Today James Bond art expert “Red Grant” (webmaster of the terrific The Art of James Bond website) concludes his two part look into the full behind the scenes details of working with Titan books on their recent restoration and reprints of the classic James Bond comic strips originally published in the Daily Express. In Part I Red told us about his work on Goldfinger. Today, the subject is the elusive Thunderball strip.
This is an EXCLUSIVE for CBn and The Art of James Bond readers, so enjoy!
Written by “Red Grant”
Part 2: YESTERDAY’S NEWS – Reconstructing the THUNDERBALL comic strip
Thunderball started its initial run in the Daily Express on Monday 11th December 1961, some nine months after the publication of the UK hardback first edition by Jonathan Cape. It was an advance copy of this hardback that provoked the litigation against Ian Fleming by Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham who claimed plagiarism of the screen story Thunderball co-written by the three men in 1960. Although the trial relating to this case would not reach court until 1963, the story ran into difficulties again when Ian Fleming sold the rights to his short story The Living Daylights to the Sunday Times. This story then appeared in the very first Sunday Times Colour Supplement on 4th Feb 1962. The Daily Express who had been serializing some of the author’s earlier novels, and running the successful James Bond comic strip uninterrupted for some three years, naturally felt their exclusive rights to Fleming’s work had been compromised and chose to end their association with the increasingly troubled writer. The comic strip version of Thunderball was aborted prematurely but it was always believed that the artwork was completed by John McLusky in order that the story could be syndicated with the rest of the series. This myth has perpetuated ever since and it is only as a result of my recent investigation that the actual sequence of events surrounding the cancellation of Thunderball can be explained in more detail. Thunderball was never completed to the same degree as the other titles in the series but did have additional material drawn to conclude the narrative for the syndicated version.
As was the case with Goldfinger, the dates and panel numbers of the Thunderball strip did not initially match up with the listings supplied for the story. The strip ended on 10th February 1962 but the corresponding panel number for this day is actually #1117 and not #1128 as per the listings. Records show that the total number of panels drawn for Thunderball was 64 (actually 63 plus one additional ‘a-strip’ #1081a only printed in Scotland) but only 52 appeared in the original Daily Express version.
Once more Johnny Oreskov provided material from the Scandinavian reprints relating to the end part of the story in order that I could verify at what point they differed from the UK original. Titan supplied everything they believed existed for the 1961/62 printing of Thunderball in the Daily Express but it became apparent that this copy actually matched the records for the story so was therefore more complete that the version that originally appeared. Titan held what appeared to be the later syndicated version although it is identical to the original printing up to the point at which it was cancelled. After acquiring a copy the comic strip page from the Daily Express of Saturday 10th February 1962, I then knew exactly how the UK version was concluded so could compare this against Titan’s version and the two Scandinavian reprints.
The strip begins on Monday 11th December 1961 with ‘M’ sending Bond to ‘Shrublands’ heath clinic where he encounters Count Lippe. The narrative then includes a flashback to introduce Blofeld and the SPECTRE plot to hijack two nuclear bombs and hold the US and UK governments to ransom. The story continues in real time with a brief introduction to Emilio Largo and the ‘Disco Volante’ and continues with the hijack of the Vindicator bomber by Giuseppe Pettachi.
On February 4th 1962 The Living Daylights appears in the first edition of the new Sunday Times Colour Supplement which angers Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) then owner of the Daily Express. He orders that Thunderball is cancelled and the strip then ran until the following Saturday concluding with panel #1117 which was a simple composite image using artwork from the title panel #1066 and text explaining how the story ends. There was no other explanation as to why the strip had finished in the newspaper and was no doubt very puzzling to readers in 1962 when the story ended so abruptly.
Artist John McLusky had been producing one panel per day for the James Bond comic strip (in addition to his other work) since 1958 but hadn’t actually finished illustrating Thunderball at the point at which it was cancelled. Judging from the material available John McLusky was only a week ahead of the actual printing dates and had completed six further panels which accounts for #1117 – #1122. The original unused panel #1117 was replaced with the published composite version which has been unseen since its appearance in the Daily Express on 10th February 1962.
