It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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The Trigan Empire

I remember sitting in the school library back in the late 1970s, reading Look and Learn, which the school had on subscription. I chiefly read the magazine for one reason: The Trigan Empire. At that time, it was drawn by Oliver Frey and then Gerry Wood. The Trigan Empire had actually begun in Ranger in 1965, and the moved across to Look and Learn in 1966, where it remained until 1982 when the magazine ceased. It was was originally written by Mike Butterworth and drawn by Don Lawrence. The latter quit in 1976 after discovering that the strip was being syndicated throughout Europe and he was receiving nothing for it. But back when I was at school, I wasn’t aware of Lawrence’s work, and it wasn’t until my parents bought the book below one Christmas that I discovered the true Trigan Empire.

This Hamlyn omnibus reprints some of the earlier stories from the strip, including the one describing the founding of the empire. The stories, however, are not complete.

Between 2004 and 2009, the Don Lawrence Collection in the Netherlands reprinted all of Lawrence’s Trigan Empire strips in handsome leather-bound volumes. Each volume includes an essay on one aspect of the strip’s world. There are twelve volumes. To be honest, the stories are often quite crap – as they were for Dan Dare – but the art is gorgeous – again, as it was for Dan Dare. If Dan Dare inspired a generation of British boys in the 1960s to become sf fans, then the Trigan Empire did the same in the 1970s.

In 2008, Book Palace Books published a full-colour catalogue of Trigan Empire art from the Look and Learn archives which was available to buy. Prices ranged from £200 to £4000. I didn’t buy any, but the catalogue itself is very nice.


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Dan Dare

I’m fairly sure my first introduction to Colonel Dan McGregor Dare of Spacefleet was in the early 1970s, when my parents bought me a Dan Dare annual one Christmas. (No, I’m not old enough to remember Eagle, where Dare originally appeared.) The annual contained two stories, ‘The Red Moon Mystery’ and ‘Safari in Space’ – and they’re still my favourite Dare stories. We were living in Oman at the time, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t buy it there. Anyway, I treasured that book for years.

And then, during the early 1990s, I was in London visiting friends, and in a remaindered book shop on Charing Cross Road I found the seventh volume of a series of Dare reprints published by Hawk Books. I bought it, but never saw any of the other volumes in the series. When I returned to the UK to live in 2002, I decided to complete the series. It took me several years, and quite a bit of money, but I eventually did it. The last one I purchased was volume 4 Prisoners of Space in early 2009.

And here’s the full set…

 There are actually two editions of the first volume. I have the second edition, the 10th anniversary edition of the original. The Red Moon Mystery, volume 2, is one of Dare’s best stories.

 The Man from Nowhere, volume 6, and Rogue Planet, volume 7, is a two-parter and are one of the better stories.
 While Dare was away helping aliens on their home world in Rogue Planet, the Mekon conquered the Earth using robots – but Reign of the Robots, volume 8, is a bit silly, to be honest. The Terra Nova trilogy, volume 9, is one of my favourites. Since this was the most expensive volume to buy, it must be everybody else’s favourite too.
 The last three volumes cover stories written and drawn after Hampson handed over the reins and, sadly, neither the design nor the stories are as good as when he was in charge.
 Back in the day, you could actually buy replica Spacefleet uniforms. In fact, there was a huge amount of merchandising for Dare – everything from button badges to tin spaceship models. All before my time, of course. You often see items available on eBay for silly money. There’s even a novel, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future by Angus P Allan, published in 1977. The book is illustrated with black and white line-drawings of panels from the comics, but as a novel it’s a bit rubbish.

Dan Dare has been resuscitated a number of times. In 1977, he appeared in the first issue of 2000 AD, and lasted until 1979. The strip has yet to be published as a trade paperback omnibus, which is really annoying. I do have a 2000 AD Dan Dare annual from 1980, but it’s not very good. The Eagle comic was relaunched in 1982, and featured Dan Dare as its flagship strip – but this was a grandson of the original Dan Dare. The new Eagle folded in 1994. In 1990, Grant Morrison scripted a new Dare, set in Thatcherite Britain, which was serialised in the Revolver comic. It was later republished as a trade paperback. In 2008, Virgin comics published a seven-issue Dan Dare mini-series written by Garth Ennis. I have an omnibus of the first three issues but wasn’t impressed. New Dare stories have also appeared in Spaceship Away, a magazine dedicated to Dare, and which has to date published twenty-seven issues. We won’t mention the terrible CGI television series.

Also worth noting is a “biography” written by Daniel Tartarsky, which was published in 2010: Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future: A Biography. Titan Books have also published a series of Dare reprint volumes, which are smaller in size than the Hawk Books versions. They’re also still in print. And it appears that Haynes will be publishing an Owner’s Workshop Manual on Spacefleet Operations in June of 2013. It’s already on my wishlist.


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Judging by its cover

A recent conversation on Twitter with Alastair Reynolds prompted me to dig out my collection of books on science fiction cover art. I think I bought my first one way back in the mid-1980s as part of the introductory offer when I joined the Science Fiction Book Club. (I think I lasted a year in the SFBC before giving up because they rarely had anything I wanted.) In the decades following, I’ve picked up the odd book here and there, chiefly by those artists whose work I like the most. And yes, I know Chris Foss had a massive retrospective collection published last year, but I’ve yet to buy myself a copy.

Anyway, these are the books I do own…

21st Century Foss and Solar Wind I’ve owned for a couple of decades. Diary of a Spaceperson I found on eBay a few years ago, and Journeyman is an even more recent purchase. There’s a huge number of books like these, for years I’ve been meaning to pick up those by Tim White, Bruce Pennington, Tony Roberts, Angus McKie and other sf cover artists I remember from my teenage years…

Four books by the inimitable Jim Burns. I bought Planet Story at a con in, I think, Scarborough, and Jim signed it for me there and then. The copy of Lightship I think I bought signed. Mechanismo was a lucky find on eBay, though my copy has seen better days. Incidentally, I remember at school having several huge posters on my study walls of the art from Planet Story and Mechanismo.

Two of the earliest cover art books I ever bought. Not sure why I never picked up a copy of Roger Dean’s first book, Views. I did have a copy of Syd Mead’s Sentinel but I swapped it with a friend several years ago for, er, something.

I wasn’t old enough to see Alien when it was originally released in 1979, but I bought every book I could find about the film. Including this one by Giger. I can’t remember where I got The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony from. It includes a double LP by Dave Greenslade, which I’ve listened to several times. I can’t say I like it that much.

Finally, some books about the best two sf comic strips ever produced in the UK – Trigan Empire and Dan Dare. My parents bought me a Dan Dare omnibus in the early 1970s, and it became one of my favourite books – until getting chewed by mice when in storage between Gulf postings. In the past ten years, I hunted down and bought copies of the Hawk Publishing omnibus editions of Dare strips. They are brilliant. Trigan Empire I remember from reading Look and Learn at school. At some point, I bought, or someone bought me, the big Hamlyn Trigan Empire omnibus. I still have it somewhere. Several years ago, Don Lawrence Collection bought out a beautifully-produced twelve-volume set of Trigan Empire. I bought them as they were published.

But Dan Dare and Trigan Empire are, I think, a post for another day…

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