We’re sorry to report the passing of James Bond newspaper strip artist Yaroslav Horak, who passed late last month, aged 93. He passed away peacefully at his rest home in Australia, after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Born in Manchuria to the son of a Russian mother and Czech father in 1927, Yaroslav was renowned for his dynamic black and white art for James Bond 007, which he drew for the a Daily Express from 1966 to 1977, taking over from John McLusky.
Horak and his family migrated to Sydney, Australia before World War Two, first working as an artist as a portrait painter but switching to illustration for the larger Australian magazine publishers. His appreciation for storytelling, art and adventure led him into writing and illustrating comic strips, and became one of Australian’s most prolific cartoonists, producing thousands of pages of comics in Australia before moving to England in 1962.
In his detailed biography on Comics Down Under Kevin Patrick notes Horak’s first published comics work, “Grey Thorne, Counter Espionage Agent”, appeared in Frank Johnson Publications’ Gem Comics in 1947.
He created his first recurring character, “Rick Davis, Special Correspondent”, as a supporting feature in H.J. Edwards’ top-selling Action Comic. This was followed by “The Skyman”, which ran in both Action Comic and John Dixon’s Tim Valour Comic. This aviation-themed series was the first comic to carry the artist’s Anglicised by-line, “Larry Horak”.
(Documenting the holdings of Horak’s held by the National Library of Australia, Liesl Mitchell notes it was publisher John Edwards who gave Horak the name “Larry” by which he is also known. This was not to the artist’s liking and he only managed to shed this imposed name when he moved to Europe).
Horak’s first solo comic book, Mr Combat, for Elmsdale Publications, was published in 1950, but his “globetrotting crime-buster” was cancelled after just three issues. But “Jet Fury”, a series which began as a supporting feature in Michael Chance Comic, about a masked aviator who flew to global trouble-spots aboard the Comet, an “anti-gravity” jet, firmly established his reputation as a comics artist. Its popularity led to the title being re-named as Jet Fury Comic with its 16th issue in 1951.
Other early credits include The Mask – The Man of Many Faces for Atlas Publications – but Comics Down Under notes the ran foul of Queensland’s Literature Board of Review, which objected to the character’s full-face mask, and imposed a state-wide sales ban on the comic, forcing Atlas Publications to reluctantly cancel the title with its third issue in 1954.
Disillusioned, Horak turned to newspaper strips, creating “Captain Fortune“, running in Sydney’s Sun-Herald from December 1957 until July 1962; and drawing “Mike Steel – Desert Rider“, for Woman’s Day magazine, written by editor Keith Findlay (under the pseudonym “Roger Rowe”), running from August 1962 until January 1969.
Moving to England in 1963, he secured work from DC Thomson his known credits including “Johny Hop” for The Victor, telling the adventures of Constable Bill Lennox and his Aboriginal tracker companion, Wally Omes, in Outback Australia in 1964, followed by “The Bent Copper” for The Hornet, about ex-Scotland Yard detective John Bright, who sought revenge against the criminal who framed him for a crime he did not commit, published in 1965.
Between 1963 and 1966, he also drew stories for Fleetway’s War Picture Library and Battle Picture Library, before replacing John McLusky on the James Bond newspaper strip, at the suggestion of writer Peter O’Donnell, drawing some 33 adventures starring the secret agent between 1966 and 1984.
Horak’s take on the secret agent resembled Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, long before either actor took up the role on the big screen.
He first drew adaptations of The Spy Who Loved Me, The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy, The Hildebrand Rarity, and The Living Daylights, followed by an adaptation of Colonel Sun (the Bond novel written by Kingsley Amis).
It was Horak’s acclaimed adaptation of The Man with the Golden Gun, published between January 1966 and September 1966, that led to writer Jim Lawrence being given permission by the Fleming Trust to write original Bond stories for Horak to draw, including River of Death, Trouble Spot and The Girl Machine.
Horak returned to Australia in 1975, drawing a newspaper strip adaptation of the Australian TV show Cop Shop for Sydney’s Sun-Herald, which ran from 1980 to 1983, collected in a tie-in magazine.
His final comics project was his own – the SF series, “Andea”, published by Australia’s Daily Mirror, centring on a glamorous female extra-terrestrial who travelled to Australia from the distant planet Xavax.
“‘Andea’ showcased Horak’s storytelling skills to brilliant effect,” notes Kevin Patrick, “with his intricate plots, fantastic characters, and exquisite artwork demonstrating his complete mastery of the medium throughout the series’ seven-year run. It was a fitting end to Yaroslav Horak’s incomparable career as one of Australia’s great comic artists.”
Refocusing on painting in later life, Horak was awarded the Ledger of Honour in recognition of his contributions to Australian comics, as part of the Ledger Awards for 2018.
Our sympathies to his family at this time, who requested that donations in his memory be made to Dementia Australia.
Yaroslav Horak, artist, born 12th June 1927, died 24th November 2020. Survived by his wife, Jacqueline and children Anton, Natasha and Damon
A revised and expanded version of an article by Kevin Patrick which was originally published in Giant Size Phantom, No. 9 (May 2019)
• The National Library of Australia holds an audio interview with Yaroslav interviewed by Ros Bowden in 1995 for the Comic artists and illustrators oral history project – along with other records listed here
War Picture Library Credits
WPL 214 Rough Justice 1963
WPL 303 Death Or Dishonour 1965
WPL 304 Battle Drill 1965
WPL 315 Cross For Courage 1965
WPL 323 Passage Of Arms 1966
WPL 648 The Curse 1971
Battle Picture Library Credits
BPL 156 The Savage Sands 1964
BPL 173 The Stronghold 1964
BPL 190 Killers Code 1965
BPL 197 Gun Crazy 1965
BPL 231 Victory Cry 1965