Friday 15 January 2010

Jump in the Pool

The new Good Shoes album, No Hope, No Future, turned up in the post this week, and rather splendid it is too – jerk-pop par excellence. But it's the cover that I want to mention here. I was looking at it while I played the CD, and it took me a few tracks to fall in. It's the swimming pool at Crystal Palace! I grew up round that way, so from the outside it's a familiar sight (from the inside, not so much; being a lazy bastard I can't recall ever having gone swimming there), and a glance at the photos inside the CD booklet confirmed it. So there you go. Made me smile anyway.

Looking for the Perfect Bond (and Ripley too)

I think I might have blogged before about visualizing characters when reading novels, most likely in relation to Tom Ripley in the Patricia Highsmith novels (seeing as those books are an abiding obsession). I tend to see a version of John Malkovich when I read the Ripley sequels (Ripley Under Ground onwards), probably because I saw the film version of Ripley's Game before I ever read the novels, and Malkovich was so great as Tom. Interestingly, however, when I read The Talented Mr. Ripley, I didn't visualize Matt Damon as Tom, even though I'd seen the film first. I think I conjured up my own interpretation of Tom when I read the book, based, I imagine, on Highsmith's description of him. And actually, when I bought the Pan edition of Talented later, how I'd imagined Tom chimed with how cover artist David Tayler depicted him:

That's Tom in the background (and that's a good take on Dickie in the foreground too). Why I didn't visualize Matt Damon as Tom I really don't know. He was certainly excellent in the film, as were all the cast. But in any case, I started thinking about representations of characters on book covers, and how they match up to our own image of a character, which I'd suggest is a strange alchemy of the author's descriptions and the things they make the character say and do, and often a memory of a person (an actor maybe) from our own experience (and not necessarily from a movie adaptation of that particular novel).

Tom Ripley isn't the best example for an exploration of this, however. From what I've seen, very few of the various editions of the Ripley novels feature a depiction of Tom on the cover; painted covers fell out of fashion in the 1970s (when the Ripley sequels started), so only Talented seems to boast one or two artistic interpretations of Tom. There's the above Pan edition; there's the US Coward-McCann first edition, which is a simply a nondescript line drawing:

and there's the Dell paperback, which, though rather a nice painting, is a little too demonic a depiction for my liking:

A look at the James Bond novels, however, particularly the Pan editions, provides much more food for thought. In each of the novels Ian Fleming describes Bond as good-looking, but also cold and somehow menacing, with blue-grey eyes, dark hair (with a lock that falls over his brow like a comma), and a scar on his right cheek. Of all the movie Bonds, Sean Connery is the closest to how I visualize 007 when I read the novels. But of course the first Bond film, Dr. No, didn't arrive until 1962, so there were nearly ten years' worth of Bond book covers (Casino Royale was published in 1953) that didn't have Connery as a reference.

It's interesting to look at how the various cover artists depicted Bond in these pre-movie years. The 1955 Pan edition of Casino Royale features a rather suave and decidedly blond Bond on the cover, as painted by Roger Hall. Perhaps Hall didn't have the opportunity to read the book before creating the artwork, but if nothing else it set a precedent for Daniel Craig (although Craig is rather more rugged-looking) some fifty years later:

Josh Kirby's painting of Bond for the 1956 Pan edition of Moonraker isn't a great help in the visualization of the character: the dark hair is there, but the face is too small to glean much information from:

Rex Archer's take on Bond for the 1957 Pan edition of Live and Let Die hews closer to Fleming's description: the hair is certainly dark, and the lock seems to be falling over his forehead, but there's something not quite right about the face. To my mind Bond doesn't look steely enough:

Archer had another crack at 007 on the 1958 Diamonds Are Forever Pan, but as with Kirby's Moonraker, the figure is too indistinct to be of much help:

For the 1959 Pan edition of Casino Royale, artist Sam Peffer does a good job on the lock of hair over the forehead, but he seems to have based Bond's likeness on Robert Mitchum, which doesn't feel right to me. Bond's face is a little doughy, and he looks more like a gangster than the chiselled secret agent he should be. Still, I rather like this one, and I'd say this is the most Bond-like Bond so far:

Even better is Peffer's painting for the 1959 Pan Moonraker. Again, Bond is a tad thuggish, but it's a strong painting, and I could quite easily take elements of this version for visual reference when I'm reading the novels:

For my money, though, we really hit paydirt on the 1959 Pan edition of From Russia, with Love. Once again, the artist is Sam Peffer, but here he paints almost a completely different man from his previous attempts. The thuggishness and monobrow are gone, the hair and features look right, and if I had no other reference, this would almost be the perfect Bond to picture as SMERSH's fiendish trap for Bond is sprung:

Still, all that said, none of these covers quite do justice to the image of Bond I hold in my head when I read the books. And I don't really see Sean Connery either, or Timothy Dalton (and definitely not Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig, good though they all are in different ways). So who do I see? Well, I think this is closest to the Bond I hold in my mind's eye:

