Sunday 29 May 2016

Spectre by Horak and Lawrence et al

I'd forgotten how good the James Bond newspaper strips were. I was reminded by the appearance of a handsome new hardcover from Titan books.  

The release of the latest Bond film Spectre is the excuse for this volume of strips, which is a compendium of all the stories featuring that eponymous organisation of bad guys. (Thank you to the lovely Lydia for alerting me to its existence.)

Three of the stories included here are drawn by John McClusky and one by Yaroslav Horak, which is a pity. But we'll get to that...

The first entry is Thunderball, which is an engrossing and intelligent adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel, until it is cut short less than halfway through. The bizarre and clumsy haste with which it "ends" is simply astonishing — we get three panels of the underwater battle! 

I was baffled by this until I did a bit of research and found out what the hell was going on... The Bond strips originally appeared in a British newspaper called the Daily Express. It seems the owner of the Express, Lord Beaverbrook, had a tantrum because Fleming sold a short story to a rival paper, the Sunday Times. So he ordered the Thunderball strip stopped in its tracks.
Of course, this action did nothing to harm Fleming — was he even aware of it? It merely served to ruin the pleasure of Beaverbrook's own readers. Truly, there's nothing like the petulance of a press baron. 

The only good thing about this premature ending is that it means we are straight into The Spy Who Loved Me which is drawn by the magnificently talented Czech artist, Yaroslav Horak. And although, like all the other strips in the book, Ian Fleming is credited, the writer is actually one Jim Lawrence. Lawrence really proves his worth here by cannily supplementing Fleming's original novel.

The Spy Who Loved Me didn't even feature Spectre. It was a tale of Bond versus American gangsters at a rural motel. 

But the Jim Lawrence script features a clever and exciting espionage subplot neatly grafted onto the beginning, concerning experimental Canadian fighter jets — it's actually rather better than Fleming's novel.

And then there's Horak's art. 

All the images in this post are by Yaroslav Horak. I notice the sensible designers at Titan chose a Horak image to use on the cover of the Spectre collection, even though his work only makes up a small portion of the book.

Most of that volume consists of strips (Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice) scripted by Henry Gammidge and drawn by John McClusky. McClusky's art seems perfectly acceptable until you compare it to Horak's.

Horak's dynamic, brilliantly composed work is so spacious and uncluttered it's hard to believe the strips are the same size as McClusky's dim, crowded, poorly designed panels
One amusing feature of these 1960s strips is that speech ballons all too often come from the wrong character, though you think they'd know there's only one person who could say this: "Now don't hang on my gun arm, there's a good girl."

Titan seems to have reprinted virtually all the Bond strips in various paperback editions and I am now going to go in search of all the ones drawn by Horak. A classic newspaper strip, overdue for rediscovery. 

(Image credits: The Spectre cover image is from Titan Books. The Spy Who Loved Me cover is another Titan image. The "Rona" panel is from 007 Magazine. The cigarette smoking panel ("Ghosthawk") is from Active Scrawler. "Cold blood" is from Comic Art Ville. The Spanish cover is from Tiendascosmic. )

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