A 1960 British Corgi paperback printing of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. This is actually the second Corgi edition (Corgi #SS854), following the 1956 first printing (Corgi #T197, which in turn followed the 1954 US Fawcett Gold Medal original), which sported a different treatment and illustration on the cover – a head-and-shoulders illustration of the novel's protagonist, Robert Neville, the last man alive, set against a staked vampire in a barren landscape (presumably an interpretation of the book's burning vampire pit). Corgi were evidently happier with the artwork on the 1960 edition, however – which depicts Neville looming over his staked wife, Virginia – as for their next edition, in 1962 (Corgi #SS1213), they went with this:
Now, on first inspection, that appears to be the same painting as on the previous edition. Look closer, however – click on the picture to zoom in – and you can see that the artwork has either been painted over, or painted afresh. The brush marks are smoother; the areas of contrast on Virginia not so stark; and the underpainting is less visible, in particular on the hillock, where in the previous version, the pink "ground" can be clearly seen.
To be honest, I'm not sure which one I prefer; they both have their merits, as does the type treatment on both covers. Frankly, early Corgi editions of I Am Legend are so scarce – certainly moreso than Gold Medal editions, and those are pretty uncommon as it is – I may well keep them both.
One thing Matheson does in I Am Legend is strive to establish a scientific background for vampirism – and it just so happens I've recently finished reading another novel which attempts a similar thing:
Justin Cronin's splendidly sprawling epic The Twelve (Orion, 2012) – which, I think, is the best "new" book I've read this year – the sequel to this:
The Passage (Orion, 2010). Obviously there are differences between Cronin and Matheson, not least being that the former's magnum opus is by this point well over a thousand pages long and still only two-thirds done, whereas the latter's novel barely troubles 150 pages. Even so, they both offer explanations for the vampire – except that they approach their explanations from different directions. In I Am Legend, Neville tries to determine the scientific basis of each symptom of the, on the surface, seemingly supernatural disease of vampirism – living death, fear of garlic, etc. – in order to arrive at a cure. But in The Passage and The Twelve, right from the outset Cronin painstakingly establishes the scientific basis for each vampiric manifestation – from an encounter with Amazonian vampire bats and consequent US military experimentation to, in The Twelve, the appearance of "familiars" – and builds a supernatural mythology from there. Interestingly, this sense of opposites meeting in the middle extends even to the root cause: in I Am Legend it's bacteriological, while in The Passage and The Twelve it's viral.
Anyway: onwards. And next, two paperback editions of a key work of dystopian science fiction, featuring an introduction by Kingsley Amis...