John McLusky - the original James Bond 007 comic strip artist for the Daily Express

John McClusky – James Bond 007 Comic Strip Artist for the Daily Express

Before the James Bond movies captivated the world, Agent 007 was a comic strip character in the Daily Express.

John McLusky's drawing of James Bond, 007Faithfully inked by John McLusky, the depiction of 007 was quite similar to Sean Connery. In fact, there is a long-standing theory that Connery got the role, in part, due to his likeness to the comic character.

More on that later …

First, let’s dive into the incredible life story of John McLusky — as written by his son, Graham McLusky.


Early days

My brother Sean and I were brought up living in the British countryside, in an idyllic spot, overlooking hundreds of acres of open farmland. A perfect setting.

Our Mother and Father were living in London in the 50’s and after Sean & I came into the world we all moved to this fabulous country location. This may never have come about if Dad hadn’t been asked by the Daily Express Newspaper to develop a new strip cartoon series with them.

This was to be the beginning of the Bond Legend as we know it today. Unfortunately both our parents have passed now.

In 1958, the very first Bond strip cartoon was formulated.

Dad carefully developed a face for this most British of  spies, James Bond. He was presented with a drawing of a face for Bond, which Fleming had commissioned. Dad thought this looked very “Sexton Blake” with a rather pompous demeanour, so rethought it out to be a rugged, good looking chap with that curl of hair on the forehead.

He was given approval by Fleming and then began the drawings for the adaptation of the Fleming story, ‘Casino Royale’.

This series of strip cartoons was first published in August 1958 and ran until the December of that year. It was an instant success and was responsible for increasing the newspaper’s sales. This was also responsible for our parents being able to move to the countryside too! Bond, as we know and love today, was born!

My Father said once, when he had submitted the first drawings of Bond, he had no idea how much of an impact they would make when blown up to enormous proportions and spread all over London on the big hoardings! This was the start of a long and interesting relationship with 007.

Casino Royale #49 - by John McLusky
Casino Royale #49 – by John McLusky

Starting out

My Father first started drawing Bond from our home in London. It was a small ground floor studio flat, just off the Earl’s Court Road, with a raised balcony in the main living area for a workspace. Luxury!

I was only a little lad then and had absolutely no idea as to what my Father was up to every day with his pens and pots of ink, tone sheets, artboard etc.

My Mother, Sheila, had just finished working as a Costume Designer in the film industry in order to bring up yours truly and now it was down to Dad alone to bring in the family income.

Mum worked on such films as Disney’s Treasure Island, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Fools Rush In & It Started In Paradise. Mainly in and around Denham & Pinewood Studios, I believe.

My brother Sean was born in 1959 and we all lived together in this flat until our parents managed to obtain the most incredible, unrepeatable bargain of a country property. Half an acre, four cottages at one end and another three cottages at the other end.

The four cottages became one large house and the three cottages became an artists’ studio for my father to work in. This became our home for many years. Quite a difference from London. It was amazing growing up in the Hertfordshire countryside then.

Casino Royale #52 - by John McLusky
Casino Royale #52 – by John McLusky

Hard work

I can remember my father having to virtually lock himself away for hours on end in his studio to produce the volume of work necessary to keep Bond appearing, daily, in the newspaper.

John would emerge for breath and a meal or two on occasions and then submerge himself again to finish his target for the day.

My Brother and I would play, go to school, come home from school, bring friends back and thoroughly enjoy ourselves whilst Dad was slaving away over his drawing board! I can remember sometimes going up to his studio to pay him visits. I suppose I wanted to remind myself that this figure, with a green eyeshade, bent over a drawing board with a single anglepoise lamp, was indeed my Father.

I would watch the Bond work being composed and inked in, amazed at the skill and dexterity of Dad.

I was unaware as to just how much experience he had at the time. (In later years, after Bond, he went on to draw cartoons for ‘T.V. Comic’ [Laurel & Hardy, The Keystone Kops, Pink Panther and many other characters], ‘Look & Learn’, children’s television programmes like ‘Hatty Town’ & ‘George The Dragon’) plus a raft of incredible graphic design projects!

Was there no end to this man’s capabilities? Well no… in later years become a fully fledged Punch & Judy Professor, performing at events and seaside resorts, well into his retirement! Before retirement, he taught art and history of art at local schools & colleges and made a massive impression on many keen students over those years.

The amount of work and meticulous attention to detail that Dad put into his drawings was amazing. He observed, he noted, he collected references, he studied everything which could possibly help in producing some of the finest comic art we have ever seen.

You Only Live Twice #433 - by John McLusky
You Only Live Twice #433 – by John McLusky

Criticism

Each day he would bring his finished Bond strip cartoon panels back to the house and show my brother and I so that we could comment and pick out any flaws that weren’t immediately obvious to the trained adult eye! (I’m sure that Mother would have made the most sensible observations).

However, Dad would take everyone’s comments seriously and make alterations if necessary. He would be fine tuning his work right up to the point of sending it off for publication.

I have a feeling that my brother and I were responsible once for helping James Bond out of a sticky situation with a toy Luger Pistol!

