In 1957, five years before the first Bond film, the London Daily Express approached Ian Fleming with offers to publish a serial strip based on his world famous secret agent, James Bond. Fleming was initially reluctant to accept the generous offer because he was afraid of the quality of the writing and did not want to see his new creation cheapen in value when he was still writing more novels. Even though he had worked as a journalist for the Daily Express, he desired to keep his hero as secret as possible. He wrote at the time: “The Express are desperately anxious to turn James Bond into a strip cartoon. I have grave doubts about the desirability of this… Unless the standard of these books is maintained they will lose their point and I think there I am in 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.”
With the assurances of Edward Pickering, the Express editor, that it would be a “Rolls Royce” of a job and Fleming would have final approval on all the material, he finally agreed to sell the rights for serialization. The first novel, ‘Casino Royale’, was published in July 1958. It was adapted by the Express staff writer Anthony Hearne and illustrated by John McLusky.
During the planning of the new feature, Fleming commissioned his own artist’s impression of James Bond as a guide to how he saw his hero. Having seen the portrait executed for Fleming, McLusky found it too “outdated” and “pre-war” in spirit and created Bond with a more aggressive masculine look. He based the character on an amalgam of film actors like Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, and others with a fine bone-structure face. There is a difference of opinion with Bond fans as to who helped create the face of James Bond. It has been said that it is quite possible that McLusky’s drawing of Bond may well have been responsible for Sean Connery being cast as 007 in the first film. “Dr. No” was made a number of years after the first strip cartoons appeared, there was an uncanny resemblance to the actor. There are stories that Connery was sitting in his dressing room with another actor after a theatre production. This other actor was reading a copy of the Daily Express and remarked that Connery should one day play the part of Bond as he looked remarkably like the face of the strip character. Others believe Connery’s agent had seen the strip and encouraged him to go for the new role. He had Sean made up for the audition “to look like the drawing McLusky created.” Another view is that McLusky changed his concept of Bond during the run of the feature to fit the likeness of Sean Connery once the films became so popular.
A total of fifty-one stories were produced for the Bond strip. I have included a list of the creators including the one story illustrated by Harry North and Kingsley Amis’s “Colonel Sun.” When the series was finally stopped in 1983, it had spanned four decades and with a total output of more than 6500 individual strips. A few of the original Horak stories have been reprinted by the British Titan Books and there is a McLusky’s version of The Illustrated James Bond, 007. There was also a series of Scandinavian James Bond comic books reprinting some Horak dailies and also providing some new stories.
Excerpts from Comicartville.com