The point of that Bond post was to look at how the various Bond cover artists' visual representations of 007 developed over the course of the early paperback editions of the books – how Bond was depicted in the years prior to the arrival of the first movie Bond, Sean Connery. Because of course once Connery became fixed as Bond in the public's mind – and then Roger Moore and the rest – there was less room for manoeuvre for cover artists. Indeed, after the 1962 movie of Dr. No, Bond book covers tended to either feature film stills or be slightly more abstract.
In the end, the pre-movie Bond that seemed nearest the mark to me was the one drawn by Yaroslav Horak for the Daily Express newspaper strip, although Sam Peffer also did a creditable job on the original Pan paperbacks of the novels. And if you chart the progress of Parker through the various iterations of the Richard Stark novels, you could easily reach a similar conclusion. The original Pocket Books paperbacks of the first eight Parker novels sported covers by artist Harry Bennett, but Parker himself doesn't feature on all of them, and when he does he's extremely changeable. For example, the Parker on the cover of The Hunter (1962) isn't particularly recognisable as (presumably) the Parker on the cover of The Mourner (1964). And while the Parker on The Hunter does have the big hands Westlake describes in the book, none of Bennett's Parkers feel quite right to me.
Skipping over the Gold Medal editions of the next few Parkers for the moment – for reasons alluded to at the start of this post – we encounter some decent line drawings of Parker on the initial Coronet UK paperback editions of the novels from the late 1960s. Thereafter, however, it's a case of steadily diminishing returns. In the 1970s we get the US Berkley paperbacks, but these tend to show Parker at a small size, making it hard to pass judgment on his depiction. The less said about the 1980s Avon US photo cover editions the better, and probably the same goes for the UK Robert Hale editions from the 2000s too (although I do have a soft spot for some of Derek Colligan's covers).
Foreign editions aside, it's not until we get to Darwyn Cooke's interpretation of the character from his graphic novels of The Hunter and The Outfit that things look up again. As with Horak's Bond, Cooke's Parker is pretty much on the money – at least for my money. He's suitably craggy, lived in, mean... and no one draws Parker's hands as well as Darwyn Cooke.
Funnily enough, Westlake himself thought that Parker perhaps looked like a younger Jack Palance, which isn't a bad fit. But then, weirdly, authors aren't always the best judge of what their characters look like. In the Bond novels Ian Fleming has characters likening 007 to composer Hoagy Carmichael, which never seemed right to me; Bond strikes me as being more chiselled, more angled.
Anyway, there may be no movie Parker to muddy the waters, but when I started trawling through the original Parker paperbacks for the perfect Parker (it's always best to start at the beginning), I pretty quickly realised my search would be somewhat truncated. Because once Gold Medal picked up the rights from Pocket Books with the ninth novel in the series, The Rare Coin Score (1967), and brought The Hunter back into print that same year under the title Point Blank! (often mistakenly credited as being published in '62), Parker found his ultimate artist: Robert E. McGinnis.
One of the most prolific – if not the most prolific – paperback cover artists ever, McGinnis painted covers for well over a thousand books, as well as dozens of movie posters, including posters for Bond movies like Thunderball and The Man with the Golden Gun. He started off creating detective covers for Dell in the 1950s, before branching out into westerns, romances and other mass market titles. More recently he's been providing covers for Hard Case Crime, his artwork as rich and evocative as it's ever been.
When McGinnis met Parker in 1967, it was a match made in heaven. Two of the three Parker novels published by Gold Medal that year – The Rare Coin Score and The Green Eagle Score – boast, for me, the best depictions of the character we've yet seen, Darwyn Cooke's version included. McGinnis went on to paint another three covers for Gold Medal's Parkers from 1968 to 1969: The Black Ice Score (1968, the eleventh book in the series), The Sour Lemon Score (1969, Parker #12), and the 1968 reissue of The Seventh as The Split. Great though these three are, none of them quite hit the heights of his 1967 portrayals. The Parker on McGinnis' cover for The Split doesn't quite feel like Parker to me – maybe it's that roll-neck sweater – while on The Black Ice Score Parker has, strangely enough given Westlake's own view on Parker's appearance, assumed something of the look of Jack Palance. On The Sour Lemon Score, McGinnis' final cover for the series (thereafter the novels were picked up by Random House), Parker has receded to the background, his features indistinct.
McGinnis's cover for the 1967 Gold Medal edition of The Rare Coin Score features a Parker depiction par excellence. Standing in profile, looking towards us but with his eyes ever-so-slightly averted, and with a sultry woman draped over him, the Parker on this cover is just so right. That woman (whoever she is – could she be Claire?) isn't distracting him in the slightest; instead he's fixed on something else – although not us, not quite. He's thinking about the score in hand – because as we all know, when Parker's working, working is all he cares about.
The next Gold Medal Parker novel, The Green Eagle Score (1967, Parker #10), pulls a similar trick. Here Parker's female companion is virtually naked, yet again Parker doesn't seem to notice her. He's fully dressed, gun in one hand, cigarette in the other, folded into a swivel chair as if waiting for something to happen. In the novels there are countless scenes of Parker waiting around for one reason or another; he's like an automaton on standby in these scenes, not thinking about anything, often sitting or lying in a darkened room. Waiting Parker can do in spades. And waiting is what McGinnis' Parker is clearly doing here.
That McGinnis' subsequent Parker covers don't quite match up to these two doesn't really matter. When I read one of Richard Stark's Parker novels, the Parker I see in my head is exactly the same one as on McGinnis' covers for The Rare Coin Score and The Green Eagle Score. With those two 1967 book covers, Robert E. McGinnis provided us with a Parker that will be difficult, if not impossible, to better – the perfect Parker.