On Eagle’s Wings: British Adventure Comics 1950 – 1969

Currently tucked away in a small corner room at the V&A Museum [Room 74, Level 3 to be exact] is a modest exhibition showing how the adventure comic grew in popularity in post-war Britain. The “baby boom” following the end of the war coupled with a relax in conditions of rationing meant that by the 1950s a new generation of children emerged eager for entertainment, with pocket money to spend.

Although old favourites such as The Beano and The Dandy first appeared in the 1930s, it seemed that it took a little while for the idea that comics didn’t have to be “comic” to grow. The adventure comic probably came to fruition post-war as children became more interested in the stories of their soldier fathers and also as they genuinely became more educated about the war itself.

Eagle was the first true adventure comic publication and featured new hero Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future [founded by John Marcus Harston Morris]. Morris had noticed a trend of British youngsters buying American ‘horror’ comics intended for reading by GIs. Impressed by the high standard of artwork in the US magazines, but disgusted by their content, he realised that a market existed for a children’s comic which featured action stories in cartoon form, but which also would convey to children the standards and morals he advocated. Running from 1950 to 1969 the publication was hugely popular [900,000 copies of Issue One were sold]. The comic was heavily publicised before its release; copies were mailed direct to several hundred thousand people who worked with children, and a “Hunt the Eagle” scheme was launched, whereby large papier-mâché golden eagles were set on top of several Humber Hawk cars, and toured across the UK. Those who spotted an eagle were offered tokens worth 3d, which could be exchanged at newsagents for a free copy of Eagle.

Eagle spawned many imitators and also gave rise for the first time of magazines for younger people to be marketed by gender with publications like Girl and Marilyn aimed towards young girls. These publications soon began to introduce readers’ issues sections creating the first ‘problem pages’ and laying the foundation for this section typical in so many of today’s magazines.

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