Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Double Exposure

Not long after I finished putting together last week’s collection of copycat book covers, I happened to notice another example of this regrettable trend. Thanks go out to Bookgasm’s Mark Rose for bringing this specimen to my attention.

It seems that the 1995 paperback reissue of James Grippando’s The Pardon (1994) made use of a stock photo--showing a shadowy male figure--that’s also held forth on the covers of Olen Steinhauer’s 2005 Eastern Bloc thriller, 36 Yalta Boulevard (St. Martin’s Minotaur), and the 2003 U.S. edition of Robert Wilson’s eye-opening The Blind Man of Seville (Harcourt). When will book designers and publishers get it through their heads that readers notice these instances of lazy duplication, and commit to creating more original artwork?

Certainly not soon enough for mystery writer Sandra Scoppettone. She writes in her blog that she was surprised to find an advertisement in Crimespree Magazine for Robert Goldsborough’s A Death in Pilsen (Echelon Press, 2007), the third installment of his reporter Snap Malek historical series--and discover that its cover pretty much duplicates the 2005 large-print edition of her own first P.I. Faye Quick novel, This Dame for Hire (Ballantine, 2005). It’s clearly the same source photo in both cases, though on This Dame for Hire the woman in the old-fashioned hat is clutching a revolver, while on Goldsborough’s book she’s smoking a cigarette. Neither of those makes a fashion accessory sufficient to set these two jackets apart from one another.

And eagle-eyed Rap Sheet reader Patrick Lee was kind enough to send me these next two images. He noticed that the 1994 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition of Paul Cain’s only novel, the hard-boiled Fast One (originally published in 1932), bore a striking resemblance to the promotional poster for the 1942 film noir This Gun for Hire, which of course starred Veronica Lake and Robert Preston. Notice the man holding the pistol on the right side of the poster. (If you need to blow up the photo, just click on it.) There can be little question that it provided the model for the gunman on the front of this particular edition of Fast One, even though the backdrop for the novel jacket looks to be Los Angeles’ Griffith Park Observatory, rather than the lovely but oversize head of actress Lake.

This is a less egregious duplication than many of the book fronts we’ve featured in our copycat covers series. Let’s call it an homage, rather than a direct steal. The intention of the book illustrator, Moira Hahn, was no doubt to be clever, to pay tribute to the creator of the original poster, even though most readers wouldn’t be able to identify the provenance of her gun-toting central figure on Fast One. I can only assume that’s the same motive artist Bill Nelson had in mind when he, too, borrowed from that old This Gun for Hire placard to develop the artwork for Hard Case Crime’s Top of the Heap, a 2004 paperback reprint of Erle Stanley Gardner’s fast-moving 1952 novel (written as “A.A. Fair”), starring L.A. private eyes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. I might not have noticed this example of duplication/inspiration, had I not just been reading Top of the Heap--my introduction to Gardner’s once-popular Cool & Lam series (and definitely not the last of those books I’ll enjoy).

Note, by the way, that this isn’t the first time publisher Hard Case Crime has tipped its hat to artists of yore. It did so at least once before, with illustrator Glen Orbik’s darkly atmospheric jacket for the 2007 reprint of The Wounded and the Slain, noir master David Goodis’ novel (originally published in 1955) about a married couple who travel to Jamaica, hoping to patch up their union, only to cut a wide swath of despair and destruction through the capital city of Kingston. Goodis’ book appears here on the left, beside the remarkably similar, early 1960s Avon mass-market paperback edition of He and She, the first novel (about a socially and philosophically mixed marriage) by Edward S. Le Comte, a longtime professor at New York’s Columbia College. At least Orbik took his inspiration from the best; this cover of Le Comte’s book was painted by Robert McGinnis.

Again, if you happen to run across any more examples of copycat covers, especially those decorating crime novels, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. I’ll post more examples as they become available.


John M. said...

As Jack Warner said to Warren Beatty when told "Bonnie and Clyde" was an homage to French New Wave cinema:

"What the f##k is an homage?"

Fiona said...

"When will book designers and publishers get it through their heads that readers notice these instances of lazy duplication, and commit to creating more original artwork?"

The problem is most readers *don't* notice!

Mike said...

Plus another problem is that if the publisher doesn't commit to creating original artwork, they go to an image bank and find a piece of artwork close to conveying the book's subject. Add a touch of manipulation in Adobe photoshop (or whatever) and hey presto - a new cover!