Frank Hampson, the creator of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future and the photogravure-colour cover-star who sold millions of copies of Eagle starting in 1950, died twenty-five years ago. In that same year, 1985, lifelong Dan Dare enthusiast Alastair Crompton wrote the first version of this book, The Man Who Drew Tomorrow. In his introduction to this new 2010 sequel, Crompton explains that his initial book now appears to him as "a slightly fourth-form hagiography, showing my subject through rose-coloured glasses". Tomorrow Revisited gives Crompton a chance to revise and revisit the tumultuous lifetime of this hugely gifted strip cartoon storyteller and balance and enhance it because he can now get a few more answers and insights, for example from Hampson's sister Margaret and son Peter, and from his further researches and interviews.
Luckily, during Hampson's final years, Crompton had been able meet with his artist-hero five times and out of this evolved the 1985 book, but these encounters progressively turned, as he puts it, "from sweet to sour". It is clear that Hampson's spirit had never really mended from the shattering, shabby treatment he had received from the Mirror Group, "The Gangster of Fleet Street", which culminated in 1962 in his messy, compromised departure from Eagle and final separation from the space-voyaging alter-ego he had conceived and developed into a best-selling icon. Crompton tackles this injustice and the toll it took, head on and in detail, with names, dates, quotes, including Hampson's directly related and fortunately failed suicide attempt. The evidence mounts up into a damning indictment of corporate greed and callousness.
Crompton is also unafraid to ask some questions about Marcus Morris's role, acknowledging his positive encouragement and financing of Hampson's comics creativity, while also questioning the Reverend's "lack of diligence in allowing the copyright of Dan Dare to be vested in Hulton press and its successors." There is no whitewashing here about the tensions that arose in the relationship between these two highly driven men, nor about the summary, unceremonious firings of several vital studio assistants who dared to question Hampson's painstaking production system and obsessive workaholicism. Considering the cavalier treatment Hampson later received himself, these dismissals seem surprisingly ruthless. Evidently, creating these two pages in Eagle showing the future in such spectacular, utterly convincing hyper-realism came at considerable price.
This handsome monograph combines the meticulous and entertainingly written narratives of each chapter with page after page of sumptuous, high-quality reproductions of Dan Dare comics, sketches and reference sheets shot from Hampson's originals, and numerous rare and unseen photographs, including numerous shots of Hampson's father and studio members acting out panels of Dare stories for photo-reference. In Chapter 10 Crompton chronicles Marcus Morris's little-known, still-born plans in the early Seventies for a new children's comic, christened Lightning, and speculates why he never called on Hampson to contribute.
Also presented here in Chapter 12 are restored samples from seven `lost' Sixties characters which Hampson created, several for the Mirror Group, but which they never seriously considered for publication. I had seen some images of Peter Rock, lean and blond in white T-shirt and jeans, his proposed newspaper strip for the Daily Herald. Set in 2264, this is an earthbound SF hero whose boss is a black woman named Laura. In his notes, Hampson explained, "The sociological ain behind this strip is to attack the colour bar by ignoring it. We present a future state in which a person's colour is immaterial." Other characters I had never seen before include: Monogram, a suave secret agent with an eye-patch, who discreetly works for the Queen; Raff Royal, leader of a team of NATO fighter pilots, intended to be "as technically accurate as the famous Terry and the Pirates in the USA' (Hampson hugely admired Caniff); and another pilot, `Birdy' Boyd, dogfighting in the skies of World War One. In another register, Hampson also devised a boyish travel agent-cum-adventurer named Birney as well as a woman detective or lawyer named Mary Lee and a Dark Ages historical drama in full colour entitled Martin Mere, Knight of the North. Could any of these have repeated the phenomenal impact of Dan Dare? Two further newspaper strips shown here are The Chalmers, a family strip commissioned in 1963 by the National Coal Board advertising solid fuel central heating, and his unsuccessful `auditions' to draw Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise, which certainly lack the essential sexiness and deadliness of Jim Holdaway's interpretation.
A happy note is struck in Chapter 11 by the account of Hampson's recognition in later life, sparked at the Lucca Comics Festival in Italy, where he had been taken by historian Denis Gifford (and tantalisingly, Crompton mentions four audio tapes of an interview by Gifford of Hampson, of which only one seems to have survived). At least Hampson's winning of the new `Prestigioso Maestro' or Lifetime Achievement prize at the Lucca Festival's Yellow Kid awards in 1975 led to the press and media in Britain rediscovering Dare's creator and a belated period of well-deserved acclaim. That acclaim continues today through successive generations inspired by Hampson's oeuvre, from Dave Gibbons to Adam Brockbank. And of course thanks to Tomorrow Revisited, which stands up as about as definitive and lavish a biographical tribute and artbook as any we are likely to see.