Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yaroslav Horak on James Bond

Russian born Yaroslav Horak began his early career as a portrait sketch artist, but soon switched to illustration for the larger Australian magazine publishers after migrating to Sydney. His successful comic series The Mask, ran afoul with Victoria's State censors, but was soon followed by his daily outback adventure strip Mike Steel for Sydney's, The Woman's Day. A quick talent for animation and storyboards also kept Horak busy on many different projects. When given the James Bond strip in 1965, Horak's adaptation of The Man with the Golden Gun was highly praised in the new direction he approached the series. The syndicate was so pleased with their creative team that Jim Lawrence was given permission by the Fleming Trust to produce original stories for Horak to draw. Overall they worked on thirty-three thrilling Bond tales for the Daily Express and other various newspaper syndicates in Europe.

Andrew Maunsell is a graphic designer with a specialty in toy design as well as a commercial illustrator for the past twenty years. He enjoyed collecting the original Titan reprints of Horak’s James Bond and Jim Holdaway’s Modesty Blaise as they hit the stands, loving every minute of those fantastic stories of action, espionage, violence and especially Horak’s beautiful women. Maunsell first met the cartoonist when an ex-college teacher, mentioned, Jackie Horak, who had just been to visit. As soon as Andrew heard that name, he instantly inquired about her husband. She said, "His name is Yaroslav, he used to do the James Bond strips in London, have you heard of him?” Andrew said, “Of course I've heard of and know of him, but I didn’t know that he lived in Australia though! Tell me, where is he now?” She was very surprised and said "He lives just ten minutes from here!" Andrew soon struck up a close friendship with Yaroslav and now acts as his representative, and since Horak doesn’t do interviews anymore, Maunsell recalls their long conversations about his work on James Bond.

DK: Horak started out in illustration for various Australian magazines and painted portraits, before his popular comic book creation The Mask? What was his early artistic training and who were his major artistic influences? Did he mention any specific cartoonists or illustrators?

Andrew: Yes, Horak worked in Sydney and Melbourne for various magazines, in particular working with a bunch of other comic artists at Atlas publications I think, owned by a young Rupert Murdoch. This was where he learned to be a comic book artist and developed his own unique style in the mid 1950s, all the art was black and white. Captain Fortune was one of his creations and of course the original Mask comic strip/books. Which were stolen and plagiarized by the producers of the Mask movies.

Horak told me that he liked working there because he had a lot of freedom, until Murdoch returned to Melbourne from the UK one day to fire everyone and sell the printing business. In the end, to get rid of the backlog of comic books they sold them as surprise packs by mail order and you got a variety of three or four books which two were free.

As far as I know Horak’s early influences were Hal Foster's, Prince Valiant, and Alex Raymond's, Flash Gordon, he met a Russian collector friend in Sydney that showed him a huge collection of original pages of art from these early strips. But Horak showed me some big sheets of comics he had done as a teenager that were just his own made-up strips as practice that were inspired by famous daily USA features, he said. You would not recognize that this was Horak art as it looked so different, undeveloped, but even way back then he knew what he wanted to do, become a great strip artist . He always said to me, if I mentioned he was a comic book artist "no, not comic book artist, strip artist, that's what I am."

DK: How did Horak get involved with drawing the James Bond strip for the Daily Express? Was it his success with the adventure strip Mark Steel that got him the Bond job? Did he have a tryout process with samples?

Andrew: Horak was becoming disgruntled with Australia in general, nothing was progressing as had wanted and his interest in 007 started when he met a woman, in a book shop in Sydney where he was living at the time. She said this character was really getting famous, so he bought one of the original first issues of From Russia with Love to see, and he still has that book!

At the same time, he heard about London and how it was a happening place, so he just left for England. On arriving, he didn’t really know that many people there, but he was introduced to Peter O'Donnell who was doing Modesty Blaise at the time for the Daily Express and said if you want a studio space in London you can have my spare room. So that’s where he worked. Horak gave me one of his original letter heads, with this address and phone number on it.

DK: What was his relationship like with writer Jim Lawrence and how much input did Horak have on the stories after the original Fleming tales were completed? Was there a particular storyline that he enjoyed drawing, or was most important to the artist?

Andrew: Jim and Yaroslav got on very well together. Horak had great respect for Lawrence and they would talk on the phone at length. Jim was in the United States where he worked and they would discuss scripts and upcoming stories with each other, but Horak didn't have much input or influence on those stories as far as I know. Jim was the one that officially adapted the Fleming stories for strip art. Horak's interpretation of the stories into pictures is what Lawrence loved, and their professional relationship blossomed. From memory Horak enjoyed them all, but all his early strips, especially The Man with the Golden Gun, he favored.
He was introduced to Hartley Ramsay who was the art director at the Express at the time and was asked to do a number of strips and a few splash pages of James Bond art in a mock

-up wide screen style book, which I have seen and taken pictures of. The cover says "JAMES BOND by A Brilliant New Team", and it is the original and only copy. It was packed with The Man with the Golden Gun strips, which was presented to Lord Beaverbrook who owned the Daily Express, since he would O.K. all the new artists.

Even though John McLusky had started drawing the James Bond strip, they were looking for a new more edgy/violent style Bond for the 1960s. The style was instantly accepted and Horak's - James Bond was the new trend, he was told, it sold a LOT more papers.

DK: Were there certain guidelines Horak had to follow from the Express or the Fleming Trust on how to present the Bond character, things he could or could not do in print?

