E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 2: “Well, Blow Me Down”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-874-9

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894.His father was a handyman, and Elzie’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator and house-painter, and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his bread-and-butter as a cartoonist. He was working as the film projectionist, when aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown – who got him an introduction at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but the Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York and the King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a pastiche of Movie features similar to Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies with a repertory cast who would act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies, for huge daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, their lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple, sometime boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924 he created a second daily strip The 5:15; a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (obviously quite a common name, hmm?). A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through the adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular, and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually the strip was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of funny thrillers that followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (but sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and captivated the whole wide world. The truly unique cast of characters invented in this period: Sea Hag, Toar, Poopdeck Pappy, Swee’pea, Eugene the Jeep, Alice the Goon, George W. Geezil, and especially J. Wellington Wimpy (potentially as big and innovative a star as Popeye) – even Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle in the Sappo daily strip which had evolved into the Sunday Popeye “Topper” – all individually verge on manic brilliance, and combined to make Popeye a global figure to rival Mickey Mouse, Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. To most of the world Popeye was real.

All the attendant peripherals of a major brand accrued to Popeye. There were toys, games premiums, books, comics, film, radio shows, and especially those incredible animated cartoons. Tragically Segar died at the height of his creative powers and with so much more magic still to make on 13th October 1938, sole creator of an incredible galaxy of imagination, but his legacy briefly lived on through his assistant Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf, before the syndicate appointed Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambuly to work on the printed strip, whilst the animated features increasingly became the main means of bringing Popeye to the world – but it just wasn’t the same.

Sagendorf returned in1958 and his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool once more. He wrote and drew Popeye until Bobby London took over in 1994.

These superb hardback collections are the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. The second huge volume (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches) contains a fascinating essay from historian Donald Phelps, a testimonial from Mort “Beetle Bailey” Walker which includes the beautiful inspirational drawing Segar sent the young fan in 1934, and another batch of incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips.

The black and white section here (covering December 22nd 1930 to June 6th 1932) sees Popeye, Castor and Olive soar to stardom in the fabulous western spoof ‘Clint Gore, the Outlaw’ and strike a blow for the Depression-era poor by inventing a financial institution that gives money away in ‘A One-Way Bank’, before resuming their globe-trotting adventuring in ‘The Great Rough-House War’ and its immediate sequel ‘Tragedy in the Land of Saps’ wherein the peculiar King Blozo of Nazilia seeks aid in ending a war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tonsylania – although the real problem seems to be his own over-ambitious Generals and the fact that all his soldiers are cowards…

This classy screwball epic displays Segar’s trenchant skill with the sharp swift scalpel of satire as well as broad slapstick, and has glorious overtones of if not actual influences upon the Marx Brothers gem “Duck Soup.” With an initially reluctant Popeye compelled by his sense of duty to become King of the unlovable Nazilians, it’s also where the superman sailor reveals for the first time the strength inducing properties of Spinach…

From there Popeye and Olive head back to the wild, wild west to visit ‘Skullyville, Toughest Town in the World’ and we’re treated (I think that’s the word) to the unforgettable yet frankly grisly vision of Olive Oyl as a bar hall dancer in a raucous, ridiculous romp that’s jam-packed with lampooned cowboy clichés and hilariously brilliant original gags.

The full-colour Sunday pages cover March 1st 1931 to October 2nd 1932, with the increasingly absurdist Sappo toppers thoroughly complimenting the whacky shenanigans of the lead feature. May 8th is particularly noteworthy for the first appearance of insane Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle – another Segar walk-on who would usurp his host feature…

The Popeye strip continued the uproarious and exceedingly violent boxing career of the one-eyed sea-dog, who took on all exceedingly monstrous comers, including the awesome man-mountain Tinearo, Kid Klutch (a giant gorilla) and even a robot boxer as the increasingly obsessive and belligerent Mr. Kilph, crazed by his inability to beat the grizzled sailor-man, slipped slowly into utter wackadoodleness.

