Gary Erskine on the new Dan Dare
Dan Dare #1 of a seven issue mini-series will be on sale from November 28th, 2007, published by Virgin Comics. The new story is written by Garth Ennis, with art by Gary Erksine.
Frank Hampson and the Dan Dare Legacy are a hard act to follow. They are responsible for a lot of my fellow colleagues being drawn into this industry. I hope that I have brought something different to the game while still being respectful to the previous versions.
Garth had a particular vision of how he saw our Dare and his world environment. Set ten years after the Hampson version (with a passing nod to the feel of the Dave Gibbons stories) we didn't want to go too far with a new futuristic look, especially with Space Fleet. The Human ships are deliberately functional and a bit clunky like flying battleships (with lots of panels and bolts) and as such are firmly rooted in reality and more in keeping with Hampson's original vision than the sleeker ships of, say, Frank Bellamy. Space Fleet is influenced by the Navy rather than the Air Force in our story and the uniform designs reflect that (a particularly clever touch from Garth)
The Treen fleet however had a major overhaul to contrast the difference between the two species and their craft are distinctly alien looking. This carried through to the Treen soldiers who had a more practical body armor than the original brass rings and t-shirt look. This was the only real concession to a modern audience but the readers can be assured that the Mekon himself and the Treens still resemble the Hampson originals. No changes there. Great designs!
I have always appreciated the work of artists that create a believable world. Chris Weston in particular is a major influence and his attention to detail is unparalleled. More so when he gets to design his own vehicles. I rate him alongside Hampson with that innate ability to make a world real.
When creating new vehicles and tech (without models) I just draw on various real world references (boats, cars and other stuff you get off the Internet) and mould them into something workable and new.
Dan Dare himself was tricky. We all had a lot of ideas of how he should look and the expectations were high. The fans also have a particular idea of what Dare should look like! The story is set ten years after the Frank Hampson era (although comic story timelines are notoriously vague) so we had an older Dare to contend with too. After various sketches and actor influences (George Clooney to Gregory Peck) we settled on a stylized hero face indirectly referencing ALL the previous suggestions. The zig zag eyebrows are still there, as is the slicked back hair and chiselled features. And the strong jaw! It wouldn't be Dare without that strong chin and British resolve?
Digby was easier. He grew into himself a little more as a character. Stockier and less the fool of the original series, he's now sporting a close beard. He was based on my partner Mhairi's father, himself a Dan Dare fan. It was quite a surprise for him to be part of a book he once read as a child!
Professor Jocelyn Peabody was an indirect nod to Joan Allen and her character Pamela Landy in film The Bourne Ultimatum. A great actress and an amazing character, she embodied the qualities, both visually and for the story, that we needed for Peabody
Our Prime Minister has a flavour of Tony Blair about him (the suit) but was inspired by Paul Bettany more than anyone. Garth had a particular age for the character and look. Paul fitted that part. There really isn't anything more to the choice than that.
The Mekon is over three hundred years old and as such would age slower than a human (and Dare). I looked back at Keith Watson's version specifically. He added a certain reptilian slant to the face that worked for me but still referenced the original Hampson version. I also preferred the proportion of the head as later versions looked ridiculously absurd with a space hopper sized cranium balancing on a spindly neck and shoulders. That wasn't a choice for me. The only changes made were in his outfit (and that of the Treen guards) The original designs were very dated and needed to be updated for a contemporary audience.
The Dan Dare covers are a showcase for fellow colleagues and industry greats who also grew up with Dare and want to be part of the book. Bryan Talbot's first cover (and Greg Horn's alternate) are more about the legacy of Dare featuring strong images of a very British hero. Further covers by Garry Leach (possibly my single most important influence) will show more story specific references.
The interior artwork, although different, will still have that love for the character and world. It is a fairly common practice to have a different artist on the cover to the interior artwork and the comic book reading public accept it (and occasionally collect the variants too). Some artists make a very successful career out of that particular approach of just painting covers. For my part, on Dare, I have a selection of friends and colleagues who I admire professionally providing images for our book.
