Whew. It’s almost midnight on Monday and I’ve been about 5 days straight with very little sleep trying to wrap up multiple projects that all came due at once. The biggest was the MAD Kids job, which was actually two jobs and since both were quite different from my usual MAD work they ended up taking far more time than I had anticipated. Working “without a safety net” can be stressful, and sometimes results in hours being wasted when some experiment to achieve a certain effect ends up not working and you have to backtrack, trying something else. On the other hand, those kinds of jabs really help you grow as an artist and an illustrator. At first glance the pieces I did for MAD Kids might not seem very complex, but they had unique difficulties that needed some problem solving to overcome. I can’t post any of these images yet, but when MAD Kids #7 comes out next month I’ll show some of the process and how I accomplished some of the details.
In the meantime I lost count of the hours I spent in the studio, but I did get a chance to listen to some new audiobooks. A while back I wrote this post about the new James Bond movie Casino Royale, which I really enjoyed. In my review I cited some of the differences between the James Bond of the movies and that of the original books by Ian Fleming. It occurred to me later that my information about the Bond of the Fleming novels was second hand from a friend of mine’s comments and from other sources I’d read… I had never actually read an Ian Fleming novel. I needed to rectify that.
This week I listened to the first six of Fleming’s fourteen Bond novels on audiobook. Ordinarily I cannot listen to books I have not read already when working, as I need to be familiar with the story to allow me to zone in and out if necessary, but having seen all the films I thought I would be familiar enough with the stories to get by with the books. I also expected to find the books to be very Frederick Forsyth in flavor, with a great deal of explanation of the workings of British intelligence. Much of the info I had read on the Fleming books from Bond fans painted the novel’s character far more ruthless and cold blooded, with a deep hatred of women. I was surprised on many counts.
My first surprise was that, after Casino Royale, I expected Dr. No to be the the next book in the series as it was the first film. Actually Dr. No is book number six. I listen to: Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, From Russia with Love and Dr. No. These are short books, coming in at about 7 hours unabridged on audiobook. As a result I accidentally listened to them out of order, and for anyone wanting to read these books I would not advise that. These are serial in nature and events of previous books have a bearing on later books, as least in the first six. I was not surprised to see they differed from the movies… in some cases drastically.
All in all these are fun, enjoyable tales if not very well written books. Fleming was not a very impressive writer. I think his books were very imaginative and that was the strength of them, and not the writing technique. They are very dated, all having been written from 1953 to 1966, and are reflections of that time period. The dialog is tremendously hokey in many cases, especially between Bond and whoever the damsel in distress of the day happens to be. “Oh my darling James!” seems to be a popular statement from all the Bond girls. Likewise there is a lot of racial insensitivity going on… but again these are a product of their time. Still it’s jarring to hear black people referred to as “Negroes” or “Negresses” and talked about like they are not quite the same level of human as the white Bond. Fleming also had a distracting habit of over-describing some things while under describing others. Almost every book I listened to mentioned at some point about how Bond “cleans his teeth” and endlessly showers for no discernible reason, using words like “luxuriously” to describe the simple act of sitting in a car. Meanwhile exotic locales like Istanbul, France, Jamaica and others get comparatively little detailed description. Despite all that there is little downtime in these books, as Fleming moves the stories along pretty well.
While I was expecting Forsyth I was surprised to find the Bond books reminded be more of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes stories. While there is some espionage and intrigue the plots are more like mysteries that unravel as Bond gets deeper into the story. These are far more adventure novels than spy novels, with a lot more chases and fistfights than instruction in the world of intelligence and espionage. I also do not understand (at least so far) how anyone can read Bond as a brutal killer with a deep seeded hatred of women in these books. Fleming goes to great lengths to make Bond highly chivalrous, and he more than once mentions that Bond dislikes killing in cold blood, and paints the British secret service as angelic while their adversaries are evil degenerates. Bond is actually not very deep or complex at all… he is much the straightforward good knight. Perhaps that is also a function of the more innocent and ignorant times of the fifties.
It’s been so long since I’ve watched the Bond movies that I had trouble remembering what parts came from the books and what were Hollywood’s inventions. My overall feeling is that the early Bond movies actually did a great job capturing the Bond of Fleming’s books, and if anything added a sense of menace to him the novels somewhat lacked. Many of the stories of the early films were close to the book’s plots while the later films borrowed scenes and names but bore little resemblance to the books they were “based” on. Many of the later Bond movies are totally unwatchable.
When I get some time I’ll write some further reviews of the Bond novels versus their movie counterparts. Right now I need to pass out….
30 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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