Frank Hampson - the Artist

the artist
to view images full size open in a new tab

Frank Hampson (21 December 1918 – 8 July 1985) was a British illustrator, best known as the creator and artist of Dan Dare and other characters in the boys' comic, the Eagle, to which he contributed from 1950 to 1961.
Hampson wrote and drew Dan Dare's Venus and Red Moon stories, plus a complete storyline for 'Operation Saturn', however Hampson drew only part of the Saturn story, and his script was altered when he passed the strip to assistants.


Frank Hampson by Zac
Frank Hampson was born to Robert and Elsie on 21st December 1918 at 488 Audenshaw Road, Audenshaw, near to Manchester (now Tameside).
The family then moved to the seaside town of Southport three months later.
Frank also had a younger brother and sister.
He was educated at King George V School, a grammar school in Southport, (Eric Eden started there two years later).
While still at school, Frank got his first regular commission drawing sketches when he was 13 from Meccano Magazine.
He was married Dorothy Mabel Jackson, the daughter of a Cardiff surveying engineer, in 1944 and in 1947, they had one son, Peter.

German Rocket Technology by Zac
Frank's younger brother, Eric, was killed in a naval action during the Second World War.
With the start of the war Frank joined the Royal Army Service Corps, where he learned to drive a truck, and was later commissioned as Lieutenant.
While he was serving he came into contact, towards the end of the war, with German rocket technology
This undoubtedly was the source of much of his interest in science fiction in the following years.
Following the war Frank set up the family home in Southport and, in 1947, at the age of 28, he enrolled at the Southport School of Arts and Crafts for a course in illustration. In order to help make ends meet, he also set up a silk-screen, colour-printing business with fellow student Harold Johns.

Marcus Morris by Zac
When a local Anglican clergyman, Marcus Morris, was the vicar at St James, Birkdale.
He wanted some illustrations in the parish magazine 'Anvil' of which he was editor.
Early in 1948 he decided to use the business run by two art school students, Hampson and Johns.
Later, in 1949, in collaboration with the the Oxford educated Rev. Marcus Morris, Frank devised a new boy's magazine, the 'Eagle', which Morris sold to the Hulton Press.
This magazine featured Dan Dare as a Space Fleet Chaplain, complete with bible and 'dog-collar'
In April the following year, a revised version of the Eagle, minus the Space Fleet Chaplain, hit the bookstalls.
The Eagle's most popular strip was undoubtedly Hampson's revision of the Space Fleet Chaplain which, of course, was 'Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future'. 
The Eagle, however, was more than just a comic, and contained educational features such as historically accurate strip-cartoons, and "cut-away" diagrams of the-then-latest technologies.
Hampson developed a studio system in which as many as four artists might work on two pages of the strip at any one time.
When Hulton Press was bought up in 1959, and the Eagle moved to a new publisher, Hampson's studio system was disbanded due to its cost.
He also drew 'The Road of Courage', a carefully researched and meticulously crafted telling of the life of Jesus, with the help of his longtime assistant, Joan Porter, which concluded at Easter 1961.
Hampson then began to devise seven other strip cartoon ideas, which he intended to offer to the Eagle. Partly through his own mismanagement (he told no-one what he was doing) Longacre Press accused him of breach of contract.
He was forced to resign, his new strips were impounded by the legal department, and he rarely drew for comics again.
The dan dare strip in the Eagle was taken over by Frank Bellamy.
Bellamy drew Dan Dare for precisely a year, and in that time he ruined the strip, and Dan Dare, despite various attempts at revival, never recovered.
After Bellamy returned to other Eagle artwork, a team of Dan Dare artists, now consisting of Don Harley, Bruce Cornwell and Eric Eden worked on the strip until April 1962 before it to was disbanded
With regards to Frank, he remainder of Hampson's life was spent working as a freelance commercial artist for various publications including 'Ladybird Books'.
Hampson was voted 'Prestigioso Maestro' at an international convention of strip cartoon and animated film artists held at Lucca, Tuscany in 1975.
A jury of his peers gave him a 'Yellow Kid Award', and declared him to be the best writer and artist of strip cartoons since the end of the Second World War.
In the Spring of 1976 Frank was presented with a special Ally Sloper award by the British Association of Comics Enthusiasts to commemorate his major contribution to the art of cartoon strips.
In 1978 he graduated from the Open University.
He celebrated by drawing a Dan Dare strip for the University's internal magazine.
The punch line of the script involved the University getting an application from Dare's nemesis The Mekon.
In ailing health, the result of a lifetime of pipe smoking and excessive work, Hampson died from a stroke and the lingering effects of throat cancer in July 1985, in Surrey, England.

