Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Eagle

I started getting the Eagle in the early 1950's before I could read. I remember being asked what comic I wanted and saying "the Eagle" without knowing how I knew there was such a comic. I must have heard the name but knew nothing about it. I answered the question because I had been asked it.

I liked "cowboys" (Westerns) but realised very early that I preferred men in spacesuits (science fiction). Why? When Dan and Digby returned to the Solar System after ten years to find that their old enemy the Mekon had conquered Earth in their absence, that was my first encounter with the Mekon.

I read the Eagle until the first or second year of secondary school. It had three companion comics, as well as imitators. The companion comics were:

the Robin, for pre-school children;
the Swift, for primary school pupils;
Girl, for secondary school girls.

I borrowed someone else's copies of the Swift. For a while, it featured a couple of space cadet type characters and we thought they might cross over with Dare but they didn't.

The Western, "Riders of the Range", was better than cowboy strips in other comics. It featured historical events and characters. When Pat Garrett killed William Bonney (Billy the Kid), his deputies were Jeff Arnold and Luke, the continuing fictitious characters of the series. When Custer was killed at Little Big Horn, Jeff and Luke were two of his scouts who were elsewhere that day. Sitting Bull was shown joining Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show so Buffalo Bill, meanwhile the title character of a series in a rival British comic, appeared in a single panel of "Riders of the Range." There was also a story line about the outlaw Sam Bass.

Meanwhile, a rival comic featured "Billy the Kid" not as the historical outlaw but as a masked hero whose secret identity was William Bonney, thus modeled on the American comic book tradition of superheroes, masked avengers and costumed adventurers.

At secondary school, another pupil warned me, "The Eagle is a good comic but don't believe anything you read in it. I've heard the Editor is a Communist." In fact, he was a Church of England vicar and the earliest concept for Dan Dare had been as an RAF chaplain. The Eagle was so named because in an Anglican church, the Bible rests on a lectern in the shape of an eagle, the symbol of St John, as if in flight with the book on its wings.

Another regular character was "Luck of the Legion", a British man in the French Foreign Legion. I was concerned when a Marist Brother at my second primary school said dismissively that the strip was "lies." I was being indoctrinated that telling lies was seriously sinful and began to doubt the difference between lies and fiction.

The rules of my secondary school included "Comics and other childish papers are discouraged in boys over twelve." What did they know?

At home and at school, I was guilt tripped about reading:

comics instead of books;
about other religions instead of just about Catholicism;
science fiction instead of something else;
instead of doing something else.

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