On this day, 27 March 1982: Eagle
On this day, 27 March 1982 … The first issue of the relaunched Eagle is a comic of huge significance for me, one of my best-remembered single issues and marker of a corner-point in my life between childhood and adolescence. In January of 1982, aged eleven and a half, I started secondary school. I felt at a bit of a disadvantage and possibly even more in awe of ‘big school’ than most of my classmates because I turned up a whole term after the rest of them had started. Having missed out on the September intake, I’d been kept on for another term at the rather unworldly and very cosy private prep school that I’d attended since the age of eight after being taken out of primary school where I didn’t get on with the head, who’d labelled me a dreamer. Secondary school, and re-entry to the state system, accompanied by the onset of puberty, a long daily school bus ride, duffel bags, duffel coats, spitting, swearing, stale school lunch burgers, and the loneliness of being the introverted village kid in a class full of townies, woke me up to a world that I didn’t much like so I carried on dreaming wherever the opportunity arose.
School life was rubbish, but 1982 offered plenty of opportunities for escape. There was a World Cup to look forward to with two different sticker album collections to complete (I spent my lunch money entirely on stickers from the Tonibell ice cream van that pulled up outside the school each day: ‘Thirteen packets of España 82 please!’), the adventures of the Fifth Doctor were just beginning on telly – weekday evenings would you believe! – and however much I’d loved Tom Baker there was something so fresh, green, electronic, modern and exciting about this new era of my favourite programme, my dad bought a ZX81, and in the charts were Madness, The Human League, Dexy’s, Culture Club, The Stranglers’ Golden Brown and The Jam’s A Town Called Malice (not that I had a clue what most of these songs were really about, but I knew they all meant something important) – all so new and grown-up and 80s.
And then, in March, the new Eagle arrived. I knew a fair bit about the Eagle by this stage as my dad had read the original in his day and we had a few of the old annuals in the house. Most of the ensemble cast of Dan Dare’s universe was familiar to me, as were PC49 and Harris Tweed, and while the line-up of the new comic bore no resemblance at all to the first (apart from the eagle in the logo, the Mekon and Dan’s eyebrows) it still provided a nice point of connection with my dad (he read it most weeks and liked to point out that Dan Dare was vastly inferior these days and raise an eyebrow of his own at the pin-ups of Clare Grogan, Suzanne Dando and the weekly ‘Glamorous Teacher’ while muttering that ‘It never had pictures of girls in my day’) while still being new and modern and kind of cool and most importantly mine.
I should redress the balance straight away by pointing out that the Dan Dare strip is excellent. In fact it’s brilliant, and worth the subscription alone – there’s an intelligent and engaging story and nice art from Gerry Embleton (who would be succeeded by the wonderful Ian Kennedy) and the whole works as a contemporary re-imagining of 1950s Dare far more satisfactorily than 2000AD’s 1977 version. The Tower King, the only other non-photographic story, boasting typically lovely work by Jose Ortiz, is also good stuff. But beyond that there isn’t a huge amount to really like about the new Eagle, taking into account the Jackie-style photo-stories with the camp modelling, the editorial page trumpeting of the photographers as ‘the new artists’, first-issue interviews with Jim Davidson and UKIP’s Mike Read, and a ‘Big Mouth’ letters column that appears to have been written by a frustrated scout master. But for me and, I imagine, most of the other people it was aimed at, Eagle was dynamic, original and exciting, which was exactly what we needed at that age as we stepped out of our 70s childhoods towards broader horizons. The photo-stories and the higher than usual number of text articles may not have been of the best quality but they helped create the feeling that this was more than a comic – rather a bridge towards the magazines (Shoot!, Smash Hits or Crash, depending on one’s tribe) that most of us would be reading before too long.
Rather infeasibly, it also helped me out a little bit at school. The second issue of Eagle carried a free golden plastic eagle badge on its cover which I bravely decided to wear on the lapel of my blazer for the rest of my first year. In hindsight, I could have been destroyed for this but oddly I remember only getting the nickname ‘Eagle’ for a while, which – let’s face it – is fairly mild by secondary school standards. Also, one of the rougher lads in my class seemed to like the Eagle and asked to borrow my copy a couple of times which felt like a minor triumph of nerdiness at the time. There’s possibly a theme here – as much as anything else the comic made me feel more accepted by others both at school and at home, which probably isn’t quite how it would have wanted to be remembered but it’s good enough for me.