The History of the Illustrated 007

illustrated 007 porter

The History of the Illustrated 007 was compiled by Alan J Porter in 2008 and is a coffee table style book that takes a look at the comic strip and graphic novel incarnations of the famous fictional spy through the decades. Everything from the Daily Express strips in the sixties through to more weird and wonderful oddities like Manga James Bond and Bond comic adaptations in countries as diverse as Chile and Hungry. I was a little disappointed to be honest that this book wasn't more colourful and far out in terms of its design and one does wish there had been more text and essays perhaps rather than the spare guide format here (with a page or cover from something and then some basic factual information and a synopsis beside it). If nothing else though it serves as an interesting (part) visual check list and enables you to gain a sneak peek at many comics you might not have discovered or read yet. The cover is excellent. An unused piece of Bond art by Bob Peak, probably for the 1989 Timothy Dalton film Licence To Kill. Unbelievable really that Peak's striking art was rejected for some vastly inferior posters.
The book begins with the Express strips in the fifties and then goes up to the nineties. I have practically all of the Express compilations (I think) so this was unavoidably the least interesting part of the book for me as there was nothing much new. One thing the book does do is chart the course of the comics alongside the film series and the novels (in this case it's the often terrible continuation novels as Fleming had stopped writing books by the time the Bond comic industry got into full swing). The Express were certainly ahead of the game when it came to latching onto the popularity and potential of the novels and began adapting them before the film series had even started. We see here from the comparisons that the Express incarnations of James Bond might well have influenced the casting of Sean Connery as he looked rather like the illustrated Bond and had something of a comic book look in his younger years when he was all spiffed up in Terence Young selected clobber.
The newspaper strips began by adapting Fleming's novels and short stories and when they ran out of source material they began making up their own titles and stories (just as the film series had to do). The later newspaper strips were often enjoyably bizarre with some titles that Fleming might have been proud of like Polestar and Death Wing. These strips actually lasted into the eighties which is pretty amazing when you consider how long they had been running. The first American comic to feature James Bond was a DC licenced 1962 adaptation of Dr No which I wasn't familiar with at all and so curious to learn more about here. Fleming's dated and borderline racist dialogue was apparently completely cleaned up and even skin colour was deleted in the comic so that no possible offence could be taken by anyone. There was some very surprising Bond related comic stuff in the sixties like Takao Saito's adaptations of four James Bond novels in Japan. The series was ended by the Bond publishers after a couple of years but it's interesting to take a brief look at this work. His Manga take on Bond was very action packed and although the art is too cartoonish for my tastes the covers were excellent.
for your eyes only saito

Another thing new to me were the Zig Zag James Bond comics in Chile that ran for a few years in the late sixties. I first read about these in one of the Titan compilations. The comics were pretty solid and drew Bond to look exactly like Sean Connery. They came to an abrupt halt when a new Marxist regime took over and branded James Bond as western imperialist propaganda. I think this book could maybe have done with more examples of panels or pages from the comics at times but they are fun when they appear and the covers we see add a welcome splash of colour to the text and a nice retro feel to the guide. You get the Marvel specials too - basically comic adaptations of films. I don't know if Marvel still do this much but I know they adapted some of the Star Trek films back in the day. There is the For Your Eyes Only special here and also the Octopussy one too.
It's interesting that there was such a long gap between US comic adaptations of Bond films. The theory suggested is that Bond wasn't a very big deal in the early seventies in the United States (in all likelihood a consequence of Connery walking away again at the start of the decade after making Diamonds Are Forever) but attracted more attention again with The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker in the latter half of the seventies. These were big grand scale films full of spectacle and bombast and much more geared to the North American mass market than something like The Man with the Golden Gun.
I think the more obscure foreign Bond comics are the ones that will probably be of most interest here as many are so rare and little known. In Scandinavia they reprinted the Express strips and then started doing their own and Argentinean publisher Editora Columba actually did a comic version of the renegade (in other words it wasn't produced by the Broccoli family) 1983 Sean Connery film Never Say Never Again. I had no idea this even existed. It was only really in the late eighties that James Bond - despite his appearances in comics and strips - started to feature in some bona fide graphic novels. Strange really given the enduring fame of the character and the fact that you can do virtually anything with him. Mike Grell's Permission to Die, the far out and very enjoyable Serpent's Tooth by Doug Moench, Shattered Helix by Simon Jowett, The Quasimodo Gambit by someone who escapes me just now. There seems to be some sort of jinx on good James Bond graphic novels in that there are hardly any of them around and they often never get finished.
I enjoyed trawling through these even though I have most of them. One interesting nugget here is that a three part comic adaptation of the Pierce Brosnan film GoldenEye was commissioned in 1995 but they took so long to get approval for the risque cover art to the first issue that they never got around to printing parts two and three! Everything is here (including the comics based on the forgettable James Bond Jr cartoon). The History of the Illustrated 007 is an interesting and enjoyable book to flip through but you might be slightly disappointed that's it basically a glorified guide rather than a big fully illustrated pop culture celebration of the world of James Bond comics through the decades. I personally would have liked a few more interviews and articles to read. This is still not a bad volume for completists although I don't think I would be willing to pay too much for it.

- Jake


c 2014 Alternative 007

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