Monday, February 7, 2011

For Your Eyes Only

We all know that James Bond and his creator Ian Fleming were the ultimate in Savoir Faire when we delved into the world of spies and such. Bond has become the definitive spy and his past and future adventures continue to inspire movies, books and the way we dress.

Where fictional characters are involved I am always interested to see how, when it comes to illustrating these characters and stories what direction the artists take in doing so. Growing up and even now I am intrigued by a series of Bond covers done for Pan Paperbacks in the mid to late 60’s.

The incredibly graphic and singular approach was once described as having "a stark elegance... consistently menacing and memorable. Each has a single photographic image on a plain or textured background. Blurb is dispensed with. It’s the visual equivalent of a cruel, sardonic smile”

The continuity of style over the series was a great exercise in brand recognition and management. These are instantly memorable, and the fact that the artist/designer made the words JAMES BOND twice the size of those for the titles of the books and of their author Ian Fleming, a whole new marketing approach was anticipated.

So of course Savoir Faire wanted to know who was behind these fantastic covers that he loved so much. Only one of the titles was ever credited with the artist and that was Thunderball. “Its cover is the best of an outstanding set of images and the acknowledgement of the designer suggests the publisher thought so too."

For Thunderball, the artist fills the cover with a close-up of a man’s naked back, perforated by two bullet holes. These are actual holes, die-cut into the card. Surrounding each is a torn-paper effect. It’s not the man who has been shot, it’s the book – and, as proof, the bullets can be found inside, depicted on the opening page. Bond’s life is so dangerous, this cover tells us, and even books about him aren’t safe. Read on if you dare”

So the artist, who was behind this wonderful marketing strategy, was one Raymond Hawkey. A gentleman, who was as equally suave as the man whose exploits he was illustrating and a trend setting graphic designer, who designed newspapers, magazines and book covers, he revolutionised British design at the height of the Cold War.

Whereas previous Bond covers had been rather illustrative covers in the Pulp Fiction genre nicely painted, but not exactly stylish, Hawkey’s covers were a radical departure. Neither hero nor villain is pictured. A minimalist aesthetic was used shared with close cropped, photographically based single elements of the story illustrated.

Take for example the cover for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”; a wedding ring rests in some blood spattered snow. This is just a hint of what was to become when Bond finds himself on duty in the Swiss Alps.

The cover for Dr. No is again striking in its simplicity with the title “Dr. No” taking the form of a spider at the centre of its web, highlighting the sinister form of the title character.

One of my favourites was the cover for “The Man with the Golden Gun” highlighting the BOAC boarding pass. Being an airline nut, this one particularly catches my attention. I am sure that BOAC (now British Airways) hastened to agree to the use of their logo recognising a bit of free advertising when they saw it.

Widely regarded this set of visually striking covers is the most successful series of republished James Bond novels, and it seems that Mr. Hawkey himself had just as much Savoir Faire as Mr. Bond.


  1. I love James Bond and the book covers are just stunning such beautiful art...You know what I´m also fond of...Bond Themes...just love them!!


  2. ==============================================

    Another super interesting new post !
    And so rich !
    You give so much energy to your blog too !
    Bravo !!

    And the story about the bullet holes is so great !
    Have a great day Super David !

  3. David, thanks for introducing me to Raymond Hawkey. I was intrigued enough to do further reading on him and notice that he died just this past year. Looks like he could have been cast in the role himself!

  4. This was soo interesting! Thanks for posting :P
    My husband and I went through a "bond kick" where we would watch Bond movies every friday night <3


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