James Bond was the first great anti-hero in popular culture and the godfather of numerous fictional assassins to come; like the Executioner and the Punisher. James Bond was amoral and misogynist; he lived outside the law, bedded every woman to cross his path and killed without compunction. Starting in 1954 Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels got good reviews and sold well in North America so it’s puzzling why it took until October 1962 to bring the first movie, Dr. No, to the big screen.
The comic strip James Bond was produced for the Daily Express beginning with an adaptation of Casino Royale on 7 July 1958. It was scripted by Anthony Hern and illustrated by John McClusky. James Bond made his debut in Canadian and American comic pages in 1960 with the adaptation of From Russia With Love, written by Henry Gammidge, and Dr. No penned by Peter O’Donnell. McLusky’s style was strongly influenced by Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby. The comic strip ended on 8 January 1966.
James Bond was a natural fit for the comic strips. One American paper described the episode From Russia With Love this way:
“Bond, in the strip, gets beaten and tortured time and time again, beset by sharks, giant squid, tarantulas and poisonous rats. He comes back for more with his trusty Beretta pistol snug in the holster under his armpit.”
In film Dr. No was preceded by The Avengers in 1960, starring Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman. Macnee’s most famous partner, however, was Diana Rigg as Miss Peel. Blackman later played the Bond girl in Goldfinger.
The comic strip Modesty Blaise first appeared in the London Evening Standard Monday 13 May 1963 and ended on writer Peter O’Donnell’s birthday 11 April 2001. Within 13 years of its conception the comic strip was syndicated in more than 40 European countries, Modesty Blaise was the heroine of a series of popular novels, and a movie was produced with the character played by Italian actress Monica Vitti. So far I have found no samples of the comic strip in North American newspapers.
Peter O’Donnell came from a newspaper family and began his career working for the Amalgamated Press on children’s comics and story papers. At that time Amalgamated published over twenty weekly comics.
“I was working on strip cartoon before it was ever called strip cartoon. Before the Second World War you said you wrote picture stories; after the war you were called a script writer and you wrote script cartoon.”
In the early sixties O’Donnell had moved on to newspapers and was forming the idea of Modesty Blaise, basing her adventures on his own wartime experiences in the Caucasus when he had noticed the struggles for survival of children as young as six or seven fleeing the advances of Hitler’s army. Modesty survived a war-time childhood and spent seven years as head of a criminal gang. In 1963 when the strip began our heroine was 26 years old, rich, retired and reformed, working for a mysterious branch of government along with her knife-throwing sidekick Willie Garvin.
In 1976 O’Donnell, who regarded himself simply as a storyteller, was producing the comic strip from a small office over a wine bar on Fleet Street. He would work on the storyline, plot and dialogue before sending the script on to artist Badia Romero, who lived in Spain and knew no English. The previous artist had died in a car crash. Photos were taken of judo sessions, numbered, and sent to Spain where Romero would work up a drawing from a number supplied by O’Donnell to indicate the action wanted in a panel.
In 1954 ACG released Commander Battle and the Atomic Sub which merged science-fiction and the Cold War in a series very like DC’s Challengers of the Unknown and Doom Patrol. It lasted 8 issues.
John Force Magic Agent, No. 1, was published in 1962 by ACG. He was a member of the top secret American Security Group, wore an eye-patch, had a magical coin that allowed him to produce illusions, read thoughts and implant hypnotic suggestions in the minds of his (mostly) Commie enemies. Magic Agent, scripted by John Hughes and illustrated by Paul Reinman, lasted a mere 3 issues.