Monday, 31 August 2015

Tom Adams Uncovered

When my first novel came out in a paperback edition, the sales rep from Transworld took me out for lunch during the course of a memorable and hugely enjoyable day, travelling round the bookshops and signing copies of the book. He was a pleasant chap and very experienced in the bookselling business, so I asked what he thought really mattered in making a novel saleable. "It's the cover, Martin," he said. "Always the cover."

This was not the answer I was expecting, or indeed hoping for. I pressed him, but he was insistent. Booksellers he visited would flick through his catalogue for a minute of so, picking out which covers they liked and would buy. The books themselves didn't really matter. Well, this may or may not have been a slightly jaundiced view, but the fact is that covers do matter. I can, for instance, vividly recall the cover of the first adult novel I ever read. It was the Fontana paperback of The Murder at the Vicarage.

That same cover features in a new book, Tom Adams Uncovered, which is sub-titled "The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond." Tom Adams was the gifted artist responsible for many of the Christie paperback covers that I devoured at the age of nine and ten - other examples in the book include The Moving Finger, One Two, Buckle My Shoe and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. John Curran, the leading expert on Christie, provides useful commentaries which supplement the artist's own thoughts about the covers.

Those Christie covers really are very striking, and it's no wonder that they are now regarded as iconic. There is, of course, much more to Tom Adams as an artist than Christie. I was interested to learn that he was responsible for the cover of Manwatching, a book hugely successful in its day, as well as covers for authors as varied as John Fowles, Peter Straub and Raymond Chandler. Cover artwork is a fascinating subject, and I hope to return to it in the future. In the meantime, I found Tom Adams Uncovered appealing and very attractive..

8 comments:

Carol in Maryland said...

I think the success of the British Library Golden Age books is partly owed to the wonderful covers!

Kristopher said...

Cover design is too often overlooked when publishers are working on the launch of a novel. It does matter, whether they like to admit it or not. And even more so in this day of e-books. It's the cover that is going to help make one want to keep a physical copy of this book on the shelf - after all, that is what most people will see of the book in your home.

Margot Kinberg said...

Ah, yes, the Adams covers! I've always admired them, and I agree completely that covers matter. Perhaps, as you say, that's a jaundiced view, but definitely worth considering. Thanks for covering this topic so well, Martin...

Anonymous said...

Most of the covers I see on modern mystery novels are usually very bad. The problem is that the book jacket of a murder mystery ought to give you some clue that that is what it is advertising, but they don't do that very often any more. Now,if the book is supposed to be a detective story, the cover has a misty landscape. If it is a thriller, it will have a presidential seal or something like that. It is as though the cover designers have no imagination left. This is not always the case: Christopher Fowler's book covers are usually pretty good. I think the most successful book cover is the one which induces you to buy the book just to get the cover. But it seems to me that the great days of book jacket art are over. All I have to do is compare the original book jackets of Todd Downing's books to the new ones on the reprints to think that.

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting comments - many thanks. I'll do a follow up post in the near future...

Paul Taylor-Greaves said...

Although I like the Tom Adams Christie covers, I've always preferred the 1950s and 1960s Pan/Great Pan editions. I think they have very striking covers. Personally I find the covers of modern crime/thriller books bland in comparison. They all look virtually identical; the authors name in huge type with a nondescript image behind it.

Ted said...

The last book that I remember buying based solely on the cover was the most recent Penguin edition of 'The Thirty-Nine Steps. What a great cover!

The British Library Crime Classics certainly have some of the best covers of current books. Whoever is picking those deserves our appreciation.

Clothes In Books said...

Always been a great admirer of the Tom Adams covers for Christie - very atmospheric.