Titan's 007: The Inside Story
Today James Bond art expert ‘Red Grant‘ (webmaster of the terrific The Art of James Bond website) offers CBn readers a real treat. In this first part of a two part article, Red reveals the full behind the scenes story of working with Titan books on their recent restoration and reprints of the classic James Bond comic strips originally published in the Daily Express. This is an EXCLUSIVE for CBn and The Art of James Bond readers, so enjoy!
Written by ‘Red Grant’
In September of this year I agreed to write an article detailing the events surrounding the search for missing material to be included in Titan Books upcoming ‘Goldfinger collection’. Now some three months later, with the work finally completed and the book ready for publication, here is the full story of what was involved in tracking down 40 year old bits of newsprint! Although I was originally only approached by Titan with a view to locating panels missing from the material supplied for the book, I also undertook my own investigation into the cancellation of the Thunderball strip. The research done on Thunderball was an attempt to finally lay down the true sequence of events surrounding the cancellation of the strip in the Daily Express and to establish exactly what was seen in the original UK version. Sadly this research took time and as I wasn’t actually working for Titan (other than in an advisory capacity) a lot of the facts uncovered didn’t make it into the finished book. As a result some of the text in the finished book is now incorrect which is obviously unfortunate as I originally undertook this project as it was the ideal opportunity to collaborate with Titan and release the definitive version of this controversial story. As I didn’t have any editorial control (or the opportunity to view all the material beforehand) some of the inaccuracies went undetected until I finally saw the finished book last week. What follows is a lengthy (but hopefully not too technical or boring!) account of what is involved in tracking down material of this age and will answer many of the questions raised in threads on the CBn forums earlier this year. Despite the many problems that arose during its production, the Titan Goldfinger collection is a fascinating anthology of five Ian Fleming stories and represents a whole 18 months worth of material from the James Bond comic strip, much of which has never been collected in English and some that has rarely been seen at all.
Part 1: YESTERDAY’S PAPERS – Tracking down the GOLDFINGER comic strip
My initial involvement with this project started in April 2003 when Titan Books informed me that they wanted to start reprinting the Daily Express James Bond comic strips in hardback dust-jacketed editions. It was at this early stage Titan asked me if I could locate the final panel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which was one of the stories they were planning to include in a new edition collected in full for the first time in English and paired with Octopussy. Many months passed and after a radical rethink the series eventually got underway with a straight reprint of The Man with the Golden Gun and The Living Daylights with an introduction by Lucy Fleming and new background material. This was closely followed by Octopussy this time paired with The Hildebrand Rarity thereby maintaining the original continuity of the strips. The first two collections featuring the artwork of Yaroslav Horak were successful enough to allow Titan to continue the series and look at releasing new material rather than reprinting previously issued stories.
Fast forward to February of 2004 when Titan again contacted me with the news that the green light had been given to the OHMSS reprint if they could locate all of the material needed. The search for the missing OHMSS panel was relatively easy compared with what was yet to come as I knew exactly what to look for. I had a copy of the final frame of the panel and images from the Diamond Comics reprint, (which unfortunately colourized and reformatted the story), but at least I knew what the panel contained. A few posts on CBn’s forums put me in touch with Charles Helfenstein who was able to provide a good quality scan taken from a US reprint of the story which thankfully used the unedited UK version of the artwork.
Finally published in August 2004, the new edition of OHMSS featured an introduction by former James Bond George Lazenby and also included the full version of You Only Live Twice, once again collected for the first time in English. The next volume planned for a November 2004 release would include Goldfinger, Risico, From a View to a Kill, For Your Eyes Only and Thunderball. Once more Titan enlisted my help in locating some missing material from Goldfinger, although the three short stories and Thunderball were believed at this stage to be complete. I informed Titan that Thunderball was only ever presented in a truncated format in the UK but understood the artwork was completed so the story could be syndicated in various versions throughout the world in later years. If this was the case then it would be a unique opportunity to present the story in a version that had not been seen before if all the material was available.
Firstly let me clear up one misconception relating to the search for missing panels: none of them are ‘missing’ in the sense that they don’t exist any more; in truth the panels needed to complete Goldfinger were lost or absent from the material supplied for the book. Naturally every panel printed for the strip exists in some form or other somewhere in the world as the stories have been reissued many times in a variety of publications. The problem lies in tracking down someone who has a good quality copy in a printable format. Theoretically it is possible to obtain copies that exist in libraries or newspaper archives throughout the world but without a detailed knowledge of the history of the strip it is hard to access the material. Ideally the panel should have come from the original artist but given that John McLusky drew in excess of 1600 individual panels over an eight year period for the Ian Fleming adaptations alone, trying to locate one single panel from his archive proved impossible. Added to this was the fact that some of the original artwork has been sold off in recent years which meant other methods had to be employed in order to complete the story.
