Don McGregor: Bonded Comix Part II

–Continuing our two-parter with comix legend, Don McGregor, as he shares about the Bonds, John Glen, Maurice Binder, and struggling to fit the creative muse into a “DEADline”.

Matt: James Bond in Quasimodo Gambit was a bizarre deadline, wasn`t it? Tell us about it.

Don: The Deadline itself kept changing, and there were different deadlines!

When I was first approached to do a Bond comic series, the book was being produced by two separate companies: Eclipse Comics and Acme, which was based in London. They were already in the midst of doing a Bond series with different talent, and they wanted this book to be ready when the other finished. The common thought was to do a Post-Glasnost Bond plot, but I felt, even if they could pull all the talent together to do it, and could come out with Quasimodo Gambit as rapidly as they said, it could be dated by the time it saw print.

It ended up taking years (yeah, that`s right, instead of months, the deadline became years!) for the book to be illustrated. Now, I had written and researched the entire project, so virtually it was all there. But then I had to do final scripting over the art, and make the captions and dialogue fit the art, and because the art was so late, it was often a pressured deadline…

…And Bond had to be done on pages that were in rough penciled sketch. I often had difficulty just in making out who was whom. In one sequence, in M`s office, I placed a lot of the M and Bond introductory stuff into what looked like blank space behind M`s head, but when I saw the color, finished pages, I don`t know how many odd months later, I could see the artist had put in detailed wall space, including a painting behind M`s head, and it was all covered by copy! So, I went back, a replaced it all, to preserve the art. And once again, I was running against another “Deadline.”

James Bond: GoldenEye was a different beast altogether, because Topps got the license to do the series late, and you have to have the first issue of the book ready by the time the film opens. The problem is no one knew what the finished film looked like, and let`s face it, with a Bond film, and a Bond comic, fans are going to be looking closely. But what does that War Room really look like? What about the interior computer control rooms under the frozen wastelands? Never mind, what do many of the characters in the story look like!

Matt: How did you start your lifelong love affair with Mr. Bond? 😉

Don: With Ian Fleming. And that goes way back before any films were made. It goes back even before President Kennedy put “From Russia, With Love” on his favorite books list.

I used to travel down to a small town in West Warwick, Rhode Island. And they had a huge store there called “Newberries,” and it was one of those places that sold everything from fresh made cookies (Oh, man! I loved those Scotch Jams, to this day, but you can`t find them anymore) to paperback books. And that`s where I picked up a copy of “Diamonds Are Forever”.

It`s funny how you can`t remember things that happened two days ago, and other things stay with you, sharp, clear, the moment of impact as fresh as if it happened an instant ago.

I`d gone to a friend`s house on New Year`s Eve, and I`d taken that DAF paperback with me. I was going back towards my house, walking beside the road that traveled up a steep incline that just went on what seemed like forever when you were walking. There was a January snap in the air, stinging the cheeks. I was stopping under streetlights, reading a few passages here and there from Diamonds, and then hiking to the next light in the darkness. And there was that moment when the villain gets his intended victim in the hot mud rooms, and pours scalding mud in his face and eyes! And I remember standing in the lone light in the black expanse. Everything was quiet. New Year`s Eve was either over, or people hadn`t returned to their houses yet. And I thought what the hell is this!

And I hadn`t even read “Dr. No” yet!

I learned a lot from Fleming. There`s a sequence from “No”, where the centipede is crawling up Bond`s body, and it`s one of the most exquisitely detailed suspense narratives I`ve ever read. I actually recall telling myself to slow down, go back to the beginning of the scene, and savor it, because those kind of scenes didn`t happen often!

Matt: You have plenty of stories about Bond insiders. What is the wildest thing that happened to you while working on a Bond related project?

Don: The wildest thing! You think I`m going to tell you that, Matt? Right here, and now! Or ever!