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive Oyl with desperate verve, if little success, and his life was forever changed when the ever-so-corruptible and adorably contemptible J. Wellington Wimpy made his debut.

The engaging Mr. Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman was first seen on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed referee in the bombastic month-long bout against Tinearo but he obviously struck a chord with Segar who gradually made him a (usually unwelcome) fixture. Always hungry, ever happy and eager to take a bribe, we learned his name in the May 24th installment and he uttered the first of his many immortal catchphrases a month later. It was June 21st – but “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”, like most phrases everybody knows, actually started as ‘Cook me up a hamburger, I’ll pay you Thursday’

There will be more of Wimpy’s incredible influence in volume 3, but for now another aspect of Popeye’s complex character was revealed in an extended sequence that ran from May 29th 1932-July 17th, one that quickly secured his place in reader’s hearts.

The sailor was a rough-hewn orphan, who loved to gamble and fight, not too smart and superhumanly powerful, but he was a big-hearted man with an innate sense of decency who hated injustice – even if he couldn’t pronounce it. When Mary Ann, a starving little girl, tried to sell him a flower, he adopted her, taking her from the brutal couple who used her in a begging racket. He grew to love her and there’s a genuine sense of happy tragedy when he finds her real parents and gives her up. That such a rambunctious, action-packed comedy adventure serial could so easily turn an audience into sobbing sentimental pantywaists is a measure of just how great a spellbinder Segar was…

These tales are as vibrant now as they’ve ever been and comprise a world classic of graphic literature that only a handful of creator’s have ever matched. No one has ever bettered Segar’s Popeye and these superb volumes are books you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. Don’t miss them.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-779-7

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

Call me an idiot (you know you want to) but for years I laboured under the misapprehension that comics’ first superhuman hero debuted on January 29th 1929. Luckily, thanks to a superb collection from those wonderful folk at Fantagraphics I’ve been disabused of that erroneous notion at last and forever.

Thimble Theatre was an unassuming comic strip which began on 19th December 1919, one of many newspaper features that parodied/burlesqued/mimicked the silent movies. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ ‘Hairbreadth Harry’ and Ed Wheelan’s ‘Midget Movies’ (later and more famously renamed Minute Movies), which used a repertory company of characters for generic adventures firmly based on the cinema antics of the silent era. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy, would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy, as he became, tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, gentle adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928 (the first strip reprinted in this astonishingly lavish and beautiful collection), when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

As eny fule kno Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected creator E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling adventure and comedy during this period, and when Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they decided to sail for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day and in the 108th installment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of every reader, his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale his walk-on had become a full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The journey to Dice Island was a terrible one: Olive had stowed away, and Popeye, already doing the work of twelve men, did not like her. After many travails the power of Bernice succeeded and Castor bankrupted Dice Island, but as they sailed for home with their millions Fadewell and his murderous associate Snork hunted them across the oceans before Popeye settled their hash too, almost at the cost of his life.

Once home their new wealth soon led Castor, Ham and Olive into more trouble, with carpetbaggers, conmen and ne’er-do-wells quickly circling, and before long they lost all their money (a common occurrence for them), but one they thing they couldn’t lose was their sea-dog tag-along.  The public – and Segar himself – were besotted with the unlovable, belligerent old goat. After an absence of 32 episodes Popeye shambled back on stage, and he stayed.

Although not yet the paramour of Olive, Popeye increasingly took Ham’s place as a foil for the sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. When they escaped jail at the start of ‘The Black Barnacle’ (December 11th 1929) they found themselves aboard an empty ship and at the start of a golden age of comic strip magic…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned and it grew to epic proportions in these strips. Daily he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand new art-form, inventing narrative tricks and beats that a generation of artists and writers would use in their own works, and he did it while being scary, thrilling and funny.

