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Eagle issue 1, 1950, cover art by Frank Hampson

Frank Hampson (b. Audenshaw, Greater Manchester, 21 December 1918; d. Epsom, Surrey, 8 July 1985), creator of "Dan Dare", was inspired as a child by American comic strips by Hal Foster, Milton Caniff and Alex Raymond, in newspaper supplements sent by relatives in Canada. At the age of thirteen he entered a competition run by Meccano Magazine, and not only won, but sufficiently impressed the editor that his drawings appeared regularly in the magazine for the next two years.

He left school at fourteen, but attended life drawing classes at the local art school, while working as a telegram boy for the Post Office. In 1938 he attended Victoria College of Art and Science, obtaining a national diploma in design. He was called up to the Royal Amy Service Corps in 1939. He was evacuated from Dunkirk as a private, and took part in the Normandy landings as a lieutenant. His brother Eric was killed in a naval action. He married Dorothy Mabel Jackson in 1944, and after the war they set up home in Southport. In 1946 he enrolled in the Southport School of Arts and Crafts. His tutor, Raymond Geering, remembered him as an excellent draughtsman and a perfectionist.

In 1948 he began contributing illustrations to a Christian magazine, The Anvil, edited by the Rev. Marcus Morris. Morris was exercised by the popularity of American comics, which he felt were morally corrupting. He and Hampson proposed a comic strip called Lex Christian, about the adventures of an inner-city pastor, to the Sunday Empire newspaper, and when this fell through conceived a more ambitious idea - a new weekly comic.

The pair assembled a team of writers and artists and produced a dummy issue, which Morris took to a number of publishers, of which Hulton Press agreed to take it on. The first issue of the Eagle was published on 14 April 1950. Hampson's "Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future" was the lead strip, printed in full colour by photogravure on the cover.

Hampson initially wrote, draw and coloured the strip alone, building models of spaceships and plaster heads of characters and taking posed photographs of friends and colleages for reference. Over time he assembled a studio of artists, as many as four at any one time to assist him, working at his home in Epsom, Surrey. Artists who worked for Hampson's studio at various times included Joan Porter, Harold Johns, Jocelyn Thomas, Don Harley, Eric Eden, Bruce Cornwell, Greta Tomlinson, Terry Maloney, Desmond Walduck and Keith Watson. Scripts were written by Guy Morgan, Alan Stranks and Chad Varah. On two occasions, in 1952 and 1953, the studio took over to create the strip when Hampson was taken ill.

In 1959 Hulton Press was sold to Odhams Press, who made changes to the comic. Marcus Morris left as editor, Hampson's studio was disbanded, and "Dan Dare" was taken over by Frank Bellamy. Hampson, assisted by Joan Porter, was reassigned to "The Road of Courage", a carefully-researched retelling of the life of Christ written by Marcus Morris and Guy Daniel, which concluded at Easter 1961. He began work on new strips, but following a contract dispute he was forced to resign.

In 1962 he tried out as the artist of Peter O'Donnell's strip Modesty Blaise, but was rejected in favour of Jim Holdaway. In the early 1960s he drew 25 episodes of a comic strip called The Chalmers for the Daily Record, promoting solid fuel central heating for the National Coal Board, and two episodes of "Adventures of the Bovril Brigade", a series of advertisements for Bovril in comic strip form which appeared in a variety of comics, including Eagle and TV Comic, most of which were drawn by Richard Jennings.

He worked as an illustrator for Ladybird Books from 1964 until 1970, when he was diagnosed with cancer of the trachea. He recovered, and became a graphics technician at Ewell Technical College, also teaching life drawing at Epsom School of Art for a time.

He returned to comics briefly in 1975. He was given the Yellow Kid Award and declared prestigioso maestro, as the best writer and illustrator of comic strips since the end of the Second World War, at the biannual Lucca comics convention in Italy, and at the British convention Comics 101 the same year he was awarded the Ally Sloper Award for the best British comic strip artist. Fired with new enthusuasm, created a new strip, "Dawn O'Dare", for Denis Gifford's fanzine Ally Sloper. However, only one episode saw print. He also drew an episode of "Fireball XL5" for TV21.

He received a degree from the Open University in 1979, and drew a comic strip featuring Dan Dare and his arch-enemy, The Mekon, for the University's in-house magazine. In 1982 he suffered a stroke, temporarily losing his speech, and permanently losing the use of his right hand. He continued his studies for an MA, but on 8 July 1985 he died at the Cottage Hospital in Epsom, following a heart attack.


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