James Bond: An Illustrated Life

James Bond: An Illustrated Life

James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007

James Bond is back...and he's in print.

Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bond in Quantum of Solace opens in the US this Friday. Created by Ian Fleming in 1953, James Bond starred in 12 novels and two short story collections, as well as 22 films in the EON Productions series (the “official” Bond films), two independent films (the comedy version of Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) and one episode of a television show (CBS’ Climax! adapted Casino Royale in 1954). But those are the James Bond outings that everyone knows about.

What about James Bond’s comic strip and comic book adventures?

They’ve been going on for longer than the films, after all.

Like the novels, it all started with Casino Royale. The first James Bond novel was adapted as a daily comic strip in the British Daily Express newspaper in 1958, and Bond was off to the races. Since his start in newspapers, there have been numerous strips published and syndicated in the UK and other parts of the world, while some of the biggest comic book publishers such as Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Dark Horse have adapted and published stories featuring Agent 007.

The complete history of the illustrated James Bond is now chronicled by pop culture historian Alan J. Porter in James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007, due in stores this week. Published by Hermes Press, the book is the first one to focus on Bond’s rich, and varied, history in comics.

We spoke with Porter about chronicling 50 years of James Bond adventures in comic strips and comic books.

Newsarama: Starting things off Alan, James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007 will cover James Bond comics from around the world correct?

James Bond: Permission to Die

Alan J. Porter: That’s correct, the intent was to try and cover every single James Bond story that has appeared in comic format. The book includes details of one hundred and forty-five Bond stories including adaptations of the novels and movies, as well as original tales written just for comics. When I started I thought I would just be looking at the US, the UK and Europe, but during the research phase, I found mentions of Bond comics being published in over twenty countries. For some of those all I do have is a mention that a Bond book was published there at some point, and no other details, so there are a few acknowledged gaps. I’m hoping that Bond and comics fans who pick up the book will help fill those gaps.

NRAMA: And it will also include the newspaper strips as well?

AJP: Yes, the newspaper strips are included in great detail. After all that’s where Bond’s comic adventures started. The newspaper strips also served as the primary source for many of the foreign language Bond comic books where the art was often rearranged, or even colored, to fit the different format. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the newspaper strip creative team of writer Jim Lawrence and artist Horak produced more original Bond stories, and worked on the character for longer, than anyone else. They produced more Bond stories than Ian Fleming.

NRAMA: What is it about Agent 007 of Her Majesty's Secret Service that you personally find appealing as you put this book together?

AJP: I believe that Fleming was really the first person to give the “secret agent” a character and make him identifiable. Before Bond, similar literary heroes tended to be more aristocratic and born to the calling, but Fleming’s Bond was a civil servant employed to do a brutal, nasty, but necessary, job. Rereading all the original stories while researching the book I was struck by how often Bond has to go on training courses, do background research and read up on subjects before he headed out on assignment. In other words, he’s a lot like the average guy doing his job. It makes the wish-fulfillment aspect of Bond just that bit more attainable. That with the right training I could be that guy. The movie Bond on the other hand is closer to the Batman level super-hero level of wish fulfillment – the reach for maximizing the human potential.

Sea Dragon, from Turkey

NRAMA: What distinguishes him from, say, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Jack Ryan, Maxwell Smart and others?

AJP: Well, all the guys you mentioned came after Bond and in many ways are reflections of him. Bond really is the archetype for almost every pop-culture spy that came after the mid-1950s. What makes characters like Bourne, Hunt and Smart work is that they take one or more facets of Bond and extrapolate those to examine the spy from a different angle. If you are looking for something that is different from Bond, then I’d look at what I term the “real-spy” genre, like Greg Rucka’s excellent Queen & Country series, or the TV show that inspired it, The Sandbaggers. In literature, there’s John LeCarre’s classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

NRAMA: In a nutshell, what can readers look forward to in James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007?

