Sufferin' satellites, The Comic is dead: Jonathan Glancey traces a mutant evolution

Dan Dare and the Eagle vanished in 1969 after a 991-week run. During almost 20 years of publication, the finest English comic art strip was drawn by several talented graphic artists, starting with Frank Hampson and working through Frank Bellamy, Don Harley and Keith Watson.

Each added to the stature of the legendary strip, yet by the end of the Sixties, Dan Dare was ready to fold his wings. Colonel Dare and the Eagle itself - a comic that had sold more than a million copies a week at its zenith in the mid-Fifties and rarely fewer than 750,000 at other times - were considered old hat by their publishers, IPC. The Second World War was definitely over, 25 years on from VJ Day, they said, and Dan Dare, with his self-deprecating, pipe- smoking 'up and at 'em, chaps' view of the world, was a dinosaur.

The Eagle and Dan Dare had been superseded by Dr Who, television and even more television. And as for those exploded drawings of trains, ships and planes - drawn by Leslie Ashwell Wood and John Batchelor - which had made the Eagle equally famous in the Fifties and Sixties, surely television could do much better?

Yet Dan Dare was by now more than a character from a boys' comic; he was the stuff of British mythology, providing much the same aura as Batman and Superman across the Atlantic. Could he be revived with a new uniform, up-to-date technology and a more aggressive television-era demeanour? He was, at first, in the comic 2000AD, where he was drawn by Dave Gibbons and penned by Alan Moore, only to be lost in space again when that television-influenced comic changed its format.

He re-emerged in an uninspired late-Eighties re-launch of the Eagle. This time, Dare was portrayed as an all-American super-hero: tough, no-nonsense and armed with a lethal space-gun that he obviously enjoyed using.

It was a formula that failed. This Dan Dare offered neither the quality of artwork of the Fifties original nor the literary subtlety of the new wave of adult comic books being produced in the United States.

While Dan Dare waits to be revived a fourth time, some of the artists who have drawn him have been participating in the boom in adult art comics and, for want of a better term, graphic novels, which have raised the comic strip to a self-conscious art form over the past decade and left a gap in comic publishing.

Today, young children are offered a range of banal television- inspired comics of the Postman Pat sort, and others designed to feed the latest fad, such as the World of Dinosaurs.

The launch issue of this comic concentrates on the unseemly feeding habits of these terrible reptiles, and includes a free packet of Jacob's Mini Dinosaurs ('bite-size toffee-flavoured biscuits') to encourage equally unseemly behaviour on the part of its readers.

Otherwise, some children still find the Beano funny (moving on to Viz at secondary school). But most have no time for the comics of yore. They prefer television, computer games and such magazines as those devoted to the arcane, armchair world of computer programming. The recent demise of Roy of the Rovers - a comic based on one of the stars of Tiger, a Fifties boys' title that once enjoyed a circulation of 300,000 - marked the end of an era. Where Roy of the Rovers used to flourish - it was selling just 25,000 when it folded - there now exists a huge publishing void.

The work of former Dan Dare illustrators and writers, such as Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, exists on another plane. Starting with Watchmen (Gibbons and Moore, DC Comics), published in book form in 1986, and Batman, The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller for DC Comics), published as a book the same year, the comic book became the stuff of adult reading.

Both these strips were magnificently illustrated, featured inventive and highly wrought scripts and revelled in a world that was dark, dangerous and pyschopathic. Batman had aged; he had become a sinister, but genuinely interesting figure. He was no longer nave nor squeaky clean. He had become the raw material of the psychiatrist's couch, of Alien and Bladerunner. It led to the recent crop of Batman movies, the stuff of adult entertainment and children's nightmares.

The influence of strips such as Watchmen and the apocalyptic Batman has been extraordinary. It has inspired a whole other world of unpleasant comic book characters, powerful story lines, excellent illustration and a celebration of violence the like of which television would never dare to show.

The most extreme example is Skin (Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, Tundra, 1992), the sickening story of a skinhead thalidomide victim who wreaks his vengeance on everyone, not least the chairman of the thalidomide drug company whose arms he hacks off with an axe and ties to his own body before leaping to his death.