I will tell you that one of the nicest thing was meeting so many really nice, talented people. I have fond memories of talking with John Glen the night before For Your Eyes Only opened in the States. He was incredibly candid and open about all his feelings. Maurice Binder was a delight. I`d gone to the MGM buildings to talk with him, and they were supposed to have a clip of the opening credits to show me, and for some reason, it couldn`t be found. I told Maurice that was fine, not a problem, but Maurice wouldn`t hear of it. He said, “You`ve traveled all this way, Don, and they were supposed to have it ready!” And guess what, ten, fifteen minutes later, we were in a screening room watching his wonderful way with credits.

What pleased me most in that instance is that after the article on Maurice appeared in Star Log magazine, he wrote me a note telling me how pleased he was with it, and that he felt it was the most accurately he had ever been quoted. That`s not a wild moment, but its one I hold dear.

Still, one of the best things about working on Bond related articles in those days, was meeting Tom Carlile. He was Cubby Broccoli`s US Publicity Coordinator. He treated me, and Star Log, as if we were as important as the biggest promotion gig they had going. Tom took me to dinner one night. I shouldn`t have been there. I`d had a heart attack the night before, although I`d convinced myself by morning that it couldn`t have been that, and yet I`d gone into Manhattan to make sure everything was all right with a series I was writing called Nathaniel Dusk, which was drawn by the Dean of comics, Gene Colan, and then I`d hiked over to see Tom.

He was going in for cancer tests soon after. It was a foolish thing I`d done, and I hope I`d know better today, and yet I`ve always treasured that night, sitting with Tom, as he told me great stories about the early days of trying to promote Bond in the States. “Who wants a movie about a Limey detective?” more than one theater owner would say to him. And the change to where he had people beating at his door and ringing the phone off the hook to get whatever they could on 007! But he also told me amazing stories about working with George Stevens and behind-the-scenes events on “Shane”, stuff I`d never known. Or how difficult it was to work on “Barbarella” with Jane Fonda and Dino DeLaurentiis.

Maybe not wild, but certainly treasured, Matt. It was the last time I ever saw Tom. But what a wonderful last time together. I miss him.

Matt: Tell us about why it was that the lovely and popular GoldenEye comic`s last two issues went unpublished!

Don: See, now, you`re talking about stuff you know the answers to! Now, you`re just baiting me!

Let me see how to tell this without all the twists and turns that project took. The first thing people need to know about a project like this is that there are three companies involved. Eon Productions, of course, made the film. They hired a company called Leisure Concepts to handle Licensing deals for the Bond movie. So, now you have three separate companies, when you include Topps, all with people handling the business end of the project. (And comics are a literary-style item like Glidrose produces for the Fleming estate, too.)

What I have to do is find out how many pages we have to tell the film, get as much visual reference as possible, and find the best way to capture the spirit and tone of a film I haven`t even seen yet! Now, all of Topps negotiations had to go through Leisure Concepts to get to Eon Productions. The problem for a place that handles licensing is that they don`t understand the nature of comics. Normally, they are approached to do a Bond product, be it watches or T-Shirts or talcum powder. The company wanting to make this product needs Bond images.

Let`s take a T-Shirt company, for example. They make the deal, the licensing company sends them 20 or 30 images of Bond, the company selects the one they feel will make the best T-Shirts, and its onward. With comics, you have to see everything!

It`s not even like adapting the book, because you can slide over the details, the pictures aren`t right there in front of the audience. But with a comic, you have to visualize every scene! And with all the technical gizmos and unique backgrounds that are a part of the story, you have to show it! And if I was going to do a Bond comic, I`m coming to it, as someone who loves comics, who has a reputation for the books my names goes on, but as important as that, producing a quality book for fans of Bond, because I`m a fan! I want to do the book I`d like to see if I was out there, wanting to have a comic about Bond!

All of GoldenEye, all three books were pencilled. All three books were lettered. All three books were inked. I had worked on the covers for all three books with Brian Stelfreeze. And without a doubt, the best cover we had, in terms of attracting an audience, Bond and especially, non-Bond, was the cover for Issue #2. Brian did a painting from the steam room sequence between Bond and Xenia Onatopp, with General Ouromov as a ghostly overseeing presence. It was colorful, provocative and caught the spirit of the scene exquisitely.