‘The Black Barnacle’ introduced the dire menace of the hideous Sea-Hag – one of the greatest villains in fiction – and the scenes of her advancing in misty darkness upon our sleeping heroes are still the most effective I’ve seen in all my years…

This incredible tale leads seamlessly into diamond-stealing, kidnappings, spurned loves, an African excursion and the introduction of wealthy Mr. Kilph, whose do-gooding propensities would lead Castor and Popeye into plenty of trouble, beginning with the eerie science fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of Brownstone Hill’ and the return of the nefarious Snork who almost murdered the salty old seadog a second time…

The black and white dailies section ends with ‘The Wilson Mystery’ as Castor and Popeye set up their own detective agency: something that would become a common strip convention and the perfect maguffin to keep the adventures tumbling along – even Mickey Mouse would don metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass (see Mickey and Donald and The Lair of Wolf Barker).

These superb and colossal hardcover albums (200 pages and almost 14½ by 10½ inches) are augmented with fascinating articles and essays and include testimonial remembrances from famous cartoonists – Jules Feiffer in this first one – and the relevant full colour Sunday pages from the same period. Here then are the more gag-oriented complete tales from 2nd March 1930 through February 22nd 1931, including the “topper” Sappo.

A topper was a small mini-strip that was run above the main feature on a Sunday page. Some were connected to the main strip but many were just filler. They were there so that individual editors could remove them if their particular periodical had non-standard page requirements. Originally entitled “The 5:15 Sappo was a surreal domestic comedy gag strip created by Segar in 1924 which became peculiarly entwined with the Sunday Thimble Theatre as the 1930s unfolded – and it’s a strip long overdue for consideration on its own unique merits….

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance he was already a fairly well developed character. Thus Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then.

We saw softer sides of the sailor-man and when Castor and Mr. Kilph realised how good Popeye was at boxing, an extended, trenchant and scathingly funny sequence about the sport of prize-fighting began. Again cartoon violence was at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (relative) innocence and lack of experience kept the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif.

Popeye is fast a approaching his centenary and still deserves his place as a world icon. These magnificent volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of EC Segar and his brilliantly imperfect superman. These are books that every home should have.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Plunder Woman Must Go! Socialist Cartoons from Militant


By Alan Hardman with commentary by Lynn Walsh (Miltant/Mentorn)
No ISBN:

I thought I’d combine controversy and nostalgia by reviewing this now just in case the titular subject of the brilliantly bitter satire and vitriolic graphic commentary within finally pops her clogs and whatever meagre pretension to good taste I possess subsequently scuppers me from ever doing it.

Along with sex, religion and fighting, politics has always been the grist that feeds the cartoonist’s mill, and like many other creative people I often bemoan the fall of the Thatcher regime (it’s still hard to call it a government as those are systems of management purportedly run for people and society) because – and only because – it deprived us all of spectacularly worthy targets.

The best political cartooning comes from outrage and the Tory administrations of the 1980’s provided one bloated, bile-filled easy mark after another. Just look at TV’s Spitting Image which grew fat and healthy off that government’s peccadilloes, indignities and iniquities (as well as Reagan’s America and the Royal Family) in just the way that millions of unemployed and disenfranchised workers, students and pensioners didn’t.

From 1980 comes this starkly powerful collection of incisive images by justifiably vitriolic socialist cartoonist Alan Hardman (still fighting the good fight to this day) which originally appeared in Militant, the periodical of the Marxist-leaning portion of the Labour party, just before the internal crisis in the mid-80’s led to expulsions of the hard Left and the creation in 1997 of the Socialist Party. The infamous and demonized faction Militant tendency was named after the newspaper.

Militant began after the successful 1964 election of Labour as a four page monthly publication, growing into a 16 page weekly by the late 1970s, outlining policies of the Militant tendency and publicising its activities and campaigns.

Content in the newspaper usually carried a by-line stating, author, his or her Party branch, and/or the trade union branch. Militant never employed professional journalists. There was even a quarterly sister publication: the journal, Militant International Review, dedicated to more substantial analysis of global economic and political events. It became Socialism Today in 1995. Militant was renamed The Socialist when the Militant tendency changed its name.

None of which really matters now, but these cartoons have stood the test of time and surely deserve another look, not just because of their power and passion but also because a really great villain can always stand another good kicking.
© 1980 Alan Hardman.

