Frank Hampson was a British comic artist and illustrator. He is best known as the creator of the popular Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. Hampson’s obsession with accuracy made his sci-fi worlds vivid and believable. Raising the bar for the whole of the comic industry.
Hampson was born 21 December 1918, in Audenshaw, near Manchester, England. He received his first commission from Meccano Magazine when he was only thirteen. At twenty, he enrolled at the Victoria College of Arts & Sciences. Not before long, he joined the war effort serving in the Royal Army Service Corps and later becoming a lieutenant. After the war, he attending the Southport School of Arts and Crafts, while also trying to make a living as a freelancer.
In 1948, John Marcus Harston Morris, with aspirations to found a national Christian magazine for youngsters, hired Hampson full-time. Together they created Eagle. The first issue went on sale in April 1950 and sold about 900,000 copies. The magazine was revolutionary in its presentation and Hampson’s Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future strip was a fan favourite.
Dan Dare quickly became very popular, with millions eagerly anticipating the next episode. Hampson initially wrote and drew the strip single-handedly. However, he soon amassed a group of assistants, including artists Desmond Walduck, Harold Johns, and Donald Harley, as well as writers Alan Stranks and Arthur C. Clarke.
Many would agree, that Dan Dare’s popularity stemmed from Hampson’s thoroughness. Using family members and assistants as models his characters were completely believable. The same approach was used for his technology. Systematically designing them after steep research and model making. All of which you can see in this wonderful clip from the 1956 British Pathé archive.
In 1959, after Eagle moved to a new publisher, Hampson’s studio of assistants was disbanded due to its cost. Then in 1961, as a result of some mismanagement and misunderstanding, Hampson was forced to resign. His unpublished Dan Dare strips were impounded by Longacre Press’s legal department. Hampson left Dan Dare in the good hands of Frank Bellamy.
During his time with Eagle, from 1950 to 1961, Hampson worked on a variety of other strips including The Great Adventurer, Tommy Walls, Rob Conway and The Road of courage. Hampson was also approached by author Peter O’Donnell to interpret a new script, called Modesty Blaise. After accepting the offer, Hampson took many weeks to produce the strip. When O’Donnell saw Hampson’s work he was not pleased, feeling he had misunderstood the character. The job ultimately went to his former partner, Jim Holdaway.
Straight after parting ways with Eagle, Hampson went back to working as a freelancer for various publications, including Ladybird Books. Over the next six years, he worked on nine Ladybird titles. Keeping his penchant for accuracy and always meticulously researching historical subjects.
In 1975, aged 57, Hampson was invited to the Lucca Comics Convention, in Italy. He was given the Italian Yellow Kid award and the specially created title “Prestigio Maestro.” For such a resounding career, I am shocked Hampson did not receive more accolades during his lifetime. In 1985, due to ailing health, Hampson died in Surrey, England.
There is fortunately no shortage of places to find out more about Frank Hampson. You can start with this website, set up by his son, Peter. There is also this brilliant book, Tomorrow Revisited. Published in 2010 to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Eagle. It chronicles his career and features full-colour strips, illustrations, and sketches.