And it became a problem. I wasn`t there for all the conversations, but apparently someone, somewhere was concerned about the cover. Topps was ready to go to press with the second book when an objection came about the cover. Leisure Concepts and Eon, or just one of the companies, had to give approval to the book, and that approval stalled. Jim Salicrup wouldn`t print the book until Topps had the approval.

THE DAY (and I`m not just saying this for dramatic effect; it`s really the way it happened), the day they put all the finished art in my hands, done, complete, was also the day I was told the book wouldn`t see print. Ads had already been taken out for a compilation edition! You can see the book listed as if it exists in Price Guides! No Bond fan will ever find it-issues 2 and 3–because it didn`t happen. There are lots of books like that these days, advertised as if they exist, with Price Guide sums printed as to their value, and the damn books never came out! Twenty years from now, comics researchers and historians are going to go nuts trying to find books that don`t exist at all!

I knew time was running out, even as the book was being finished. And we were all under the gun, to get the book done, to do it right in the amount of space we had, to have it ready. But the more time that passed from the opening of the movie, the odds were increasing that the series wouldn`t be completed.

And it wasn`t because the book didn`t sell! GoldenEye #1 was very successful. All that work. I held the art in my hands, heard the words, and there`s an empty feeling inside. You`ve run the race! You`ve given everything you have! And the James Bond fans will never see it!

There`s not one argument you can offer that`s going to change it.

And it hurts the chances for more Bond comics down the road, because some people are going to think, hey, Bond comics didn`t sell.

Matt: You attended the Bond Weekend `99 we held in Las Vegas. What was it like to meet all those crazy fans and inscribe some of your work for them?

Don: The Bond Con was great! Although, you ask about wild times, Matt, and the wildest time there was when you took on the entire Las Vegas airport security personnel. Personally, I thought maybe you`d been doing a little too much James Bond immersion identification. But you appeared at Planet Hollywood, shaken, not stirred.

Both Marsha and I really enjoyed the people there. It wasn`t just the connection of Bond, it was a genuine warmth with so many of those people. There was a lot of passion, for Bond, certainly, but for life in general!

But I do miss driving with Jim Sieff in the Bond Aston Martin going down the desert highway! I wish we`d done that with Lana Wood! Damn! Is Jim bringing the Aston Martin to New Orleans for Bond Weekend 2000? Did you know that`s where I set the Blade series I wrote for Marvel? Thinking about it, I guess there aren`t many desert highways in Orleans, are there? Hmmm.

Matt: Jim may be busy filming with his Astons for Austin Powers 3. What are some of the trends you foresee in the comix industry?

Don: I`m far from a soothsayer. Comics are under siege, in many ways. Certainly, the Internet will open the way for new ways to present and do comics, though how all that will play out is still cloudy. I do believe this is a way to help books survive, by using the Web, that might not have a chance if one has to rely just on the big Distributors. It`s one of the reasons I decided to start the site. Kevin Hall put together that and the McGregor ONElist Message Group. I wasn`t sure anybody would write to the thing. Well, not only have they written, but they`ve put file copies up of art from books I`ve done, and they`ve done a magnificent job with it. There`s color art from Dwayne Turner drawn Black Panther, to repros from Billy Graham SABRE art. I hope that we will have graphic albums of SABRE: An Exploitation of Everything Dear sometime in the near future. The entire storyline that ran from SABRE Issue #3 to #9, “Everything Dear” collected in one big volume. But before that we should have out The Definitive Ragamuffins Graphic Album, a series I created years ago, pencilled by Gene Colan. It`s about kids growing up in the 1950`s, a book about kids for adults, with flash forwards to various points in time in the `60s, `70s and `80s.

It`s exactly books like these that I think the Internet can help to survive.

If people can find you on the Internet, see that they can get the books directly from you, and if they feel confident in ordering those books, then perhaps this opens the medium up from the domination it has been under to produce “superhero” books. Many of these titles have become so inbred that if you haven`t read a hundred issues you don`t have a clue what the hell you`re reading!