AJP: The book is a history of Bond in the comics medium. The largest section of the book is given over to a detailed look at the 145 Bond stories I mentioned earlier. It also includes interviews with various Bond comics creators and a look at many of the Bond spoofs. The book is lavishly illustrated with examples of comic book covers from around the world, artwork from comics and the newspaper strips, and sketches as well as a variety of movie posters and first edition book cover art. It also includes a couple of paintings done for unused movie posters and magazine covers that have never been published before. In fact I had so many examples of Bond covers that we couldn’t use all of them in the book, so I’m posting a lot of them on my blog.

NRAMA: I read that you're also an authority on The Batman. You've previously written The Unauthorized Batman Collectors Guide and founded the online Batman magazine, Gotham Gazette, and the long-running Gotham Weekly News e-mail newsletter. How would you compare the two characters?

AJP: You forgot my contribution to the recent [Batman Unauthorized: Vigilantes, Jokers, and Heroes in Gotham City] book edited by Denny O’Neill. Yes, I used to be a big time Batman collector, but these days my interest in the character is more centered on his origins. In fact, I’m currently shopping around a biography project on co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger. But, to paraphrase Peter David, I digress. There are a lot of surface similarities between Batman and Bond, in particular the movie-Bond; especially, the gadgets, the fast cars and the apparent playboy life style. But the driving motivation for the two characters is very different. Batman is a man driven by an internal need to protect the innocent. He wants to make sure that no-one else ever suffers the way he did. But while he realizes that his mission is flawed and hopeless, he still carries on. Bond, on the other hand, is a guy doing a job. He does it from a sense of patriotic duty, and let’s face it, because he enjoys it. Bond doesn’t have any underlying grand mission driving him. While Batman is a heroic figure, Bond in many ways is an anti-hero.

UK Doctor No adaptation

NRAMA: What got the project going in the first place?

AJP: I’d already written a short piece on the history of Bond in comics for Back Issue Magazine and contributed a few feature articles for three of the Titan Books album collections reprinting the Bond newspaper strips. As a consequence, I had accumulated a lot of notes, so a full length book on the subject seemed like a natural progression. I had originally met the Hermes Press guys at San Diego and pitched them another project. For various reasons that project didn’t happen but at the end of one phone call I casually asked “What about a book on James Bond?” Turned out that publisher Daniel Herman was a big Bond fan too.

Even though I had done some of the ground work for the earlier articles, there was still a lot to do. Researching and writing the book took about six months of intensive work, and wouldn’t have been possible without help from other Bond fans and collectors around the world. As well as the immense patience of my wife and kids who had to put up with me being Bond obsessed for months on end.

NRAMA: The first James Bond comic strip was published in 1958 and it ran for two and a half decades whereas the first comic book appeared in 1963 and over the years, James Bond comics have been published by the likes of DC, Marvel, Eclipse Comics, Dark Horse, Topps Comics and just last month, an adaptation of Charlie Higson's first Young Bond novel, SilverFin, was released in the UK. With all that volume, where and when did you first begin?

AJP: Early on, at the proposal stage I think, I decided that rather than present the comics by country or publisher I wanted to make the stories themselves the main theme of the book. I wanted to present information about the stories in the order in which they’d originally been published so you could see the development of Bond’s comic history around the world as it unfolded. With that in mind my first step was to try and identify and track down information on as many Bond adventures as I could. Everything else just flowed from that. I had my own somewhat modest collection as a starting point, from there I reached out to the Bond fan community, publishers and creators. One of the biggest thrills was tracking down the main writer/artist from the Chilean Bond comics of the 1960s. I was also lucky enough to make contact with many Bond creators whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years. I also got help from many surprising places, for instance a friend of mine here in Texas contacted his family in Turkey and asked them to track down Turkish language James Bond comics for me. Amazingly, all of this was done without leaving Texas. Thanks to the internet I ended up chatting Bond with people in Japan, India, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and all over the US.