John Ryan 1921-2009

I’m saddened to learn of the death of master story-teller John Ryan.  For my own potted biography of this gentle genius you can check out our review of Eagle Classics: Harris Tweed although I’m sure the papers and news services will be full of fulsome obituaries for a man who was a pioneer of British comics, children’s books and television animation.

Typically, I’ve been intending to review his Captain Pugwash children’s books for some time now but never quite got around to it.

I first met him whilst teaching at the London Cartoon Centre where he was a rapturously received guest-speaker one evening. Afterwards, while chatting with the delighted fans of four generations who had come to see and hear him, he very kindly showed me the actual cut-out and props (painted in black and white wash tones) he had produced for the very first 1950s Pugwash TV episodes, whilst simultaneously drawing a freehand biro sketch of Mary, Mungo and Midge for my bemused and overwhelmed wife.

He was a prince among men and we’re all the poorer for his passing, but at least his unique accomplishments will live in the legacy of brilliant tales he leaves behind.

Beware of the Dog


By Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (Macmillan)
ASIN: B0000CK63L

Pericle Luigi Giovanetti was a huge star in the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II, and a prolific one who appealed to fans of all ages. Born in 1916 in Basel, he launched his most beloved character Max in Punch in April 1953. Max was a small, round furry creature like a hamster, whose wordless pantomimes were cute, whimsical and trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride and pomposity punctured, but he did. It was also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality, a funny animal for adults.

So imagine how such a graphic talent would flower when he turned his dry, laconic eye upon Man’s Best Friend? Luckily you don’t have to as in 1958 this fabulous collection of 52 pooches, drawn in a variety of styles and even captioned in two separate languages (French and English), and thanks to contemporary wits Mark Laurence and Richard Maury, three separate comedic styles, is available as your pedigree guide!

Giovanetti was a master of the pen, with a sparse and economical line, and completely au fait with all brush techniques from dry-point to tonal wash painting. The sheer variety he exhibits in this book would make any would-be illustrator weep with jealousy if they weren’t already splitting their sides with mirth.

To my knowledge there were six other Giovannetti books and collections between 1954 and 1961: Max, Max Presents, Nothing But Max, the Penguin Max, Birds Without Words and Hamid of Aleppo – and not one of these gems is currently in print! The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see. That his work should be forgotten is a crime. If you ever, ever find a collection of his work don’t hesitate!

Fetch!
© 1958 P. L. Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

Best of American Splendor

Best of American Splendor 

By Harvey Pekar and various (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-096-4

Harvey Pekar is something of a conundrum. By his own reasoning and admission he is a fairly ordinary working stiff, just trying to get by. For all of his life he has had a “real job” and a “real life”. His comic scripts are introspective, and let’s be honest, not illustrated in a manner guaranteed to suck in the average comic fan, but his comics are always beguiling, intriguing and utterly readable. By telling tales and sharing thoughts he has managed to make an everyday world extraordinary.

This compilation features strips from 1990 to 2004 and is the usual, unusual mix of self-exploration, reminiscence and social trivia blended with some more of his compelling potted histories and commentaries of historically “lost” figures from literature, sports and music. This ability to impart his obvious fascination and empathy for other creators unjustly forgotten and critically downtrodden (like himself?) may simply point to personal bias. Maybe he is championing those he feels have been similarly mistreated, or does it perhaps go deeper than that?

Here is a creator inarguably obsessed with achievement and the justice of recognition, but he is not saying “Hey, look. You’re doing to me what you did to them!” Here is someone who simply perceives genuine worth that needs to be revered and shared, just doing his bit to make it right.

As for my earlier crack about the art, please don’t misunderstand. The artists are not pikers, they just aren’t cranking out your everyday fancy-dan, computer-coddled, mutant fan-boy fodder. The illustrators here include Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, David Collier, Gerry Shamray, Sam Hurt, Joe Zabel, Gary Dumm, Paul Mavrides, Alex Wald, J. R. Stats, Jim Woodring, Carole Sobocinski, Scott A. Gilbert and even Spain. If you read comics broadly rather than stockpile fanatically, you will know most of these names. Hopefully you also know their other work.

