M is for Marcus Morris

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.

One of the things that any boy had to budget his pocket money for in the 1950s was his weekly threepence for a copy of the Eagle comic, the vehicle for Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future. Little did we know that Dan had started life as a vicar.

The Eagle was the brainchild of the Anglican priest and former RAF pilot, Marcus Morris. In 1949 he had written a newspaper article condemning the import of horror comics from America.

He wrote that the: ‘Morals of little girls in plaits and boys with marbles bulging in their pockets are being corrupted by a torrent of indecent coloured magazines that are flooding bookstalls and newsagents.’

Morris decided that what children in the UK needed was a comic in which adventure would again be ‘a clean and exciting business’.

In 1950 he launched the Eagle (named after the traditional Church of England lectern) and on its cover should have been ‘Chaplain Dan Dare of the Interplanet Patrol’.

It was the publisher who persuaded Morris that the world was not yet ready for a hero in a dog collar and that ‘Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future’ might have more commercial appeal.

Morris teamed up with the illustrator, Frank Hampson, to create their iconic images of the future as they imagined it might be in the 1990s.

The aliens really were little green men, particularly Dare’s arch-enemy, The Mekon of Mekonta (right), the super-intelligent leader of the Treens.

Hampson and Morris were both Lancastrians which probably explains why Dan Dare was from Manchester and his sidekick, Digby, was from Wigan.

Although set in the future, the dialogue was pure WWII vintage. But Morris did have an eye for plausibility and employed Arthur C Clarke as a science and plot advisor.

The Eagle was a phenomenal success and attracted some now famous illustrators – it featured the first published work by David Hockney and Gerald Scarfe.

And Dan Dare merchandise flooded the toy market in much the same way that Harry Potter and Star Wars has in more recent times.

Marcus Morris became managing director and editor-in-chief of the National Magazine Company in 1964 and was responsible for launching the British edition of Cosmopolitan.

He retired in 1984 and spent his last years in Midford, Somerset, and died in 1989 aged 73.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • rhymeswithplague 11th April 2012

    My, my. Quite mesmerising, all in all. I might even say magnificent.

  • Roger Green 11th April 2012

    Interesting. Of course, comic books were being slammed by folks in the US around that time, too.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • chrisj 11th April 2012

    Oh I remember EAGLE!! We loved it and couldn’t wait until Tuesdays when it was delivered. Then later came GIRL. I did know that Marcus Morris was a vicar, but that was neither here nor there inn those days. I would love to know what was David Hockney’s part in the comics.
    Thanks for the memories.

  • Joy 11th April 2012

    I was always fascinated by the cut away drawings. My pocket money did not stretch to the Eagle but happily it was my friend Rodger’s comic of choice.
    Joy – ABC Team

  • Flummoxed Pudding 11th April 2012

    Boo to The Mekon! Where are ye now ye great green melon head! No more shall ye plague my childhood nights with alien nightmares. Dan Dare gotcha!

  • Meryl 12th April 2012

    Fascinating. Now in my old age as I work with modern kids’ graphic novels, this is a wonderful treasure trove!


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