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

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

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.”

Bru­tal ba­sics

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!”

Vis­ual chal­lenges

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.

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