This will be the first of a probably irregular series of blogs about the 1980s IPC comic for boys Eagle. IPC had a whole raft of comics at the time, aimed at teenage boys and girls, of which only 2000AD is still widely remembered these days in the moribund 21st century UK comics scene. All of these comics sold in numbers that publishers would give their eye teeth for these days, but were run ruthlessly by the management, so that even a slight dip in sales figures could lead to the dreaded headline “GREAT NEWS CHUMS” and merger with another comic, with maybe only 3 or 4 of your favourite strips continuing in the amalgamated title.
Eagle had been published before, founded in 1950 by Marcus Morris, an anglican vicar from Lancashire. This version ran until 1969, and famously starred Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future created by Frank Hampson – a strip which is well-remembered now, and still in print, most recently published by Titan books from 2004 to 2010 in a series of handsome hardcover books. By contrast, the 1980s Eagle, is not hugely remembered these days – except, perhaps, by those of my generation who grew up with it.
80s Eagle was allegedly the brainchild of John Purdie, a manager at IPC. Purdie had worked on Bunty for DC Thomson, but joined Fleetway, IPC’s comics-publishing arm with the intention of revitalising their girls comics range. One of his innovations was the cunning addition of photo strips, a popular feature, mostly used on ‘romance’ strips where the teenage girl waited for the boy she liked to actually ask her out. Purdie’s new idea was to try photo strips in the boys comic arena and see if he could achieve similar success. Also in the news at the time was the possibility of a Dan Dare TV series. 2000AD had been running a Dan Dare strip with mixed success – largely because the character bore virtually no resemblance to Frank Hampson’s original – but cancelled the strip in 1979, so the opportunity was there to bring back Dare in his original home of Eagle, and do something a bit more recognisable for fans of the original stories.
The work of creating the new comic fell to Group Editor Barrie Tomlinson. Working for him was Editor Dave Hunt, the man who had edited Battle Picture Weekly for IPC from 1976 to 1980 and been a critical factor in the creation of Pat Mills’ Charley’s War, a classic of the war genre. Mills, who had created Battle Picture Weekly and 2000AD would also write for the comic, as would John Wagner, the creator of Judge Dredd. The new Eagle was worked on in great secrecy, with the first issue coming out on 27 March 1982. Was it a triumph? Well… let’s see. I’m going to read them again. So you don’t have to.