Other versions of Dan Dare
When 2000AD was launched I was introduced to the Massimo Belardinelli Dan Dare stories in 2000AD (with the Biogs and the Living Axe) and later the Dave Gibbons episodes. Both Garth and I were fans of the Dave Gibbons Dare! Great space adventure. It was when Dragon's Dream published the original Frank Hampson stories that I realized that there was more of a history and legacy with the character. The Man From Nowhere Trilogy was my favourite and was definitely a major part of encouraging me to become a comic book artist. The attention to detail and characters were great and the adventures were out of this world. The books made me realize that there were opportunities to create new believable worlds and work with characters who could live and breathe. In our new Dan Dare, Garth and I have tried to keep that love for the characters and realized, believable world while making it more accessible to a contemporary audience.
Nearly 25 years after seeing the reprints of the original Eagle editions I now find myself part of the Dan Dare Legacy and it is a particularly wonderful feeling. We have been given the chance to work with a character that we have revered for years. I hope the audience looks on our contribution fairly and realize that we are all fans of what Hampson created and the people who followed.
Ministry of Space by Warren Ellis and Chris Weston is one of the best Dan Dare books that isn't Dare. A great script and wonderful artwork, it is a rare gem. A complete, near perfect book, and a big influence too. Chris and I have worked together before on a variety of projects and he was the first to congratulate me on this gig. It was the inspiration and mark for me to aim for this Dare.
Working with Garth Ennis again on Dare is a dream come true.
Garth has a rare ability as a writer to create stories with emotion and struggle, characters with passion and heart. My partner Mhairi enjoys his War Story series more than any other work I have been involved with because of the humanity that Garth brings to the book. He makes the experience of drawing the book a more enjoyable one because the characters are so rich and flawed.
I really liked Garth's take on the character. Dare embodies all the qualities we grew up with and remember from each incarnation, including the original Frank Hampson (and Keith Watson) Britishness. That sense of honour and duty which Dare carries with him. We also included the space adventure and rollercoaster ride of the Gibbons story. Another cracking version. This new Dare will hopefully please all the fans and readers whichever version they grew up with.
As with Star Wars and other major properties there are legacies that have to be respected and a functional and realized world to honour. You have templates and style guides to follow but also the freedom to expand and create new and exciting characters or vehicles within that world. Dare has a very specific approach to believable environments and that's something that Garth and I kept to. No stretching of reality or disbelief even within the science fiction story.
This story is not overtly political (like some re-workings of established characters) but is more about the man and his innate sense of honour and duty that comes with responsibility. Dare is a real hero for any century and his qualities of decency and nobility are to be admired. Contemporary audiences realize that straight forward adventure is not realistic and that there will always be background machinations and political interference. Garth has drawn on that angle but thankfully hasn't made it the crux of the story.
Dan Dare is a seven issue mini-series with a complete story arc. There may well be a sequel of sorts but that depends on Garth and the public response. Personally, I would love to continue with this character as it has been a real privilege to work on Dare and be part of the Dare Legacy.
Virgin are quite careful about how much of the artwork and story leaks out. The 'Daniel Craig is the new James Bond' scenario is the best comparison. Everyone has their favourite Bond/Dare and it's generally the one they grew up with. Garth and I realized that there would be a lot of cynicism from certain quarters regarding our approach from people without them seeing a page of artwork or line of script. I think Virgin have made the right decision to let the book do the talking on the day of release. A few teaser pages to keep the industry and interested fans happy is part of the game.
We are all very proud of this book and would wish people to see it properly when it is released rather than come to any negative decision beforehand. There will always be the original series fans (I love Hampson's work myself!) and others who prefer the 2000AD incarnation (Garth's favourite) The Scottish writer Grant Morrison was responsible for another radical reinvention in the eighties and the more recent Eagle launches had a particular charm. ALL are valid, respectful to the original source and good and worthy.
Web page by Wakefield Carter and Gary Erskine
2000AD Online Dan Dare's profile page