Monday, October 23, 2006


As early as 1958, a British newspaper called The Daily Express began running a comic strip serialization of Casino Royale. And so it was that James Bond, who had already become a popular paperback hero and a one-shot TV star, began his conquest of a medium that he was perfectly suited for – the comic strip.

Adapted very faithfully (as a rule) from Ian Fleming's novels by writer Henry Gammidge, and drawn by John McLusky with a Rip Kirbyish style well known in adventure comics for about a million years, the James Bond strips seem to have been very popular. The Daily Express printed them like clockwork from "Casino Royale" in 1958 through "Thunderball" in 1962. "Thunderball" was cut short because – well, it seems that the publisher, someone named Lord Beaverbrook (which is probably not nearly as funny to the Brits as it is to American ears) got a little pissy when Ian Fleming wrote The Living Daylights for a rival newspaper. Maybe he could see into the future and he didn't like a-ha doing the music or maybe it was Maryam d'Abo's hair. I'm still not sure why that made him cancel the James Bond strip. Brits are funny.)

After a hiatus of a year and a half, The Daily Express began printing the James Bond strips again with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in the summer of 1964, and the strip ran well into the 1970s. When they ran out of Ian Fleming material, they just started in on all the novels written by other people after Fleming died.

I've been wondering how much of a role the comic strips played in keeping the James Bond name before the public in the years before the movies started. When "Casino Royale" started in 1958, the film version of Dr. No would not be appearing for four years. How many of those people lining up to see Sean Connery and Ursula Andress in 1962 were more familiar with James Bond and Honeychile Ryder as comic strip characters than as characters from a novel? I have no idea. I do know that the strip ran all over the world, not just in England, but I don't really know how popular it was. I'm sure the strip must have had SOME effect on creating awareness of James Bond from 1958 until 007 hang-glided onto the silver screen and became a pop culture demigod. If anybody comes across any articles on the place of the comic strips in the James Bond phenomenon, c'mon, dish. Cough it up.

I haven't read very many of the James Bond comic strips. I found out recently that Titan Books has been reprinting them and my new local library here in the wilds of Palmdale, Calif., has the "Goldfinger" collection. So I checked it out last week and spent a few very pleasant days reading a splendid comic strip adaptation of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger.

If the comic strip version of "Goldfinger" is typical, then The Daily Express stayed very close to the book versions, as a general rule. These were daily strips, which means they only ran two or three panels every day, a format that would require some modification when converting a novel. Many scenes are severely truncated; for example, the golf game, which is an entire chapter in the novel, is only about 20 panels in the comic strips.

Also missing from the comic strip version are the suggestions of lesbianism in Tilly Masterson and Pussy Galore. We are also spared Bond's silly musings that homosexuality is caused by women's suffrage, and Miss Galore's charming story about how she became a lesbian because she was raped by her uncle.

"Goldfinger" ran from March 1960 to January 1961, about 152 individual strips. I read them in about four or five sittings, usually just before going to bed. It's pretty nifty, the beginning scene where Goldfinger is cheating at canasta, the golf game, dinner with Goldfinger, Oddjob, following Goldfinger into Europe. Of course, we have the silly bit where Goldfinger spares Bond's life because he needs someone to help him with paperwork. That's dumb no matter what medium you're in. I'd rather have Fleming talking about homosexuality or why colonialism was good for the native people.

But it's not the fault of the guys adapting it to comic strip form. It's high adventure, as Goldfinger's henchmen attack Fort Knox and find out ... that their scheme has been exposed!

It's a lot of fun, that's for sure. The art is really good, looking very much like classic adventure strips are supposed to look. It's weird how much Bond looks like Sean Connery and, even more so, Goldfinger looks like Gert Frobe. (Pussy, unfortunately, does not look like Honore Blackman.) Take a look at the date above. Not only was it drawn long before the movie version of Goldfinger, it was drawn long before Dr. No.

(I found a Web site that has a few articles on the James Bond comic strips, but I haven't had time to spend much time poking around. If anybody wants to sneak in and spy on these guys, go to MI6. By a weird coincidence, the artist on the Bond strips died recently and his obituary at MI6 has some information on the comic strip, including a story about how Sean Connery's resemblance to the James Bond in the strip may have helped get him the part! How odd! I hadn't seen this when I wrote the bulk of the article. I just found it now while looking for the address for MI6.)

The Titan Books collection of "Goldfinger" also has The Daily Express adaptations of several of the short stories from For Your Eyes Only - "Risico," "From a View to a Kill," "For Your Eyes Only" – and the truncated adaptation of "Thunderball." I flipped through them, but I didn't really look at them close enough to get too interested. The short version of "Thunderball" doesn't even have Domino in it. And I saw Emilio Largo's name mentioned, but I couldn't find him. The short stories from For Your Eyes Only don't do a whole lot for me anyway. And Judy Havelock as drawn here just doesn't look at all like Carole Bouquet, so I'm not too interested in these.

But I was intrigued enough by "Goldfinger" that I wanted to check out some more of the comic strip versions of the James Bond novels. So I ordered "Casino Royale" from Titan books and I will hopefully be reviewing Casino Royale fo the fourth time very soon. And then, for a fifth time when the new Casino Royale movie opens in mid-November.

And then, when I am all done with James Bond?

Does anybody want to see me tackle Tarzan? Godzilla? Sherlock Holmes?



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