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Nice pictures, shame about the book...
on 20 December 2010
If you already know anything about the history of the creation of the Eagle comic, you'll find this book a very mixed bag. It's enjoyable enough, but decidedly a flawed product. For a start, there's no new information here about Marcus Morris, Frank Hampson or the history of the Eagle. There are some perfunctory interviews with "big-name fans", but does anyone much care that Tim Rice, Terry Jones and others used to read the Eagle, even in this celebrity-obsessed age? They don't have many particularly interesting insights to share about what Eagle brought to the lives of children in the 50s - it's not news to hear that it was perceived as a bit "worthy" and middle-class. There are some glaring omissions in the book: in particular, there's no mention whatsoever of the rollicking 3D animated series seen on British TV just a few years ago (an omission that's all the more puzzling because the book is copyrighted by the people behind the Dan Dare Corporation, which produced that series and I believe still owns the rights to Dan Dare). This means the book falls far short of a definitive "biography" (or even history) of the character. Finally, the book's production quality is disappointing: it's littered with typographical and subbing errors (one especially glaring one on the very first page), and although there are some excellent pictures, there aren't anywhere near enough of them and they're printed too small to do them justice. (Who on earth decided that a small book printed on pulp paper and filled with text, like an everyday hardback novel in size and quality, with only a few tipped-in glossy pages of pictures, was the appropriate format for a book about Dan Dare and Eagle? If ever a subject cried out for large, glossy and colourful treatment, this is it!) For anyone with some knowledge of the story of the development of Eagle, the evolution of Dan Dare and the rise and fall of the Hampson studio, the pictures are the best thing about this book: there are some gorgeous preliminary designs and sketches of spacecraft and vehicles and suchlike, which I don't remember seeing before. However, the best of these (possibly all of them?) are now online at the Guardian website, and frankly viewing them there is a more satisfying experience. You won't be bitterly disappointed by the book, and at the price it's not an awful gift for Dads and Grandads who might enjoy a slice of nostalgia, but if you're a Dan Dare enthusiast, a student of the history of British comics, or interested in popular culture of the 1950s and 60s, you'll probably be left wanting something more substantial.