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From the Archive
Issue #10 (1982)
Issue #17
Issue #34
007 MAGAZINE OnLine (2006)


The following excerpt is taken from The Illustrated James Bond by GRAHAM RYE, which originally appeared in various expanded versions, together with the accompanying images, in 007 MAGAZINE Issues #10 (April 1982); #17 (March 1988); and #34 (November 1998).

This article was subsequently made available to subscribers of 007 MAGAZINE OnLine in September 2006.

This 2006 version has been remastered and is now enhanced with many additional facts and images. The definitive look at the origins of the Daily Express James Bond comic strip, and a tribute to the artist John McLusky (1923-2006).

LEFT: Graham Rye at THE FACE OF JAMES BOND exhibition at the Barbican Centre, London, 1995.

In 1958 James Bond was given a face that was to last him to the present day. The Daily Express approached Ian Fleming with the idea of turning his James Bond novels into a comic strip. Fleming was less than enthusiastic about the proposition and made this clear in a letter he wrote to Wren Howard at his publisher Jonathan Cape: “You will be interested to know that the Express are desperately anxious to turn James Bond into a strip cartoon. I have grave doubts about the desirability of this. A certain cachet attaches to the present operation, and there is a danger that if stripped we shall descend into the Peter Cheyney class…Unless the standard of these books is maintained they will lose their point and I think there is grave danger that inflation will spoil not only the readership but also become something of a death-watch beetle inside the author. A tendency to write still further down might result. The author would see this happening, and disgust with the operation might creep in.”

Ian Fleming's Bond

Daily Express literary editor Anthony Hern

William Plomer

John McLusky's Bond

ABOVE: (L - R) The drawing Ian Fleming supplied to Daily Express artist John McLusky as his impression of Bond's looks. Daily Express literary editor Anthony Hern had been adapting Ian Fleming's novels for their serialization in the newspaper since 1956, and would also adapt CASINO ROYALE for the comic strip version in 1958. Ian Fleming's close friend William Plomer, who was of the opinion that it would be a grave error to accept the Daily Express offer to turn James Bond into a comic strip. Artist John McLusky felt that Fleming's interpretation of Bond was too reminiscent of Twenties heroes Sexton Blake and Bulldog Drummond. Accordingly, he ultimately altered his image to a more rugged ‘ladies' man’. Bond's facial features from the second series 1964-65 began to look a lot more like Sean Connery following the success of the first two films of the EON Productions series.

1958 Daily Express poster

Fleming was in two minds about the whole project and consulted his close friend William Plomer. Despite Plomer’s opinion that it would be a grave error to accept the Express offer, Fleming chose to ignore his friend’s advice on this occasion. The Daily Express was offering a minimum payment of £1,500 per book, and with the possibility of a share in the syndication rights Fleming could hardly have ignored this chance of a lifetime. The Express editor, Edward Pickering, guaranteed Fleming that the transition of James Bond into a strip character would be handled as a ‘Rolls-Royce job’ by the newspaper. The Daily Express were quick to announce their latest prize, “James Bond, the sardonic secret agent who stormed into popularity as THE post-war fiction hero, now begins a new career.” the advertisements read.

Daily Express teaser

LEFT: Photographed at John McLusky's studio in 1981, this was the only remaining image of the original 1958 Daily Express poster promoting the appearance of the first story CASINO ROYALE.

ABOVE: The ‘book-gun’ sequence in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, illustrated by McLusky for Fleming's approval. Bond's image in this first frame was later enlarged and used on the advertising billboard poster. Notice the marked area highlighted for poster enlargement. [Rollover image] The final artwork from the published version of FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE (panel #570). BELOW: The very first James Bond strip cartoon: the McLusky title frame from CASINO ROYALE; and the man at the gaming table has a touch of Fleming about him.

CASINO ROYALE title strip

The Express began their strip adaptation with CASINO ROYALE on July 7th 1958, and Anthony Hern, then literary editor of the Express adapted the book. Hern remembers: “It seemed incongruous to Fleming that this character, an extension of one of his selves, should be paraded before the sort of mass readership then represented by the Daily Express. Another problem was with me. I had never written a script for a strip of any sort. But I had serialized Fleming’s books in the Express, cutting the material to fit the demands of a newspaper serial: not more than 1500 words an instalment, each instalment to end the day with a read-on cliff-hanger. Here, too, Fleming had been initially difficult. He thought of his novels as the complete works of a skilled craftsman. He insisted, if I recall, on seeing a proof of the very first instalment. He sent me a telegram. It read: ‘SALUTE TO A MASTER BUTCHER’.”

It was plain sailing after that. But it was because he liked my serialising of the Bond stories that I was nominated to ‘strip’ Agent 007. We had lunch at Wheeler’s to overcome Fleming’s last scruple. Over the lobster he told me that in describing James Bond he had consciously had in his mind’s eye one of his own sporting heroes, the master golfer Henry Cotton. For the artist, John McLusky, this was welcome news. At least we now had picture references, for Cotton had been widely photographed in his prime. There would now not be any of those tedious wrangles (‘That’s not how I imagined him!’) We were in business. Fleming now trusted me to give Bond a good show; I trusted John McLusky to make pictorial sense of my scenario. Again, we were fortunate Fleming tended to choose, for his high dramatic points, locations which he himself knew well: high class hotels, rich men’s gambling haunts. John beavered away getting pictorial references for the many background ‘shots’ needed to establish the scene. His artwork was vastly superior to my script. It was that which ensured the wide following for the Bond strip after a shaky start.

James Bond by Ian Fleming - Drawing by John McLusky
James Bond/Le Chiffre CASINO ROYALE