Earlier this month, Titan Books released The James Bond Omnibus Volume 004. It’s the latest collection of daily 007 comic strips in an oversized format. The original James Bond comic strips ran in Europe from 1958 to 1983. These particular strips in volume four were published in The Daily Express from 1971-1975.
The first two omnibuses mostly contained retellings of classic Bond films and Ian Fleming novels, like From Russia with Love, Goldifnger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Following with the the third omnibus, this recent volume collects nine original James Bond stories by writer Jim Lawrence (credited as “J.D. Lawrence” on the strips) and artist Yaroslav Horvak.
There’s one comic where James Bond takes out a raging panther with a giant vase.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.
I should probably say upfront that I’ve never read any of the James Bond novels. I’ve been meaning to get to them, but just haven’t yet. (I’m especially interested in reading the Kingsley Amis one because it’s bloody Sir Kingsley Amis writing a Bond book.) My own relationship with Bond is purely through the movies thanks to my Uncle Mike. I remember as a kid watching You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Living Daylights with him, and watching him geek out over Bond. Sometimes when I’d be over at my uncle and aunt’s place, my aunt would play a cassette of Bond theme songs while she cooked or cleaned.
For me, Bond has always been associated with good times, high imagination, and childhood daydreams of adventurous, gadget-laden derring-do. It would be a couple years after my first introduction to Bond that I’d understand the sex, the danger, and the suaveness that completed the package and solidified the appeal. You know, when girls started to be pretty rather than just cooty factories. (I’m nowhere near as good a Bondologist as Matt or Xander. If you haven’t been reading their Across the Bond series, you’ve been missing out.)
Had I encountered these daily comics by Lawrence and Horvak, all the childlike wonder and the adult debonair would have been blatantly apparent to my young mind. According to Wikipedia, the first reprints of the daily strips were available through the international James Bond fan club in the early 1980s. Titan Books would then release sets of reprinted strips in the late 1980s, though these original editions are now long out of print.
The Bond of Lawrence and Horvak is like a blend of George Lazenby’s looks and Timothy Dalton’s grit. Horvak gives him that stern, hardened face with a distinct nose and dimpled chin. The other artist on Bond comic strips was John McLusky, who made Bond look more like Sean Connery. Interestingly, McLusky drew his Connery-esque Bond of the comic strips four years before the film version of Dr. No. Fleming’s own vision of what Bond looks like was a bit closer to Ralph Fiennes by way of Roald Dahl.
As for Lawrence’s writing, he mostly keeps the quipping to a minimum, though overquipping in Bond wouldn’t be a problem until the latter half of the 1970s. The duo tell taut stories with clean art. There are a handful of panels where the action or the movement don’t seem as clean or well realized, but I think that has more to do with the limitations of a three-panel story with fixed panel sizes rather than any deficiency in Horvak’s art. It’ll be interesting to see the next volume of the Bond daily strips to see if the hokey excesses of the Roger Moore movies make their way into the comics.
There are some odd and hokey bits in the Lawrence/Horvak comics, though. Some can be very cool, like the deadly aviary in “The Isle of Condors” or the sexy riff on Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up in “Beware of Butterflies.” But there are some weak hokey bits as well, like the weird society of bloodsuckers in “The League of Vampires,” which is a bit of a MacGuffin that goes nowhere. But it’s all worthwhile because of the quick pace of daily comic strips. Hang in there long enough and you’ll eventually get James Bond wielding a Tommy gun against mafiosos in New York. That story, “Die with My Boots On,” opens with Bond swinging through a window on a crane-suspended steel girder.
Two notable hobby horses of the 1970s pop up in these daily comic strips: psychedelic drugs and blaxploitation. Those little touchstones of cultural phenomenon are one of the reasons I’d like to go back and read the other volumes of the daily Bond strips. I wonder if there will be anything as of-the-moment as James Bond saying “dig” or “jive.” These inescapable moments of cultural absorption happen in the Bond films as well since it’s difficult for movies to exist outside of their age. It might be a little throwaway gag (Francisco Goya’s then-stolen Portrait of the Duke of Wellington pops up in Dr. No) or there might be something of the whole age bundled up in it (Die Another Day might be all the worst excesses of the late 1990s and early 2000s in one place).
Looking at the publication history of the daily James Bond comic strips, there are maybe 18 stories left to collect, 20 tops. I wonder if they’ve worked it out for seven volumes of material. As perfect as stopping a time bomb with a few ticks to go. That’d be as suave as the following Bond line in “The Girl Machine”: “That’s the great thing about scotch — it’s food, drink — and breath of life!”
But six ain’t a bad number either.