I can`t prove this will work. I just know the Internet is opening new doors and venues. If I could see into the future, I guess I would know how to use that effectively to promote and sell the books, but remember, I`m primarily a storyteller, that`s what I`ve always been, and that hasn`t changed, so this is something totally new to me.

It`s difficult to get people to know you`re there in the vastness of Cyberspace.

It`s difficult to get people to know who don`t normally read comics that there might be books they`d really be interested in, if they knew they existed.

But how to get, let`s say, someone who really loves mystery fiction to know there`s a series of beautifully produced books like Detectives, Inc., with complex characters you can get involved with, in story-lines that are serious, but not without humor, visually exciting and evocatively rendered? I don`t have all the answers for that. But certainly, a site like Fandom/007Forever helps reach people, Matt, and makes it more accessible to know these books exist! If you love Bond, or ZORRO, or, to name a couple of my favorites, these days, Buffy or Xena, well, now you know there`s a place that you can go and get quality material on these characters. The same hopefully will apply to Detectives, Inc. and SABRE and Ragamuffins. These books cover a wide span, from heroic fantasy to private eyes to mainstream stories.

They are unique, and they are of singular vision, and I hope to do more of them.

And meet more of those incredible fans who have been so supportive over the years. Thank God for them! They surprised a few editors over the years, let me tell you!

Matt: What new projects are on your plate now?

Don: I`m writing the daily ZORRO newspaper strip, which appears in the New York Daily New and the Houston Chronicle, among many other papers. I`ve just introduced the first major black characters in the ZORRO mythos in the strips–starting back in the middle of April 2000. The Definitive Ragamuffins is at two companies right now, and hopefully, we`ll have copies by the San Diego Comic Con [author`s note: It would be great to see a lot of Bond fans there as 007Forever staff and contributors are attending in July]. The new book includes a rough version of a twenty-page lost Ragamuffins story called “The Pack Rat Instinct”, which has never yet seen print! The fans will love it. It is all about the dear, sweetly absurd, all consuming need to collect that which you love! It`s as much a part of the fan as breathing. [I know Collectors` Corner fans at Forever can relate–Matt]

I`m also working on a new Detectives, Inc. story entitled “A Fear of Perverse Photos”. Detective Bob Rainier`s opening line is, “Let me see if I`ve got this right, you want us to break into your apartment and steal all the pornographic photos you`ve printed off the Internet.” It`s a story that looks at this new phenomenon, how it affects everyday people, examines the different criteria for what is considered obscene and isn`t, and even looks at views on the afterlife and angels. Oh, and it also looks at the changing face of Manhattan. Has it really been changed? Could Dorothy now get off a bus at Port Authority with Toto, look around and sigh, “Jeez, Toto, we really still are in Kansas!”?

But I`ll be spending a lot of time and energy on the website, as well, promoting it, making sure people have a way to find the books if they haven`t found other sources. But I`ll be doing conventions as well. I`m due to be at the big Madison Square Garden convention with the people behind Pulp Adventures. I`ve just done an introduction for their first reprint of Johnston McCulley`s ZORRO pulp reprint stories. Plus, I have every intent to be at the San Diego Comic Con, as well.

Matt: Do you have any tips for aspiring comix authors and artists?

Don: I teach a course on “Writing For The Comics” at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and that`s a question that starts every class. A short answer, and by no means a definitive one, is for the person to figure out what type of writer they want to be. You might as well start early, because you`re going to have to make that decision again and again, if you survive in this business. Remember, it`s your name that goes on the story! I`ve never had someone come up to me in all the years I`ve been signing books and say, “Don, the managing editor of the comic did this and made this story say this.” They come up and ask, “Why did you…?” and as long as you know the answer, and it is an answer you can live with, you`ll know that it is your story. They can`t take it from you.

Hang in there!

–Many thanks to Don McGregor for taking the time to help prepare this special two-part story. Follow the links below to check out Part I of this interview and learn about the Bond Collectors` Weekends including Las Vegas `99 and New Orleans for Bond Weekend 2000 in September!

**Check out:

Zorro Productions

Zorro Strips: Daily Update

Leave a Reply