The Ian Gibson column: The Perils of Professor Peabody

What went through Ian Gibson's mind when he was asked to draw a cover for Dan Dare? All sorts, as it happens...

A genuine British comics legend: Ian Gibson

I’m going to make the wild assumption that most readers of my ramblings aren’t actually artists or even involved in the comics trade. That means that those reading are unfamiliar with the processes involved in the creation of the images. No. They don’t just ‘happen’. A little work is usually involved!

So, let me allow you into my studio to see what transpires when a commission arrives.

A current example is the recent Dan Dare cover for Virgin.It’s a wonderful opportunity to pay homage to one of the greats of the industry – Frank Hampson. I remember reading the occasional copy of the Eagle when I was a lad. Never dreamt that one day I’d be making images myself!

Now, when Virgin contacted me, it was to ask for a “Dan Dare cover”. No specifics. Just a kind of “Do the Dan Dare cover you’ve always wanted to do”. Well, as it happens, I’ve never actually thought of doing a Dan Dare cover in my life. So I was left wondering what they wanted.

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What to do? What to do?? What do they ‘want’? What will appeal to readers?The mind starts spinning off axis when there’s no focus for it to work with. The imagination can spiral off in all kinds of directions and return ‘null program’!

Thinking to what is typically a Frank Hampson image, I tend to recall the elaborate cityscapes, brimming with detail. That was an option. More adventure-oriented is the idea of Dan being brave and daring (that’s his name, after all!) and rescuing Professor Peabody from some form of disaster or monsterous threat. But all the time thinking about Frank’s love for dramatic views. So, my own love of extreme perspectives comes to mind with precipitous falls threatening every move as Dan fights to rescue the Prof.

All very well. But these are ‘story oriented’ cover ideas and aren’t really useful if the contents don’t match. Maybe it would be fun to do something along the lines of the old magazines where the editor asked for a cover and then showed it to the writer saying – ‘write the story to go with this’. But that wasn’t the brief that Virgin gave me. Maybe I can twist Garth’s arm to trying something like that..? But I have no idea what plans they have for the series.

Anyway. What this boils down to is the amount of confusion generated by a non-specific brief! I spent an age trying out various options. The deadline was approaching fast and no clear idea had surfaced!

Panic?Never!!

Just rethink.A ‘generic’ cover showing Dan in his trusty cap and uniform with Digby in tow and the Prof to make a classic trio.Weird spacey backdrop.Easy really.

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Don’t know what all the fuss was about.

Next…!

Ian Gibson writes regularly at Den of Geek, and has his own website at www.ian-gibson.com.

You can catch his previous column here