The drawings by John McLusky (1923-2006) started in 1958 – almost four years before Sean Connery would star in the first Bond film Dr No – and ran until 1966 with a two-year gap between 1962-64.
McLusky, who had produced technical drawings for Air Force Bomber Command in the Second World War, happened to be touting for work in Fleet Street at the time Fleming granted the Daily Express permission to create a syndicated series of comic strips based on his novels.
Keeping to an intense schedule of one strip a day, six days a week, he would eventually illustrate 13 of Fleming’s novels and short stories with drawings for 11 of those featuring in the exhibition: Casino Royale, Moonraker, Goldfinger and Thunderball among them.
“Difficult as it is to imagine now, the face John McLusky created would be many people’s first and lasting image of 007; it was his Bond that composer John Barry had in mind when writing the original theme tune”, the gallery said in the introduction to the show. The pen and ink comic strips come from McLusky’s estate and are arranged across 32 artist boards varying in price from £1250 to over £4000.
The show runs until October 30 and will go on view at the gallery in Museum Street (opposite the British Museum) on September 30, the day the new Bond film is released.