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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Pilot of the future reaches 50

Dan Dare as he appeared to Eagle readers
Fifty years ago this month, Dan Dare made his first appearance in issue number one of Eagle comic. He became one of the most popular British comic characters ever, and his half century is being celebrated in an exhibition, as the BBC's Martin Conaghan reports.

Few people know that, before he was redesigned as a new type of hero for the British, Dan Dare was originally conceived as a chaplain of the future.

His integrity survived the redesign, and what emerged was a space-faring gentleman based upon the heroes who had fought in the Second World War: Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare, a clean-cut hero who did not curse or drink, who only shot in self-defence and always fought for justice.

Battling against the Mekon

He featured in countless space adventures during his run in The Eagle, where he battled against the Mekon and was illustrated for more than 10 years by Hampson and several other studio artists.

We wanted to change the world

Frank Hampson
Born in Manchester in 1918, Frank Hampson spent most of his childhood in Southport, where he began producing artwork for Meccano Magazine.

He enrolled at the Southport School of Arts and Craft and soon started work on the Christian magazine The Anvil, before helping to establish The Eagle and Dan Dare with the Reverend Marcus Morris.

In commemoration of the cartoon's roots, Southport is now hosting an exhibition celebrating the character's 50th anniversary, using rare and unsual props which were used as models for the cartoons.

His best-known adversary was the ruthless Mekon
The success of Dan Dare and The Eagle is a tribute to Hampson's creativity; he is now regarded as one of the originators of British comic-book science fiction.

However, he suffered ill health for most of his life, and in July 1985 he died of cancer.

His most famous character influenced the creation of several other British comic book characters, most notably Judge Dredd, and eventually became a national treasure, inspiring a radio show and spawning an endless series of merchandise.

Sadly for its fans, The Eagle was amalgamated with Lion in 1969 and Dan Dare was not properly revived until Fleetway Editions launched 2000AD in the late 1970s. But even then, he only appeared for a brief period.

In 1982, The Eagle returned to British newsstands and "the pilot of the future" was properly reinstated.

Tales of intergalactic violence

He featured in some ambitious stories that soon degenerated into tales of intergalactic violence, whereupon The Eagle was cancelled for good.

The most memorable return of Dan Dare came during the early 1990s in the adult comic book Revolver, where Glaswegian comic book writer Grant Morrison presented a picture of an ageing hero who was haunted by the sins of war.

It was the last official appearance of the character to date.

Eagle from 1955
Dan Dare made an impact on the lives of British children in a way that few other comic book characters have, but sadly he outlived his own shelf life and now exists only in re-printed copies of The Eagle and biographies of Hampson's life.

He will probably be regarded forever as the first real British science-fiction hero.

As Hampson once said himself: "We were all just back from the war and eager to go. We wanted to change the world."

And that's just what he did, earning himself the title: "The Man Who Drew Tommorow."

The Pilot of the Future 50th Anniversary Exhibition is being held at the the Atkinson Art Gallery in Southport from 15 April to 1 July 2000.

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