However the story doesn’t end there, and Thunderball (along with the rest of the series) went into syndication appearing in a number of newspapers and comic books throughout the world where the strip was presented in a variety of formats. For the syndicated version six additional panels were drawn and numbered #1123 – #1128 and conclude the story with the briefest of explanations by suddenly introducing Felix Leiter who conveniently pops up at the end to tie up all the loose ends. When comparing the three versions it seems there were then another six panels included to expand the narrative even further by explaining the presence of Leiter and re-introducing Bond back into the story. Further confusion arises as the new panels are numbered #1117 – #1122 leading me to believe they slot in the place of the corresponding original UK panels that McLusky had drawn but were not used. The Titan collection uses the original syndicated version of the story and includes the six additional panels in an untranslated format highlighting the poor quality and crude reformatting typical of some of the foreign reprints. Nothing beyond the original panel #1116 has been seen in the UK and the all material unearthed as part of this investigation is collected together for the first time.
All this means there are at least three different versions of the story in existence – the original one that appeared in the Daily Express (ending at #1117), a second syndicated version which substituted new panels in place of the missing UK material, and a third comic book compilation which included the missing UK panels but omits the additional six syndicated panels. In effect there is no definitive copy of Thunderball in existence and different countries have all printed hybrid versions of the strip depending on which artwork they were supplied with. The only version of Thunderball I had seen prior to this investigation was reformatted, loses a lot of background detail and again doesn’t include the original John McLusky panels depicting the plane hijack. It is also missing the equivalent panel #1081a which didn’t appear in the original English edition. I don’t believe the six additional panels have ever appeared in English and The Art of James Bond is pleased to offer translated versions to enable readers to fully understand the end portion of the story. Most foreign reprints of Thunderball and indeed all the stories from the strip are changed in some way from what originally appeared in the Daily Express. Most have the titles for each panel removed and crudely replaced with art to fill in the gap. Panels were cropped and re-ordered to accommodate different page sizes and the removal of background detail in some versions appears to have only been done to save on ink and therefore reduce printing costs!
The James Bond comic strip eventually returned to the Daily Express in June 1964 after Ian Fleming had resolved his differences with the newspaper and then ran uninterrupted for a further 12 years. All remaining novels and short stories were adapted with only three exceptions (Quantum of Solace, The Property of a Lady & 007 in New York) and permission was granted by the Fleming estate for new material to be created using the James Bond character in stories written by Jim Lawrence and illustrated by Yaroslav Horak.
Finally, 40 odd years later, the story of Thunderball and its unfortunate history can be laid to rest. For its author the court case that took place in 1963 cost him dearly and as a result of the stress associated with the trial and his general bad health, he suffered a heart attack on 12th August 1964 and didn’t live to see the enormous worldwide success of the subsequent film version of this story the following year.
The search for the missing Goldfinger panels and trying to make sense of the printing history of the Thunderball strip has taught me not to take everything I see on the subject at face value. The Titan Goldfinger collection will hopefully redress the balance and allow readers to experience a diverse collection of stories that have been largely unseen in their original format for four decades. Although the print quality of some of the material is variable it is good to see these stories collected together for the first time. Given the state of the source material this is the best these strips can look without a full-blown digital restoration. It is ironic that there is still so much interest in a comic strip created half a century ago that originally appeared in a very fragmented format in such a disposable medium as a newspaper. Seeing the panels in their original context, surrounded by cartoons, crosswords and advertisements makes you realize how difficult it must have been to actually follow a story over such a long period of time as the panels make little sense when presented individually. It is a testament to the skills of Henry Gammidge (and the other writers who adapted Fleming’s work) that the strip works so well when the narrative thread is allowed to take its natural course. Very much like modern graphic novels, the James Bond comic strip transcends it origins and can stand alone as a faithful representation of an author’s work.
In a time when the James Bond films bear little resemblance to their literary origins, the comic strip shows Ian Fleming’s hero as he really was and places him in the contemporary surroundings of the novels. I am proud to have been associated in tracking down the ‘original’ James Bond and making this material available to a new audience, many of whom are experiencing the comic strip for the first time.
© Red Grant/The Art of James Bond 2004
Thanks to Johnny Oreskov, Heiko Baumann & “The Wandering Wookie” for their help in this project. Without their assistance none of this would have happened.