Artist John McLusky, best known as the creator of the face of James Bond in the long running comic strip for the Daily Express. His prolific era as the official 007 artist spanned eighteen James Bond adventures, producing an amazing 2,250 comic strips between 1958 - 1983.
Four years before Sean Connery would bring 007 to the 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 who is quoted saying that the strip was his main reference when writing the original James Bond theme tune.
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 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.”
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.
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 visualise the character.
The artist, who previously worked for 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.
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, and producing the final artwork. 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).
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. This abrupt stop to the strip gave rise to rumours that John Mcluskys knowledge of official secrets through his work for Bomber Command in WW11 had been compromised through his bond illustrations. Eventually a settlement was reached with Fleming, allowing the Express to continue publication of the strip and all Fleming's other works restarting in 1964 with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".
Thirteen adventures since the Express began publishing Bond strips in 1958, Gammidge and McLusky stepped aside for the new team of Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak as writer and artist respectively. But in 1981, series writer Lawrence was paired with the original strip artist John McLusky when he was asked back to work on a further four Bond adventures.