Dad needed a reference for this particular weapon quickly and had nothing to hand in his archives. (He had just about everything else but Lugers). Sean and I had just the answer. We extracted a toy Luger Pistol from our toy box and loaned it to Dad. (In those days a great deal of attention to detail was given to manufacturing toy guns and it seemed the perfect solution to us at the time).

The moment arrived later for us to inspect his work and Dad produced the strip cartoon panel. The first thing my brother and I asked was why a toy cap gun was being brandished in such a serious situation. “What do you mean?” asked Dad.

It was pointed out to him by his “critics” that the little pop-up hatch for the roll of paper caps had been drawn in!

Back to the drawing board for some white touch up ink and Bond was saved from a seriously embarrassing moment in his career as the number one spy!

On Her Majesty's Secret Service #55 - by John McLusky
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service #55 – by John McLusky

 

The Face of Bond

It has been said by more than one person that it is quite possible that my Father’s face of Bond may well have been responsible for a certain Mr. S. Connery obtaining the position of 007 for the first films.

the-daily-express-james-bond-comicDenied by some but you cannot get over the uncanny resemblance, can you? The first film was not made for a number of years after the first strip cartoon was published. I heard a story once which may well be true.

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. The first film, Dr No was being planned and they were looking for an actor to play the part of Bond.

This gentleman remarked to Connery that he thought that he should go for the part of Bond, as he looked remarkably like the face in the strip cartoon. Well, the rest is history!

 

Film connections

For many, many years, both my parents had a very good friend who worked in the film industry. Her name was Freda Pearson, a delightful Polish lady. She escaped Poland, to Britain, during WW2. Her husband at the time was shot in front of her by invading forces and she managed to get away and get to Britain, where she set up home.

The Face of James Bond - John McLuskyShe can be seen on the titles of a number of Bond films as Set Dresser. An incredibly important role as she was totally responsible for making each scene look just right. She would work very hard in making sure that what we see today in those memorable pictures looked absolutely correct.

I believe that at one time she even made the film crew eat most of a meal and leave the table part finished to make the particular scene work!

I remember that after she had finished on some of her films, she would be able to obtain some of the props and furnishings for a very low cost. Many items were unwanted by the film company at the end of the pictures and had to be disposed of. Freda, and I am sure many other people associated with the films, would be able to buy all sorts of things for next to nothing.

We seemed to acquire a bit of the furniture from some of the films on occasions. Poolside furniture from ‘Goldfinger’, a table from ‘Dr. No’, an enormous heap of wood panelling in strips from one of the ‘Goldfinger’ sets and other items which I am unsure about now.

Freda, I seem to remember, managed to furnish most of her flat from Bond items!  Dear Freda, she passed away many years ago, a lovely lady and great family friend, with a heart of gold.

 

 

Fame

I don’t think that anybody in my family had any idea how big James Bond was going to be over the years to come, after Dad first started with the Express. It is a phenomena that really is unsurpassed by any other fictional character. Are there any Sherlock ‘Baker Street’ Holmes Fan Clubs out there or ‘Dracula’ appreciation societies? Shouldn’t think so.

John found the interest, shown by so many people in his work, rather exciting and bewildering.

He was so pleased that there were so many people out there, young and not so young, who would enjoy reading his strip cartoons. (Still read today by thousands of fans). He had many good friends and a large and happy family.

What more could a man want? Well… how about a prestigious Exhibition of his Bond Artwork at the Barbican Centre in London? My Brother Sean and his wife Katie arranged this fabulous exhibition for him while he was alive. Dad was there with all his friends and family members.

 

‘The Face of James Bond’ Exhibition

An exhibition of original Bond Strip Cartoon Work by John McLusky.

It took place from 25th November 1995 to 14th January 1996. There was a press and private view on the Tuesday 28th November during the evening. What an evening that was. Smirnoff Vodka sponsored the show and plenty of Martini’s, shaken not stirred, were consumed by a considerable number of people!

It was a marvellous exhibition and Dad revelled in it all.

Lots of friends turned up for the private view, he was interviewed on T.V., the atmosphere was more of a big party and a reunion. My heartfelt thanks go out to my Brother and Kate for producing such a memorable moment for Dad. So professionally produced and presented. He never forgot that.

James Bond Artwork for sale

It was at the exhibition that Dad started to find that people were becoming interested in buying his work. He sold some to a number of collectors over the years. Now, through my Brother and I, some his original cartoon strips are still for sale. 

I put together a web site about Dad and his Bond Art, along with other interesting items I have found. www.jamesbondcomicart.co.uk. Drop by sometime and take a look.

I just hope that Dad will continue to be remembered by a lot of people. He deserves it, because I feel that so much rests on the first concept of Bond’s face.

If Bond had been initially envisaged in a different way,  the early films would have turned out somewhat differently with a completely different lead actor! Having said that, all the other Bond actors would have been different people too, I imagine!

I really do think that many thanks go to Dad for creating ….The Face of Bond.

To find out more, go to the James Bond Original Artwork Website

… about the author …

Graham McLusky, elder Son of John McLusky is a Theatre Lighting Designer and runs a web and app agency in the UK. Together with his brother Sean, they look after John’s Estate.

Buy John McLusky’s 007 Comics

 


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