The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Warren Ellis and James Masters are bringing James Bond back to comics after 20 years. Stephen Jewell conducts the interrogation
Bond is back! No, we don’t mean Spectre. Warren Ellis tells us why he took on 007.
The literary Bond is a brutal square peg who will make himself fit wherever he’s needed to get the job done
Although he’s the star of the longest running movie franchise, James Bond last graced a comic book page almost two decades ago. But after Dynamite Entertainment obtained the comics rights from Ian Fleming Publications, 007 is set to appear in a new series of stories and adaptations, starting with VARGR in November. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Jason Masters, the six-parter promises to revive the “brutal, damaged” original.
“Bond is, of course, a British icon, which made the job very hard to resist – especially in this form, where I’m writing the Fleming Bond of the novels, not the more compromised version of the films,” says Ellis. “I grew up with the films, obviously. I know I read one or two of the books in my teens, but I’d read them all by my 30s.”
Artist Jason Masters cites a Bond opus, 1983’s Octopussy, as one of his formative movie-going memories. “That was it, I was hooked!” he recalls. “I made it my mission to track down all the older James Bond films after that. I loved them, even On Her Majesty’s Secret
Service, which felt like it delved into a more personal side of Bond. That was refreshing.”
But unlike Ellis, Masters has never read any of Ian Fleming’s novels or short story collections, which were first published between 1953 and 1966. “Warren’s research and scripts have been quite eye-opening for me,” he says. “It’s impossible to not love the suave, slick Bond of the movies, but the literary Bond almost feels more interesting, as he’s like a brutal square peg that will make himself fit wherever he’s needed to get the job done.”
Bond had to fit the spirit of the books. Beyond that, they seemed happy to unleash us on their world!
Dynamite Editorial Director Editor Joseph Rybandt says “the estate remains very protective of their legacy,” but Ellis has only ever had “one, long meeting” with Ian Fleming Publications, who oversee the late author’s oeuvre. “Following that, I have received no blocks, no restrictions and no notes,” he says. “We agreed that day on what the [comic] books should be, because we have a shared understanding about who the Fleming Bond should be and how the stories should work. It has been, frankly, a shockingly positive experience.”
Best known for his work on Batman Incorporated and various other DC titles featuring the Dark Knight, Masters was brought in at Ellis’s behest. “Jason is a clever, narrative-minded artist, who brings all the Fleming-scale detail work to the page that I can’t produce due to the form,” says Ellis. “Everything he draws is authentic and livedin, in just the way Fleming would bring texture to the novels. Jason brings the Fleming!”
Masters adds: “When Warren asked me if I liked James Bond, I thought it might be because he had a project in mind that was in that vein. So finding out that he wanted me to draw the actual James Bond 007, and from his scripts, still seems completely unreal!”
Admitting that he’s “a huge fan” of Ellis, Masters has been impressed with the “beautiful detail” that goes into Ellis’s meticulously constructed stories. “He has the ability to uncover hidden depths in characters and situations that the rest of us probably wouldn’t even have thought to look for,” Masters says. “Warren writes with an artist in mind as he instinctively knows how the visuals will work on the page. Having said that, I’ve been allowed to throw a few of my own ideas onto the page and that’s been pretty thrilling. And I also love getting to draw Bond in the exact right shoes he’d likely wear if he was travelling.”
While Ellis had to be careful to refer only to what Fleming established as canon, Masters faced the far more daunting challenge of ensuring that his depiction of Bond doesn’t too closely resemble any of the seven actors who have played the character since Dr. No in 1962. “I was given strict instructions to stay away from all things related to the movies,” he says. “Early on in the design process, I came up with a look for Bond that I was quite pleased with, only to have it pointed out to me that I’d basically drawn Timothy Dalton!”
Instead, Masters modelled his Bond on American singer Hoagy Carmichael, who was Fleming’s original inspiration for 007, right down to the distinctive scar on his
cheek. “I used that as my jumpingoff point and then 30 or so revisions later I had a design that seemed to please Warren, Dynamite and the Fleming Estate,” says Masters. “It was important to them that this version of Bond sticks as closely as possible to the spirit of the books. Beyond that, they seemed very happy to unleash Warren and me on their world! And M, Q and Miss Moneypenny all have original looks, based on descriptions and ideas from Warren.”
