James Bond comic strip artist John McLusky has died at the age of 83. MI6 looks back at his life and career...

John McLusky (1923-2006)
8th September 2006

John McLusky, best known for his long tenure as James Bond comic strip artist, has died at the age of 83. He passed away on Tuesday 5th September 2006. His prolific era as the official 007 artist spanned eighteen James Bond adventures, producing an amazing 2,250 comic strips.

Bond Begins
Four years before Sean Connery would bring 007 to the silver screen with "Dr No", Daily Express readers in the UK got their first sight of James Bond in 1958. The face John McLusky gave to Bond would be many people's first and lasting image of 007, including composer John Barry.

With this image so ingrained in the British public's mind, it may even have helped the first Bond actor land the part. One anecdote on his official site notes that "Sean Connery, appearing in a theatre production, was sitting in his dressing room with another fellow actor who was reading a copy of the Daily Express. This gentleman remarked to Sean how he felt that he should play the part of Bond as he looked remarkably like the face in the strip cartoon."

Right: John McLusky's iconic representation of 007


Although initially reluctant, Ian Fleming finally granted permission to the London Daily Express to create a syndicated series of comic strips based on his novels. Despite having been a journalist for the Express himself, Fleming hesitated to accept the offer because he was worried that his creation would devalue, and had concerns about other writers transposing his stories to the new format.

Above: The first ever James Bond comic strip showing the opening of the debut story "Casino Royale".

Above: The first promo poster released by the Daily Express in 1958

Edward Pickering, then editor of the Express, persuaded Fleming that the comic strips would be a "Rolls Royce" of a series with Anthony Herne to adapt the series, who had previously serialised some of Fleming's novels for publication in the Express.

Fleming's first James Bond novel "Casino Royale" would also become the starting point for the newspaper series, with the first strip published on July 7th 1958. Staff writer Anthony Hearne adapted the novel, and John McLusky was brought in to illustrate.

Licence To Draw
The artist, previously a British Royal Air Force Bomber Command in World War II, was asked to supply a sample comic strip of what James Bond would look like before he won the contract for the strip series.

He chose to illustrate a scene from "From Russia With Love" in which Bond and Red Grant fight on the Orient Express. Fleming approved of the sample and, shortly afterwards, the first publicity material began to appear from the Daily Express, announcing the start of Casino Royale.

Initially sticking closely to Fleming's source material, the strips created by Hearne and McLusky were an instant success and boosted sales of the newspaper. Fleming's concerns were eased when the flow of the stories, although only read at a rate of three cells a day, kept readers hooked despite losing a lot of Fleming's detailed prose from the original material. The punchy, fast-paced style and daily "cliff-hangers" suited Bond's adventures perfectly.

Top: A panel from McLusky's test piece that won him the the licence to draw in 1958.
Bottom: The published version from the same scene released in 1960.

McLusky began his work on the strips based in a drawing room in his London family home, a small ground floor studio flat off Earl's Court Road. A couple of years later, when the strips were enjoying huge success, McLusky relocated his family to a country property containing four cottages, three of which would become his studio.

His grueling schedule would be to complete one strip of the series a day, for six days a week. This included finding reference photographs, initial sketches, producing the final artwork and running the strip past his two sons for criticism and error checking.

Stripping Bond
McLusky teamed up with writer Henry Gammidge for the following seven years, recreating Fleming's novels and short stories in the graphic form almost chronologically (except for a one-off partnership of writer Peter O'Donnell with McLusky for 1960's "Dr. No" adaptation).

Right: An iconic image of Bond from a cell in the 1959 adventure "Diamonds Are Forever"


Trouble broke out in 1962 however, when Fleming published his short story "The Living Daylights" in rival newspaper The Sunday Times. Express owner Lord Beaverbrook was angered and abruptly curtailed the publication of the current strip "Thunderball", which was only two months into syndication. Kevin McClory, a thorn in the side of many future Bond productions, also began his first legal action against Fleming for rights on "Thunderball", which he co-wrote. Eventually a settlement was bashed out between Fleming and McClory, allowing the Express to continue publication of Fleming's other works in 1964 - restarting with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".

Above: The opening panel of aborted Thunderball strip.

Thirteen adventures since the Express began publishing Bond strips back in 1958, Gammidge and McLusky stepped aside for the new team of Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak as writer and artist respectively. In 1981, series writer Lawrence was then paired with the original strip artist John McLusky returning for a further four adventures.

To celebrate his John McLusky's work, his sons Graham and Sean (and his Wife, Kate) organised an exhibition of his work at the Barbican in London entitled "The Face of James Bond". It took place from 25th November 1995 to 14th January 1996 and featured an exhibit of his original Bond strip cartoon work.

As well as his long run as James Bond comic strip artist, McLusky also drew strips such as "Secret Agent 13" for Fleetway's "June" and illustrations for "Look and Learn", and also worked for 15 years on "TV Comic" with strips such as "Orlando", "Laurel & Hardy" and "Pink Panther". In the early 1980's he worked on Thames TV series "Hattytown". He the retired but was lured back in to action in 1986 when Gerald Lip, the Express strip Editor, asked him to draw the last James Bond strips, which he did for three years. He then regularly lectured in the History of Art and was also a Punch and Judy Professor and Puppeteer. He spent his final years taking it easy at his home due to heath reasons but enjoyed reading, meeting his friends and listening to his favourite Jazz collections.


Hearn on McLusky

Comic strip scriptwriter Anthony Hearn wrote in 1990 about his work on Bond with McLusky, "I trusted John McLusky to make pictorial sense of my scenario. Fleming tended to choose, for his high dramatic points, locations which he himself knew well: high class hotels, rich men's gambling haunts. John beavered away getting pictorial references for the many background 'shots' needed to establish the scene. His artwork was vastly superior to my script. It was that which ensured the wide following for the Bond Strip after a shaky start.

The Legend Lives On
John McLusky will be best remembered for giving to the world "the face of James Bond", and with Titan Books republishing the original strips, fans old and new can enjoy the adventures again. McLusky's work will forever hold resonance in the Bond canon, and is as fresh and exciting today as it was nearly fifty years ago.

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