Andrew: Jim Lawrence was more involved with that end, and Horak followed his cartoon word breakdown of the original stories, but Horak didn't have restraints, just good gentlemanly 007 1960's style taste. The nudity was introduced very late in the series.

DK: Horak's beautiful detailed artwork has a fresh dynamic style and was different from anything in the strips, unusual angles, a strong use of solid blacks, tight close-ups, made the feature way ahead of it's time. Was his work influenced by any film makers or perhaps a certain photographer? How was he influenced by the Bond films?

Andrew: Horak only told me onf one movie that influenced him,and he drew a character from it, and that was Kurt Von Stronheim from the movie Sunset Boulevard. Kurt was the chauffeur and the director of the movie, and the character he based on Kurt was Barron Schark, one of his lesser known villains. But when you look at the two characters together, you get an insight into Horak's adaptive mind, which I had never seen before.

DK: Did the artist always like to work in a 6” x 21” format for the thirty-three Bond stories he illustrated, and what was his daily work habits? Did Horak work from Lawrence full scripts, and what artistic instruments did he prefer? Did he have a swipe file or projection device to get the fantastic architectural backgrounds, and did he ever have any assistants?

Andrew: Yes, he always worked on the large scale, drew all the details down with no projection devices, and only used a brush to ink, which he showed me how we would burn the pointed top off with a lighter, so it was squared off on the end. The rest was just pure skill, and no assistants ever.

DK: Do you think his style changed over the twelve years Horak drew the feature? Do you think the earlier Fleming stories had a more "gritty" feel, with a hard linear style and extreme angles, when compared to the later strips?

Andrew: Horak told me he always tried to stay consistent and keep the art to a high standard, I could see that his 007 style changed very little, always interesting. I rediscovered Horak’s art again when I went to Fiji in 1987 and picked up a paper, The Fiji Sun for May 4th, in my hotel lobby and I saw Horak’s strip art as if it were the 1960s again, an episode I'd never seen before about a sea dragon! Loved it. Little did I know that eighteen years latter I'd meet Horak himself.

DK: Were there any changes in working for the Sunday Express or the Daily Star in the later adventures that were syndicated throughout Europe? I know Horak has a large following worldwide being printed in hundreds of newspapers. What kind of response did he get from his fans, and did any one country have the largest following?

Andrew: Horak didn't speak much on this subject.I'm not sure if he knew where most of the fans were but I think the bulk of his fans were in the United States and the rest were scattered around the UK and Europe. I get Horak art requests from Norway and Germany a lot.

DK: I noticed McLusky's heirs were selling some of his original strip art, but understand Horak unfortunately does not have any of his dailies. Was it the syndicates or the Fleming Trust that has held back all his artwork?

Andrew: I think that all the 007 strip people want are the Horak ones, and I don't think there was much love loss between Horak and McLusky while at the Express. Horak never worked at the Daily Express address, only freelanced from his London studio. No, he is not happy about it at all, and wants an explanation as to why McLusky' and O’Donnell have had their art returned to them.

DK: Did Horak have contact with other cartoonists that were drawing at the same time period he illustrated Bond he enjoyed, like Jim Holdaway, John Dixon, Sydney Jordan, or others?

Andrew: Horak told me at the time he associated a lot with fellow artists, especially Jim Holdaway, who was sort of doing the female version, Modesty Blaise of his 007 strip, also Dixon of Air Hawk fame and Jordan who drew the Jeff Hawke series. He told me they used to swap strip art with each other, and I've seen an original Holdaway and Romero Modesty Blaise in his art pile, he calls it. He recently had some contact with a few of his fellow surviving artist, don’t recall the names? But they were very glad to see him back in UK. Horak is quite a character! He, at the age of 77 years crushed my hand when I first met him, he doesn't know his own strength!

In the UK recently he presented Pierce Brosnan with a portrait of the "Brosnan Bond", at a UK fan club occasion, in Horak's new rough style. I have a full size copy of it and he also did one of Ursulla Andress, which he didn't get to present to her for some reason, the large original ink on paper is of her in a bikini depicted from Dr. No. with two diving knives.

DK: Is there anything else Horak would like to say to your fans about his work on the James Bond strips, and what does he think of the Titan reprints?

Andrew: He values his fans and really appreciates that people still remembers him after all this time as the 007 artist, it was certainly the highlight of his career. Horak has tried to produce a few more pieces of 007 art for fans, but now at 80 he is slowing down a bit, but he's really super tough, so he probably out last me, thirty years his junior. The Titan books he could be more enthusiastic about if he got some royally out of it. Horak has got some incredible stories, once he went to some party in 1960s London for actors, writers, and it was to do with a James Bond movie promotion, when he literally backed into Sean Connery! Now how many artists did that ever happen too.

I want to thank Andrew Maunsell and Yarsolav Horak for taking the time to answer these questions about Horak’s long career as the premier 007 artist and Andrew's association with him as his agent. I am sure all the Bond fans worldwide will enjoy the insights you both provided today about the artist's work on one of the most popular British strips of all time.


Gan-Dra said...

Thank you very much for information about Horak`s work and life ... I just find some old "Stripoteka" comics ( printed in ex-Yugoslavia 80`s) and Horak`s 007 was really superb !!!!!

Torbjörn said...

I am interested in finding an episode list of Mike Steel. It has been published in comic magazines here in Sweden, but unfortunately without any info on original publication.
Can anyone out there help me?

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