July 15, 2013

MORT WALKER'S JAMES BOMB

The fourth James Bond film, Thunderball, hit US screens on December 22, 1965 at the height of the spy boom. Bondmania was inspiring a host of spin-off movies and TV shows, and toy catalogs transitioned from western-themed items to spy gadgets for the space age. Working with his advanced lead-time schedule, Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker also picked up on the spy craze and quickly submitted this homage about Agent James Bomb in Thunderbelly. [click images for large view]


In this Sunday strip published August 28, 1966, Walker's Sarge character appears as Super Spy, James Bomb in a mission filled with James Bond conventions. Walker is a master of minimal graphic design and he managed to insert a lot of vital information with an economy of lines. Through text in the second panel we learn that Sarge as a Brit, who has been slipped a two-way radio by Smooch agent, Miss Buxley. Period fashion trends play a role right away, as Buxley wears a mini-dress with mod geometric cut-out shapes, and Sarge sports a diving suit under his tux ala Sean Connery in Goldfinger


The James Bond conventions continue as Sarge deploys a bomb, oil slick, barbed wire- and the kitchen sink- from his modified Italian Jeepola. The climax leads the viewer back into the 'real world' with a true-to-character punchline. Note the use of wavy panel borders to denote the dream sequence.

The complete vintage clipping below appears courtesy of Richard Sala (Cat Burglar Black, Chuckling Whatsit, Delphine), maestro of the macabre mystery. Sala clipped this from his own newspaper as a kid and kept it in a scrapbook. See my interview with Richard Sala here, where he shares his original TV Avengers photos and letters.

Spy Vibers can find this Sunday Beetle gag and more in Beetle Bailey: The Daily & Sunday Strips 1966. Walker was already the top-selling magazine cartoonist in the country when he sold Beetle Bailey for syndication in 1950. You can read his career-spanning interviews in my book, Mort Walker Conversations, available from Amazon and directly through me (contact spyvibe[at]gmail.com for info). I am working on an eBook with Mort Walker that will include new interviews and material. Walker will turn 90 on September 3rd and 2014 will be the 80th anniversary of his first cartoon sale! Congrats, Mort!

Beetle Bailey made its debut the same year as Peanuts by Charles Schulz. Both strips established a clean modern style that held up under the already shrinking space for comics in the newspapers. I was the artist-in-residence at the Charles Schulz Museum in June. My Museum interview link available here and my review of the Peanuts & Eames Design exhibit here. Thanks for reading, Spy Vibers!


Spy Vibe is having a giant Summer Sale with new items listed every few days! Items include rare James Bond editions by Gardner and Benson, Deighton, sealed Star Wars comics, Gulyashki, Man From UNCLE, rare Beatles books by Bruce Spizer, Corgi, music items and CDs, and More! Save with combined shipping. Head over to eBay for details here. Happy collecting, fellow Spy Vibers!

Get ready to meet MIKI ZERO, a Japanese fashion model and spy from 1965! That's right, I've written a novel inspired by Spy Vibe. 
More info at my website here.

Check Spy Vibe for recent posts about DC animation designer Shane Glines,  Batman '66 and Warhol, our fiendish villains archiveCold War Comics, Sam Mendes back for Bond, Spy Vibe heroes and Wild Things, book design dopplegangersChristopher LeeBettie PageDashiell HammettMiles Davis, WWII spy Krystyna Skarbek, recycled James Bond covers, interview with Fu Manchu author William Maynard,  Man From UNCLE mangaOrson Welles the Shadow, rare Piero Umiliani Kriminal soundtrack, new Beatles Yellow Submarine game, James Bond audio book re-issues, Mid-Century Modern in Peanuts, my review of SKYFALL and more. Spy Vibe is now on Pinterest! Check out our image archives and follow us here. For Your Shelf Only collecting series links
Jon GilbertRaymond BensonJeremy DunsPeter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming ShortMatt Sherman. 

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