The MYTHS and the MAN

The Eagle comic, and particularly Dan Dare, was very much a phenomenon of the 1950s.
Although the dan dare strip limped along for many years, after its severe mauling by Frank Bellamy, it never again achieved the popularity it had achieved in its first decade.
However, there were many who fondly remembered Dan, Dig and his many associates, and they formed little fan clubs to keep the memory of Dan Dare and the Eagle alive.
In addition, family members of the two main protagonists, Hampson and Morris, wrote about the 'halcyon', and for reasons of their own they propagated a number of 'myths' about both Frank and marcus Morris, and the 'founding story' relating to the Eagle.
It is true that the comic was initially created by Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson.
Morris was a 'snobbish' Oxford educated Anglican Vicar, failed Air-force Chaplain and failed Parish 'Priest', who had dabbled in publishing with his parish magazine, 'The Anvil'.
In reality he looked down on the poorly educated, lower class Hampson as one of the 'hoi polloi' - a pleb, although he feigned friendship.
Hampson, although he studied art, was in fact a failed art student.
He offered a tiny drawing for his final exam and, not surprisingly, the examiners failed him.
Hampson, with his wife and son to support, however,was desperate for work.
Morris, the snobby vicar, needed an illustrator for 'The Anvil', and Hampson needed a job, and so the unlikely two teamed up – by necessity rather than any shared sympathies.
However, with 'The Anvil' on its last legs, and very deeply in debt, Morris was desperate to find another option for his obsession with becoming a magazine publisher.

The Original Dan Dare by Zac
And so Hampson - not Morris - came up with the unlikely idea of 'Dan Dare – Space Chaplain' – after all, Morris had been an Air-Force Chaplain, even if he wasn't up to the job, and in the end resigned.
Of course 'Dan Dare – Space Chaplain' never even reached even the first issue, and one wonders if the concept was ever seriously intended for publication.
In reality it appears that it was an initial subterfuge to get some into thinking that all the 'spin' about a 'Christian Comic' had some substance.
The 'myth' about the creation of the Eagle, of course, is that it was a riposte to the appalling American 'horror comics' which were supposedly warping the minds – and morals – of innocent little English boys.
The 'Eagle' was, supposedly, a 'Christian' comic for boys.
Now the only 'Christian' item in the Eagle was a strip featuring New Testament stories on the back page – which hardly any boys read.
The 'Christian angle', incidentally was there to gain the support of teachers, and other establishment figures and, more importantly, to gain the approval of parents, who would, after all, be paying for the comic.
Interestingly, this specifically 'Christian' strip was not Morris' 'baby', but was included because it gave Hampson a chance to give his version of all the great images in Christian art – the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the entry into Jerusalem etc – which he did very well – (interestingly, however, Hampson is not remembered for his 'religious' images).
As for encouraging boys to live 'Christian' lives – well that's just part of the myth.
In reality Morris was a womanising, hard drinking 'money grabber', and Hampson was an obsessive monomaniac – and neither of them really cared deeply about Christian morality, although Morris gave superficial lip service to Christian values – until he became editor of 'Cosmopolitan'.
So the 'myths', as such, relate to the supposedly 'saintly' Marcus Morris, and the idea that the Eagle, as thought up by Hampson, was a boy's 'Christian comic'.
RAF Woodvale by Zac

And the name ?
Well the 'myth' teeters between the traditional Anglican eagle lectern in Marcus Morris' church, and an ink-stand in the shape of an eagle in Morris's study.
In reality, the name and the emblem owe nothing to Christian iconography, but rather are inspired, more prosaically, but justifiably, by  the nearby RAF Woodvale (on which Hampson based the Space Fleet HQ), which had an eagle as it emblem (in addition to the usual RAF eagle), and the motto 'UT AQUILAE VOLENT' - (That Eagles May Fly) - very appropriate.

Regardless of the myths, (so assiduiously preserved and diseminated by the 'astral anoraks'), Hampson proved, as time went on, to be his own worst enemy.
Even at Southport School of Arts and Crafts Frank's tutors noted his obsessive pursuit of accuracy and detail.
Of course, this was all to the good, as far as his art was concerned, but it did not enable him to obtain any qualifications, and in the end his obsessive 'monomania' prevented him from having any real relationships with his colleagues, and finally ruined his health.