Memories of Frank

I understand that you are looking for reminisces of Frank Hampson for your forthcoming exhibition at Bourne Hall, I have a few memories that I have attempted to put in order below:

I first met Frank way back in 1978, when he was a part-time guest tutor at Epsom School of Art and Design, and I was a second year student studying ‘Communication Design’

Frank was a lovely, quiet spoken, very patient (with us he had to be!) man, who wore his great talent lightly. He was a pleasure to be with, always happy to give advice and share his experience and knowledge.

Frank’s main remit was to teach life drawing to the Communication Design student, a tough task as there was literally zero budget or enthusiasm from the college. We weren’t Fine Art students, after all...

However he persevered and we soon had a small class of artists taking a break from magic markers and Letraset. With no money for models, we usually had to draw each other, although we thankfully kept our clothes on! It’s fair to say that without his efforts there would have been no drawing at all for ESAD design students.

Frank was always a great encouragement to all of us, gifted artists or otherwise. I learnt a lot from him, including the term chiaroscuro, which completely baffled me and needed patient explanation.

Of course, more important to all of us was Frank’s history as the brains behind ‘Dan Dare’. Although his heyday was a little before our time, those of us with a keen interest in all things comic book and Science Fiction were eager to get some stories about the creation of the ‘Pilot of the Future’.

Frank was reticent at first to open up about his comic book days, as he had not always had a good experience with the publishers of ‘Eagle’. However, we gently wore him down and before long he was doing little sketches of Dan Dare and Digby for us, and telling tales about how he came up with the characters. He also brought in the models he made in the 1950s so he could get the chapters consistent from all angles.

As the year went on, Frank would set us comic strip based projects and challenges, which would give him a chance to show how he approached his work in the 1950s. He explained how he would use an early polaroid camera to take reference shots for character poses.

Amazingly, he still had the camera (not as instant as even a 70s Polaroid!), and before long we would be posing all over the college in peculiar outfits to provide our own reference for various art projects.

Of course, being 1978, Science Fiction had suddenly come of age in popular culture (thanks, Star Wars!). So interest in Dan Dare and Frank was growing. He drew a short lived comic “Dawn O’Dare’ with a female adventurer, set in the Edwardian era, and invited us to produce our own version of it.

Around 1980, just after we graduated, Frank had the first of a series of his classic stories reprinted in book form. I fondly remember a group of us queuing (frankly, a bit drunk) in ‘Forbidden Planet’, then in Denmark Street, to get our signed copies. As he looked up to see us, he smiled and said, ‘Oh, no, it’s you lot!”. I still have the books and the signed launch poster from the event.

Even after college completed, a couple of us would drop in to see Frank in his home in Epsom to say hallo. He and his wife Dorothy were always charming hosts. He would show us the original artworks he had on his walls and explain how they were done: Drawing, inking, colouring, then inking again to make the blacks good. Then the hand lettered word balloons cut out and mounted on acetate over the top. Very labour intensive, and all done by him, unlike the American’s ‘production line’ system.

He would regale us with stories about having to do the Lives of St Paul and Jesus for Eagle’s back pages - he mostly enjoyed using those strips as an excuse to draw lots of Roman soldiers!

I’m sorry to say that I did lose touch with Frank over the years, I was sad to hear of his stroke, which meant he could not draw any more, and of course of his passing.

I was honoured to meet and be taught by such a hard working and talented man. I wish your exhibition every success, hopefully I will drop by to see it in the next few weeks.


Chris Watts