, on the whole, a superb comic with brilliant artists like Ian Kenndey and superb writers such as Alan Grant. The best comic of the 1980s for my money.

Mark Kardwell said...

"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."

I was ten at the time, and thought it was tedious. But then, I'd had my brain bent by 2000AD for five years, and seen the rise of Alan Moore through Marvel UK and the first two issues of WARRIOR by this time.

Steve Tanner said...

Agree with you about the guy used for Sgt Streetwise but he actually was a catalogue model - he popped up later that year modelling Y Fronts in Kays Catalogue! It seemed very, very wrong!

Robert said...

I pretty much enjoyed the new Eagle - though I was too young to remember the original. The photostrips were pretty terrible, and the comic improved when those were dropped (though I have very fond memories of Joe Soap).

Doomlord was probably the best strip despite the photos - I also really liked the Tower King. Later on I loved the House of Cassandra and the Grange Hill type tale (whose title I've completed forgotten).

It wasn't all bad, Lew.

Lew Stringer said...

Sorry if I gave the impression that I thought it was bad, Robert. I actually bought it every week for the first several years so there were things I did enjoy about it. I just felt it wasn't as dynamic as 2000AD and early BATTLE comics.

But as I said, I was older than the readership it was aimed at, and its 12 year runs proves it did have a loyal following so it obviously entertained a lot of kids.

Simon Williams said...

Wow... 30 YEARS? I remember my mum buying me this issue (god, I feel old!). I'll admit, I was always more of an Eagle fan than a 2000AD one. Doomlord remains one of my favourite characters to this day (I actually had one of those masks!), and the strip really came into it's own when it moved from photos to traditional comic strip.

I'd love to see some of these classic stories get reprinted... the Ian Kennedy Dan Dare stuff especially.

Oh yes... bring back JOE SOAP! lol!

Lew Stringer said...

Hi Simon, There was a Doomlord collection (of some of the comic strips) published a few years ago. Did you see that? I'm not sure if it's still available. It was by an independent publisher with permission from Egmont.

Raven said...

" ... 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)."

This could have been Barrie Tomlinson, who later edited the comic.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, it's Barrie Tomlinson (who was the managing editor at IPC at the time) but I think I read somewhere that the original story was by Mills and Wagner (who, if I recall correctly, were given credit from issue 2).

Anonymous said...

EAGLE was better than 2000ad and Battle combined. It had the best artists and never put a foot wrong. 2000ad was hard to understand and Battle was poor when it added strikeforce and Jimmy Kung fu or whoever he was. EAGLE for me all the time. ROBERT the school strip was CROWE STREET COMP. Gary

Simon said...

Blimey - 30 years. I was eleven when Eagle started, and I remember getting it for a while. In fact I still have a couple of issues, which I'm looking through right now. I agree with Adrian that Dan Dare was the main, and pretty much the only attraction. I also remember them doing some 3D strips that were quite fun. Then in November '83 I discovered 2000AD and that was the end of my Eagle days...

gt said...

The glossy version of the Eagle relaunched in 1990/91 was the first comic I regularly purchased. Eagle and Roy of the Rovers were nicely positioned between the likes of Buster and 2000AD.

Matt Baxter said...

I was 9 when issue 1 of the relaunch came out and I'm pretty sure it was advertised on TV. Either an ad, or coverage on one of the Saturday morning kids shows. Either way, as soon as I saw the ad I dashed down to Ramsdens (our local paper shop) and bought issue 1, and every issue thereafter up until the time it merged with Tiger. After that, I'd probably been ensnared by Tharg!

I distinctly remember finding the photo strips really creepy. They had a sort of gloomy quality. That page of Ron Smith aliens crushing photographic humans brings back some very vivid memories! Maybe I was easily scared at 9 years old!

The Tower King was awesome, wasn't it?

Lew Stringer said...

Gloomy is a good word to describe them, Matt. The faces the models pulled rarely looked convincing and staring into the middle distance made them look a bit vacant, I always thought.

Adam Bradley said...

I was 11 when the relaunched Eagle came out. I remember the TV advert very well and also an 'and finally' news spot on the 5:45 news the week prior. My dad picked No.1 up for me that Saturday morning (read I may add!) and I loved it from cover to cover, although Thunderbolt & Smokey was my least favourite as I hated football. Doomlord was the best of the photostrips, deliciously eerie and creepy. Talking about recognising photo models, I was always spotting the guy that played Howard Harvey (the reporter in Doomlord) in various TV dramas as an extra. I spotted him three times once in different Doctor Who stories all within a year! The Dan Dare strip was the cherry on the cake though. I remember being rather saddened that Gerry Embleton had left the strip, the way he drew the new Dan was never surpassed. Oliver Frey was ok-ish, Ian Kennedy's was excellent though a bit boy-ish looking. The Dan Dare scripts matched anything that 2000AD (a publication that I also received at the time) could ever do. Other notable favourites were The Tower King, The House Of Deamon and The Fifth Horseman.
Dad liked it, saying it reflected the original nicely with the vehicle profiles (eg, Sea King Helicopter), sports features, looking after your bicycle that sort of thing.
30 years!? Well I never (sigh).

Vimalaharan said...

Hi Lew,
I landed on this post while I was searching for a Doomlord post. I can see, some people have asked about the Doomlord reprints. I actually got that Doomlord reprint from the following link before 2 years.

If you are really lucky, those publishers might have some copies left even after 2 years.

P.S: my comment here can be so late as I typing this after 2 years :)

I.M Fletcher said...

I got heaps of these. I think I subscribed to it through my local store. I continued getting up through the switch to newsprint paper. I only stopped when Return Of the jedi (the movie) came out, and I started getting the Star Wars weekly instead.

I.M Fletcher said...

ps, just went and looked in my folks' shed. Most of the Eagle issues I had are still there. Which reminds me: the Eagle issues with the anaglyph 3D and the red/green glasses are the first time I ever saw any pictures or photos in 3D ,ever! This was before the internet, of course.

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