The stories themselves range from slice of life single gags, to the familiar recollections and ruminations, from short yarns describing the authors’ close brushes with fame and security, to the extended and deeply moving “TransAtlantic Comics” co-pencilled and inked in two sections by Frank Stack and Colin Warneford. This gem alone is worth the price of admission. The stories set at comic conventions where Pekar was in attendance are horribly familiar and should serve as a warning to any comic collector who retains a semblance of rationality.

If graphic novels are ever to attain the critical, let alone popular acceptance of their picture-free namesakes, it is going to be because of creators like Pekar. I’m unsure of the value of a review such as this, in a venue like this one, to change the minds of notoriously close-minded comics fans, (and yes I regretfully include myself in that description) but I live in hope. Perhaps I’ve convinced you to try something a little different. To paraphrase this most extraordinary man himself, and his philosophy on Jazz, “You either get it or you don’t”. You should get it.

© 2005 Harvey Pekar LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming

The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming 

By Frank Stack

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-780-9

One of the earliest exponents of the US counter-culture, at least in terms of his contributions to Underground Comix, Frank (Foolbert Sturgeon) Stack has sadly missed out on the benefits of fame and notoriety of such contemporaries as Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb.

He may well be the perpetrator of the first ever underground (a split decision with the late Jack Jackson, both of whom released work in 1964 – although a collection of stack’s doodles was compiled and Xeroxed by Shelton in 1962-3 as “The Adventures of Jesus”) but I’m sure he’s not that bothered. What is important is that these throwaway scribbles by all these weirdo drop-out freaks changed the nature of comics and did a huge amount to reshape the society they came from.

Stack’s weapon of choice was Jesus Christ, whom he made the star of an occasional series of strips satirising America which appeared between 1964 and (since there’s new material in this collection) the present day.

A lot of the bite may seem dissipated by time, but that simply shows how effective and successful they were – and actually still are. Many people have pondered on what the Messiah would do if he came back today, but no-one else could deliver the gentle, telling punches of The Dog Messiah, Jesus Meets the Armed Services (released at the height of the Vietnam War), Jesus Joins the Academic Community or Jesus on Ice, and, as the brand new Jesus Meets Intellectual Property Rights shows, there’s room — and still a need for — Stack’s style of commentary.

This collection is extensive, informative (as well as a commentary from Stack, there are pieces from both Crumb and Shelton) but above all, fun to read. You might not get Saved but you will get your money’s worth in entertainment.

Text & art © 2006 Frank Stack. All Rights Reserved.
This edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books.

James Bond 007: Trouble Spot

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-269-X
                      ISBN-13: 9781845762698

Jim Lawrence strengthens his position as the premier Bond scripter with these tales from 1971-1973. “Trouble Spot” is a traditional tale of espionage as 007 replaces a lost agent in an effort to recover a mysterious box and prevent its falling into the wrong hands of the gloriously baroque Baron Sharck. His heroic efforts are abetted and hindered by the beautiful if morally ambiguous Olga and the blind wife of the agent he’s impersonating.

“Isle of Condors” features a rare (it is 1972, remember) black lead heroine and a kidnapping leading Bond to a plot to turn nubile young beauties into programmed assassins.

The contemporary fascination with the occult becomes grist for the creators’ mill in “The League of Vampires”, when Bond investigates a fashionable cult that is the mask for a plot to destabilise the British computer defence industry.

The volume closes with the racy “Die With My Boots On”, as 007 yet again tangles with the American underworld in search of the secret of a new designer drug that no-one can afford to ignore or possess. As usual there are thrills and glamour in abundance in plot that still form the basis for all those modern summer blockbuster movies. Sexy women, evil men and organisations, relentless action and hairsbreadth escapes make these timeless thrillers an absolute necessity for any fan of the medium.

© 1971, 1972, 1973 Glidrose Productions Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All Rights Reserved