Compared to a movie, a comic book has the obvious advantage of a complete absence of “budget constraints,” Rybandt notes. In a film, the costs of special effects or shooting in exotic locations could be prohibitive, but “we can create the fantastic much easier and we can let the eye stay on it for as long as we need it to, as opposed to it all flashing by in a blur,” says Rybandt. “There’s more room to pace things evenly in comics, and to let the story breathe.”
Making comics work
Masters insists, however, that he and Ellis are not completely without restrictions. “The comics budget is time – while you can potentially draw anything, you still need to do it within the constraints of hitting deadlines,” he argues. “From a storytelling perspective, though, my favourite thing about comic books is figuring out new ways of serving up the information for the audience, and working out how to make the page interesting and innovative without losing your story. So while I’ve been experimenting, I haven’t pushed it terribly far yet. I’m hoping to build some rapport with the readers as the story progresses, so that when things do get unusual, the audience will already speak my language, so they will just go with it.”
But while Anthony Horowitz was able to closely mimic Ian Fleming’s individual writing style in Trigger Mortis, down to the point of making himself appear “invisible” as the author, Ellis hasn’t had that luxury. “You lose the effect of [Fleming’s] moments
of telegraphic prose in comics,” he says. “It’s one of the things that we can’t quite emulate because the presence of storytelling images mitigates against it. But we do gain the presence, detail and atmosphere of places and things, and of course the elements of brutality or horror become more visceral. Also, when you’ve got an artist like Jason Masters, you can do so much with a look or an expression.”
As Rybandt notes, Dynamite’s agreement “relates to the literary end, the books themselves, so the new series takes the concept of Bond and places him in a modern context, like the films, only born directly and only of the books that Fleming wrote.” What this means is that VARGR’s contemporary milieu allows Ellis to address some of Bond’s more controversial, outmoded traits, particularly his notoriously predatory and misogynistic attitude towards women. “The book is set in the present day; this isn’t a period piece,” says Ellis. “Fleming’s Bond was a product of his time. This is also Fleming’s Bond, and therefore should be a product of this specific time.”
While Trigger Mortis opens a mere fortnight after the conclusion of Fleming’s 1959 seventh Bond novel Goldfinger, VARGR takes place at a less precise moment in Bond’s career. When? “People keep asking me that question!” laughs Ellis. “I’m not thinking about that too closely. Or, at least, I’m not copping to it. It’s somewhere in the last third of the Fleming run, and that’s all I’ll say.”
Piecing it together
The word vargr is an old Norse word meaning either wolf, evildoer or destroyer, and the story starts out with Bond on “a mission of vengeance” in Helsinki before returning to London, where he is charged with picking up the pieces from a fellow 00-section agent who has fallen in the field. “The first issue begins with that mission, and leads to 007 having to assume 006’s caseload, which sees him tasked to Berlin to shut down a small, agile drugs-production operation,” explains Ellis. “To do this, he consults with a CIA informant, a medical-technology genius called Slaven Kurjak. And an hour later, it all goes horribly wrong for Bond…”
“VARGR is very much an Ellis comic, so all the future tech ideas, strong leads and exotic locales are all in place,” adds Rybandt. “The plot is very Warren as well, as it concerns the enhancement of humans and drug cocktails of the near future. All of which gets thrown against Bond, of course!”
Having signed up for a 12-issue stint, Ellis has hinted that his next arc might feature Bond’s CIA foil, Felix Leiter. Meanwhile, having agreed a ten-year contract with Ian Fleming Publications, Dynamite will next delve back into Bond’s past with adaptations of all Ian Fleming’s original novels, starting with 007’s debut in 1953’s Casino
Royale. “We’ve decided to start to craft this graphic novel as the beginning of a series of graphic novels,” says Rybandt, who also reveals plans to tell tales that supplement Fleming’s: “We’re also doing an original graphic novel telling Bond’s origin, and that’ll be happening in early 2016.”
Opposite and above: No fewer than nine variant covers are planned for the first issue of the new series from Dynamite (including a blank one for even more artists to create unique sketch covers on). Page 96 shows the Gabriel Hardman version; opposite is the version by Dom Reardon; above is the retailer exclusive version by series artist Jason Masters.
Opposite and above, left
to right: Dan Panosian, Francesco Francavilla and Stephen Mooney contribute their own moody variations on the theme.
Jock takes the most distinctive approach, depicting no more of Bond than his hand. All the covers feature the same stylish typographic treatment.