Panel #833 was missing from the material supplied for Goldfinger and once more I looked to CBn‘s forums to find out if anyone had a copy of the strip in English. Response to the post was good as it turned out that Goldfinger had been reprinted in a number of countries making it very likely that someone would have what we needed. Ideally I would have preferred an English version of the panel but beggars can’t be choosers and obviously there was a deadline to meet with regard to the publication date. Some confusion then arose as to what the contents of panel #833 actually were as the examples I received didn’t match the panel numbers of the material held by Titan. This portion of the story would have originally appeared in the Daily Express in March 1961 but much later in the syndicated versions so this date became irrelevant until I needed to trace a copy of the actual UK newspaper from that period. Further confusion arose because many of the reprints changed the panel numbers (and in some cases omitted huge chunks of the story) for their own purposes. Some of the Scandinavian versions of Goldfinger were more complete than others and the job then was to pin down which panel was required by trying to match the UK panel numbers with the renumbered reprint versions. It was at this stage I replied to a post made on the ‘alt-fan.james-bond’ newsgroup by Johnny Oreskov who held another version of the story that appeared to be unedited. Johnny Oreskov is the webmaster of another site dedicated to James Bond comics and his extensive knowledge regarding the Scandinavian reprints (and Bond comic books in general) proved invaluable in trying to determine what we were actually looking for. In addition to the search via CBn members, the news had been circulated on other forums and newsgroups and replies were coming in thick and fast but the information received was getting rather confused as many people believed they had actually found the panel we needed.
After a few very frustrating days I decided to backtrack and work out if the original UK version of the strip matched any of the reprinted panels in an effort to pin down the exact one needed and see if there were any other differences. Using the list of panel numbers and dates printed in the Titan books (and in most publications on the subject for the past 25 years), I started at the beginning with Casino Royale panel #1 which I knew was printed on Monday 7th July 1958. Armed with the knowledge that each new story always started on a Monday and ended on a Saturday, I then plotted the course of the entire strip from 1958 to 1970. Knowing that the strip appeared six days a week and newspapers were not printed on Christmas Day or New Years Day, a clearer history of the events of 40 years ago began to take shape. The exercise proved very useful and revealed some interesting anomalies which needed further examination before a definitive version could be finalised.
As part of the investigation it turned out that some stories just didn’t match the days and dates in the printing history of the strip which at this stage was believed to be accurate. Goldfinger in particular was proving very difficult to authenticate and didn’t make sense until I discovered that it contained two extra panels that only appeared in Scottish editions of the Daily Express on days where there was a Bank Holiday in England and Wales. These two occasions in 1960/61 accounted for panel #773a and #819a and the discovery of these so-called ‘a-strips’ meant that the dates for Goldfinger could finally be verified. I then matched the UK panels with the Scandinavian versions and was therefore able to work out the corresponding reprint panel number required.
Johnny Oreskov and CBn forum user Heiko Baumann both had different versions of the story which contained the missing panel #833, so I decided that if the quality of the scans they could provide was high enough, then a translated version of one of the Scandinavian panels would suffice if it could be done in a way as to match the rest of the story.
Now that a more reliable list of days and dates existed it was easier to verify the translated text against the original UK panel to see that they matched. Knowing the actual day/date of a newspaper makes it easier to locate via the British Library who holds every copy of the Daily Express from 1900-1996 on microfiche. Although the quality of the microfiche image isn’t good enough to print from at least the content and text can be examined.
With the missing panel now secured some more interesting information then came to light. Johnny Oreskov pointed out that some of the earlier panels contained artwork showing Oddjob attacking James Bond with a knife which was censored in some versions and different artwork substituted in other countries. It transpired that Titan held the censored version of the artwork which was seen in some of the syndicated versions of the strip. The alternate artwork appears not to be the work of John McLusky as it is in a different style and clearly stands out from the rest of the story. Panel #829 was censored by erasing the knife but panel #830 was redrawn completely with alternate angles of Oddjob attacking Bond and then exiting to the waiting train. For the sake of completeness both versions of these panels are included in the new Titan collection. When seen side by side the foreign reprints of the strip highlight just how much it was butchered over the years by careless placing of text and speech bubbles, resulting in versions of the story that are essentially very different from what originally appeared in the Daily Express. The same is true of all the stories so in reality there is no definitive version other than having the original John McLusky artwork before the text and speech bubbles are added. Print quality also varied dramatically between the various versions so composite images had to be made up of the missing panels in order to maintain a good enough quality to match the rest of the strip. Time has not been kind to some of the material supplied for Goldfinger and there are some instances where better quality versions of other panels had to be sourced in order to present the story in a constant format throughout whilst still remaining true to the original artwork.
When the strips went into syndication they often appeared out of sequence with no reference to previous stories which also resulted in some alterations to the original artwork. Some countries chose to present the strip unedited (apart from a simple translation of the text) whereas others reformatted panels in order to fit the size of their pages meaning the story was no longer presented with John McLusky’s original framing. The syndicated version of Goldfinger had a new title panel for the strip but omitted the frames which follow on from the previous story Dr. No and in doing so condensed the beginning of the adventure into one panel which was numbered #700. Unfortunately it is the syndicated version of the strip that was supplied to Titan which means that the original title panel and introduction are missing. The overall quality of the Goldfinger strip is not as good as some of the earlier reprints but readable nonetheless and presents the perfect visual interpretation of Ian Fleming’s story with differs slightly from the screen adaptation some three years later. It is interesting to note that many of the panels bear a striking resemblance to scenes in the 1964 screen version (as do so many of the panels throughout the comic strips) and it is hard to believe the film-makers did not refer to these when making the film.
© Red Grant/The Art of James Bond 2004
Part 2: YESTERDAY’S NEWS – Reconstructing the THUNDERBALL comic strip