That's Bond as drawn by Yaroslav Horak, artist on the James Bond comic strip that ran in the Daily Express from 1958. Horak didn't come on board as artist until 1966, by which time the Connery movies were well underway. But the artist doesn't appear to have based his Bond on Connery. Instead, he looks to have taken his inspiration direct from the Fleming novels. Horak's predecessor, John McLusky, also produced a first rate 007:

But it's Horak's Bond I see when I read the books, although I'm not really sure why. A while before I began reading the Fleming novels I worked on Titan Books' reprint volumes of the James Bond newspaper strip, so it may be they left more of an impression that I realised at the time. Actually though, I think it's simply that Horak captured the character more effectively than anyone before (and possibly since). For me, then, this is the perfect Bond:

(Steve Holland's brilliant Bear Alley blog proved invaluable in my 'research' for this post. Thanks Steve!)

Thursday 14 January 2010

The Pipes of Pan

Just stumbled across an ace website, a guide to all the Pan paperbacks published from 1945 to 1970, complete with cover scans. I can see myself poring over this one for a while, and making multiple visits to AbeBooks as a result.

The Blunderer

Comics may be leaving me cold at the moment, but there's still lots of fun to be had with books! I just won this on eBay:

That's a 1958 first UK paperback edition, purchased for £3.50, including post. Fab. I'm still reading my first UK paperback edition of Strangers on a Train (well, that, and Casino Royale, and Dexter in the Dark), so this'll be the next Highsmith novel I read. I've also seen this for sale online:

Same book, but the first US paperback edition, which carried a different title. I rather like the cover though, and it's dead cheap. Hmm...

It's not just me then.

This post by J. Caleb Mozzocco laments the dearth of comics shipping this week that Caleb is interested in buying. Basically, there's nothing for him this week. And the way things are heading with me, that's likely to happen more and more in my case too.

And that kind of chimes with something I've been pondering, and wondering if I can be arsed to blog about, which is that, based on no real evidence whatsoever apart from anecdotal and a cursory glance at Diamond's monthly sales figures, the audience for monthly pamphlet-format comic books is eroding markedly. Now, this is something that people have been saying for years, and if you look at the Diamond sales, the figures aren't remarkably different to how they were a few years back, before Civil War and subsequent 'events' artificially distended the figures. A good indicator is usually what the titles around the 100 mark on the charts are selling, which is just over 20K, the same as it has been for years.

But I don't think that's the whole picture. As I say, anecdotal evidence suggests a lot of people are either moving to trade paperbacks, or simply just stopping buying comics in any form altogether. The recent Marvel price hike has put a lot of people off, and it seems to me any drop-off in sales is being disguised by the extra revenue the price hike brings in.

I dunno. I'm feeling somewhat divorced from comics anyway now, so it's hard for me to care too much. But I think, in a few years' time, we'll reach a point where we'll either see a wholesale shift to graphic novels, or Diamond will collapse and that'll be that.

Monday 11 January 2010

Less and Less Comics....

My local comic shop in Brighton finally got their delivery on Saturday, so I popped over on Sunday to pick up these:

Mighty #12
Orc Stain #1
Punisher Max: Get Castle #1
Siege #1
Stumptown #2

Unfortunately they'd already sold out of Stumptown, which is a Greg Rucka-written crime miniseries, the first issue of which I rather enjoyed. So that's one less comic I'll be getting. A few weeks ago I didn't get to the comic shop on delivery day and I missed out on the latest issue of Ex Machina. I'll try and pick that up somewhere as there's only a few to go till the final issue now, but the trend of getting less and less comics looks set to continue in 2010.

It's getting to the point now where I'm seriously thinking of knocking comics on the head. I keep missing issues, which is annoying, but not as annoying as it once would have been, and ultimately means I buy less and less each month as I lose track of series. I get maybe three or four comics a week at the moment, none of which really thrill me to any great degree. Could it be time to just give up?

So I had a thought. I'm going to list all the comics I can think of I'm still getting every month. And then I'll be able to see if there's anything I'd really and truly miss if I stopped buying comics. To the list!

Batman & Robin
Captain America
Captain America Reborn (miniseries, only one more issue to go)
Chronicles of Wormwood (miniseries)
Crossed (only one more issue to go on this)
Dark Avengers
Ex Machina (if I can find #47)
Invincible Iron Man
Kick-Ass (miniseries, one issue left)
New Avengers
Punishermax (possibly, undecided on this one)
Siege (possibly, depending what the first issue's like, which I haven't read yet)

I think that's it. Take out miniseries and any series I'm uncertain about continuing with, and that leaves maybe eight comics per month. And of those, there are only two DC/Vertigo series. A couple of years back DC would have dominated that list, and the list itself would have been maybe three times as long, possibly more. And if I stopped going to the comic shop tomorrow, I think the only ongoing ones I'd really miss would be Captain America, Criminal, and maybe New Avengers.


Well, I don't know if I'll be completely stopping trips to the comic shop. But I can definitely see myself only going every other week a lot of the time.