Operation Blucher from Russia

I tracked down instances of Bond comics being published in over twenty different countries. For instance, there was a manga-style Bond published in Japan in the 1960s, a Bond series in Chile around the same time, along with many translated reprints of the newspaper strips all over Europe. I tracked down Turkish versions, and in India they printed hand colored versions of the strips in pocket sized books in English, Bengali and Hindi. Perhaps the most surprising was finding out that there had actually been two issues of a James Bond comic published in Russia, the last place I expected to find Bond,

NRAMA: As a comic book collector and historian, how would you summarize the adventures of Agent 007 in the comic books and strips?

AJP: The great thing about the Bond comics stories is that it doesn’t matter which type of Bond story you like, there will be something that appeals to you. It’s all there from dark espionage stories with intricate plots to wild stories with implausible villains, cool gadgets and lots of explosions.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me from a historical perspective is the fact that outside of the British newspaper strips no-one has every managed to successfully publish a Bond comic on a sustainable basis. For whatever reason, Bond has had a very patchy career in comics.

NRAMA: What're some of your favorite stories?

AJP: In terms of comics, one of my favorite newspaper strips is The Spy Who Loved Me, writer Jim Lawrence took a throw away line from Fleming’s story and built a whole plot around it that made far more sense than Fleming’s original story did. Similarly in the strip adaptation of Octopussy he turned Fleming’s short story morality tale into a gripping high adventure yarn.

Although a lot of Bond purists don’t like it, I really like Serpent’s Tooth from Dark Horse, for its slick presentation and high concept adventure. I also have a particular fondness for Eclipse Comics’ Permission To Die.

The Man With The Golden Gun was the first Bond novel I read, which is ironic as it was Fleming’s last, so that holds a special memory for me. Overall, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the one I’ve probably reread more than any other. In the continuation novels, I really like Raymond Benson’s The Facts Of Death, partly because a lot of the action is set here in Austin.

For Your Eyes Only - from India

NRAMA: And speaking of favorites, which 007 actor do you like best, and why?

AJP: The Daniel Craig version of James Bond as seen in Casino Royale is perhaps the closest we've come to Ian Fleming's version of Bond; not so much in looks but in terms of attitude, motivation and psychology. Having said that I think each movie incarnation of Bond has made its own contributions to the overall mythos, and have things to recommend them.

NRAMA: What about the villains?

AJP: In the movies, it’s a close call between Auric Goldfinger, if only for the classic line, ”No Mr. Bond I expect you to die!”, and the assassin Grant in From Russia With Love. In the novels, I would say The Man With The Golden Gun himself, Scaramanga.

NRAMA: Did you know that a British spy named Jimmy, a thinly-veiled version of Bond, appeared in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier where he was the villain instead?

AJP: Yep, in fact he even makes a brief appearance in my book too.

I’ll give you another obscure Bond comics cameo fact. Did you know that Bond was once refused entrance to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret headquarters?

NRAMA: Professional jealousy by Nick Fury, perhaps? And on that note, what kind of adventures or stories would you like to see the real Agent 007 appearing next?

AJP: On the movie front, although I know it will never happen, I would love to have them go back and remake the Fleming stories with the same sensibility they applied to the recent Casino Royale.

I’d also like to see a more modern series of Bond continuation novels. I may be in a minority of Bond fans but on the whole I liked what thriller writers John Gardner and Raymond Benson did with a contemporary Bond. To me, Bond should always be current, never a historical character.

But the one thing I’d like to see more than anything else is an ongoing series of well scripted, well drawn James Bond graphic novels. And I have more than a few ideas in that direction.

NRAMA: Finally, what other projects are you working on?

AJP: On the comics front, I have a online manga pilot with TokyoPop called God Shop that can be found at godshopmanga.com. I'm also writing the new Disney-Pixar CARS comics series for BOOM! Studios, which I believe will debut some time around Free Comic Book Day next year. On the Bond front, I just turned in an article on the old Marvel Comics James Bond Jr. series for Back Issue Magazine that will be published early next year. My next project for Hermes Press is a feature on time travel TV shows that will be included in a new book that reprints the old Time Tunnel comics. For those who are interested you can always keep up with what I’m working on through my website (alanjporter.com), blog gothamajp.livejournal.com), or Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/gothamajp).

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