Despite the violence, it is imaginatively illustrated and horribly compelling. It has a painterly style of illustration that is even more pronounced in The Yattering (Eclipse Graphic Novels, 1993), a horror comic novel written by Clive Barker and drawn by John Bolton. The manner in which Bolton merges images of surreal, invisible demons trying to drag a suburban man to hell with all-too-human humans trying to cook the Christmas turkey, is quite remarkable.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Signal to Noise (published in instalments in the Face and as a book by Victor Gollancz last year) puts the comic-book-as-fine-art on a high shelf, wholly inaccessible to children but gripping stuff for those generations weaned on the work of Frank Hampson and the Eagle artists. The use of so many graphic techniques in this story of a dying film producer dreaming his last, end-of-the-world movie is impressive rather than pretentious (which it could easily be), and the story is as moving as that found in many new novels, although told in much fewer words.

The most chilling of the new comic books must be Frank Miller's Sin City (Titan Books, 1992). Here the anti-hero, Marv, gradually disintegrates as he hacks, saws, blasts and rips his way through a world of filth and corruption that finally kills him, too. This monochrome book is truly shocking. It is not something you would want your child to see.

And there lies the true end of comic-book art. It has become the province of adults. Dan Dare is long dead, and with him goes the comic-book hero who was bluff and decent, and good enough to be the stuff of auction rooms 40 years on. Yet he was drawn for boys and tomboys.

How many future designers, illustrators and architects were inspired by Frank Hampson, Dan Dare and the Eagle? Many. How many will be inspired by Postman Pat and The World of Dinosaurs?

But Dan Dare is an impossible figure for children weaned on violence and adults for whom sickening sex and perversion is a part of their daily diet.

Taken by surprise, Dan exclaims: 'Sufferin' satellites]'; Frank Miller's Marv responds with a gutteral: 'Hnh . . .' Dare gave his enemies, the Treens, the old one-two, teaching them a lesson they wouldn't forget; Marv meets his enemies with a chiaroscuro swirl of punches, razor cuts and body-ripping bullets. He saws off their limbs and has them fed to the dogs.

At which point you realise that the modern comic book may be art, but it is very hard to like.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Scottish Power was found to have unacceptably long call waiting times

Scottish Power hit with sales ban by regulator

The company was found to have unacceptably long call waiting times

This phoenix rose from the stage at the London Olympics. The insurer grew out of zombie life insurance funds

Phoenix Life: Chance of a refund for overcharged policyholders has risen

A retired adviser got his money back from the insurer after claiming he had been overcharged. Thousands of others may have a strong case
Expect a new wave of fishing expeditions by fraudsters now we can invest our life savings

Cold callers and your pension: watch out for dangerous boiler room scams

Sean O'Grady received a cold call last week that was much more sinister than normal. Yes, someone wants to get their hands on his pension...

Fuel poverty could claim 100,000 lives over next 15 years, warns energy charity

The NHS is currently bearing a yearly burden of approximately £1.5bn treating cold-related illnesses every winter

MPs call for Equitable Life policyholders to be paid £2.8bn owed by government

Hundreds of thousands of people's policies were hit when the mutual insurer almost collapsed at the turn of the century

The elderly woman's family discovered the mistake

DWP criticised after it left a pensioner £26,000 worse off

The Department for Work and Pensions has been slammed after a series of cock-ups left an elderly pensioner £26,000 worse off.

The FCA has today issued a consultation paper on its plans to tighten up consumer credit rules to give consumers greater protection on guarantor loans and in other areas

Payday loan companies must publish their rates, says CMA

A 20-month investigation concluded that a lack of price competition between lenders has led to higher costs for borrowers

Vulnerable consumers are defined as those with poor literacy skills, those who have caring responsibilities, people with disabilities, dementia or the old

Financial companies are not meeting the needs of vulnerable consumers, says City Watchdog

The Financial Conduct Authority said the industry needs to start thinking about solutions to these challenges

The FTSE 100 is inching closer to its record high but can it maintain these levels?

In 1999 stock markets quickly tumbled, losing many a fortune in the process

Tax-free savings: Freedom dawns for the junior savers caught in low-income accounts

The parents of six million children stuck with low-interest saving accounts worth more than £5bn will be able to move the cash from this April. But what are their options? Samantha Downes reports

How much lower will mortgage rates go?

Another day, another cut. As lenders compete to offer the cheapest deals, Simon Read asks if borrowers should jump in now or wait for further falls

Are bills ruining your family life? Try the lover's guide to coping with debt...

If you're in the red and can't find a way out, it's time to get some help. Neasa MacErlean hears that relationships will suffer unless you are open with your partner, but there are organisations that will put you on the right track and get you talking

How to complain: From retailers to energy suppliers, it's easier than you think

When companies let us down, millions of us just take it on the chin. Simon Read shows how to make your voice heard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

    Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

    £30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable