Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Match Game

Can it have been seven whole months since the last installment of The Rap Sheet’s copycat covers series? That’s an indication of how busy I’ve been, not only with regular blogging responsibilities, but also with work on end-of-2009 wrap-ups, contributions to a couple of crime-fiction-related books, and the ongoing editing of a voluminous biography of one of America’s Founding Fathers. This isn’t to say, though, that I haven’t been keeping track of examples of egregious book cover duplication--I have been, and other readers of this blog have sent their own discoveries my way, as well.

Let’s begin this round of look-alikes with the newly released Vintage Crime paperback edition of Spade & Archer (2009), by Joe Gores, a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett’s classic 1930 private-detective novel. I rather liked the old-fashioned, shadowed cinema-style typography that fronted Alfred A. Knopf’s original hardcover version of Gores’ book. I also thought Gores’ yarn was consistent with Hammett’s vision, and it was certainly dramatic in the telling. I was bothered only by Gores’ occasional inside-baseball allusions to other Hammett tales and his oddly repeated mistake of writing “would of” when he actually meant “would’ve” or “would have.” (Why a copy editor didn’t fix such glaring errors is beyond me!) Much less imaginative, though, is the design of Vintage’s paperback reissue. The cover photograph (above), taken by Barnaby Hall, of a man in an overcoat and brimmed hat, with a smoking cigarette between his lips, is a stock shot from Getty Images. It positively screams “private eye”--which is probably why it also fronted The Goliath Bone (2008), the first of Mickey Spillane’s posthumously published Mike Hammer novels, finished by Max Allan Collins. The image has been flopped on Spade & Archer, but there’s no mistaking the resemblance.

On the whole, Spade & Archer has been poorly served by cover designers. The British hardback edition (left), released last year by Orion, carries the exact same image of an indistinct, topcoat-wearing figure with an elongated shadow that can be spotted here on the jackets of Olen Steinhauer’s 2005 Eastern Bloc thriller, 36 Yalta Boulevard, and the 2003 U.S. edition of Robert Wilson’s excellent Spanish series introduction, The Blind Man of Seville.

Why do publishers and designers think that readers aren’t going to notice these instances of blatant duplication? Do they really think we’re stupid, that we don’t care that their efforts to save the cost of original artwork diminish the novelty of new books?

And it really is appalling to see how frequently stock images are manipulated--composited, flipped, and recolored--in order to give readers the impression that they’re looking at something original, when they’re not. Take these next two jackets, for example. The first comes from the Century UK edition of Frank Tallis’ 2009 Dr. Max Lieberman novel, Darkness Rising (recently released in the States as Vienna Secrets). The central image of a berobed holy man ascending a flight of stone steps comes from Spain-based Arcangel Images. That identical figure shows up again--only this time behind an archway--on the front of Neal Stephenson’s 2008 novel, Anathem.

Then consider the 2005 Picador paperback edition of Martin Booth’s “creepy psychological suspense novel,” A Very Private Gentleman. The Getty Images photograph at the bottom of that cover shows a man lighting a cigarette and standing before a river railing with what looks like an old-fashioned steamship of some sort in the background. It’s quite obviously the same individual employed on the 2006 Putnam hardback edition of Philip Kerr’s fourth Bernie Gunther crime novel, The One from the Other--only in the latter case, a shot of the clock tower in Munich, Germany’s Marienplatz (taken by Owen Franken and purchased from the stock company Corbis) has been inserted behind the smoking gent. (Click on these and other covers for enlargements.)

These next two jackets bookend well together, though neither is particularly distinctive. The cover on the left comes from Murder Short & Sweet (Chicago Review Press), a 2008 anthology of mystery-fiction short stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar and featuring prose by such pros as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ruth Rendell, and Stanley Ellin, as well as outside-the-genre stars on the order of John Updike and C.S. Forester. Meanwhile, on the right is displayed the front of Knopf’s 2008 hardcover edition of Louis de Bernières’ A Partisan’s Daughter. The typeface used is different in each, and there’s a polychromatic strip running down the left side of the De Bernières cover. However, the main photograph--a partial side shot of a woman with a burning cigarette in her fingers (lots of flaming coffin nails in these covers, eh?)--is the same in both. The image has been reversed, but not altered appreciably otherwise.

More has been done to disguise the resemblance between this other pair of book fronts, sent to me by Brian Lindenmuth of BSC Review and Spinetingler Magazine. The cover on the left comes from the 2007 Serpent’s Tail edition of Heidi W. Boehringer’s Crossing the Dark, the story of a police officer who rescues her kidnapped and sex-enslaved daughter, and then has to deal with the ramifications of those crimes on their respective psyches. It’s a haunting jacket, focusing on a naked young woman who has evidently collapsed on what looks like a roadway, dead or unconscious--it is impossible to know. The cover on the right--from what I believe is a Norwegian edition of Karin Fossum’s Se dig ikke tilbage (published in English as Don’t Look Back)--shows the same woman, only this time she’s been slightly cropped and situated in the foreground, with a somewhat bleak-looking lake dropped behind her.

Even famous folk aren’t safe from today’s cost-cutting book designers. Humphrey Bogart may have been a Hollywood original, but he’s nothing new in this comparison. Although I’ve never read the book on the left--Great TV & Film Detectives: A Collection of Crime Masterpieces Featuring Your Favorite Screen Sleuths, edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Reader’s Digest Association, 2005)--I immediately took a shine to its front, which shows Bogey in all of his trenchcoated, fedora-ed, and steely-eyed prominence. On the other hand, I have read the novel on the right, Bill Crider’s We’ll Always Have Murder (iBooks, 2003). As I wrote shortly after its publication, Crider’s book was supposed to be the first entry in a new series featuring an ex-Marine and 1940s Tinseltown private eye named Terry Scott, but I don’t believe there was ever a sequel. The photograph of Bogart is better displayed on Jakubowski’s anthology, with much bolder typography. Yet it’s incontestably the same piece of art, again from Corbis.

Rap Sheet reader Patrick Lee was kind enough to set up this next, not-so-obvious pairing. The cover on the left comes from The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Short Stories, a delightful and diverse collection of tales edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg, and released in 2004 by Carroll & Graf. Beside it is Espionage (Readers Digest, 2006), a non-fiction and “up-to-date guide to the espionage world in all its complexity,” by British science writer David Owen. Who knows how many elements were combined into the Espionage front, but one of them--the lower left-hand image of a shadow-concealed man in a brimmed chapeau--is the same individual shown on the right-hand side of Pronzini and Greenberg’s anthology. Once more, that stock photograph comes from Getty.

While there certainly appears to have been a recent and rampant rash of copycat covers cropping up in the crime-fiction field, the recycling of artwork isn’t a wholly new phenomenon. Nor is it one confined to a single category of works.

Low-budget publishers of the mid-20th-century had a habit of using--sometimes overusing--commissioned illustrations. It isn’t all that rare to come across two pulpy paperbacks of yore, fronted by identical imagery. A particularly good and oft-mentioned example is represented by our next two specimens. Both of these boast a painting by Paul Rader (1906-1986), who, in additional to his more respectable book illustrations, produced an extensive body of sexy work for the publishers of male-oriented “literature.” Initially, this looks like a painting of two women embracing. But when you study it closer, you realize that Rader offers up only a single female, pressed against a mirror. by March Hastings (aka Sally Singer), was released in 1963 by Midwood. Matt Rogers’ The Wicked Never Sleep came out in either 1966 or ’67 from Private Edition.

Sometimes, the original illustrators were complicit in recycling cover ideas. The magnificent jackets shown on the left--from House Hop (1966), by John Dexter, and The Lustful Ones (1973), by Clyde Allison (aka New York City-born William Henley Knoles)--were both painted by Robert Bonfils in the mid-1960s.

These final four copycat covers are drawn from volumes to be found nowhere near the crime-fiction stacks of your local bookshop. I don’t think anyone will miss the similarities between the Random House hardcover edition of Caitlin Macy’s 2009 short-story collection, Spoiled, and the front of Miriam Toews’ 2008 mainstream novel, The Flying Troutmans (Counterpoint). That photograph of a girl with her hands over her eyes is credited to Beate Lie and Millennium Images/UK.

Still more blatant is the relationship between the front of Diane Ravitch’s new non-fiction work, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Basic Books), and Pacific Northwest writer Ivan Doig’s 2006 novel, The Whistling Season (Harvest). That little wooden schoolhouse with the bell tower looks lonely, but book designers just don’t want to leave it alone.

With publishers endeavoring to slash their costs in these economically troubled times, and the easy availability of relatively cheap stock art, it’s probably too much to hope that there will be a reversal of the trend toward duplicate covers at any time soon. Exacerbating the situation still further are technological advancements that make it particularly easy for book cover designers to manipulate and combine images. I’m hardly the first blogger to post the following video (I picked it up from The Casual Optimist), but it gives you a fairly good idea--in just 55 seconds--of how many designers work these days, compositing and retouching existing art to create a unique-seeming finished product:

It looks as if our work to expose this notorious publishing trend will continue. So, if you can, please lend a hand. When you spot examples of copycat covers, especially on crime novels, please e-mail them to me. I’ll post more such fronts as they become available.

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Just in case you’ve missed previous installments of The Rap Sheet’s copycat covers series, let me direct you to the full set:

When Covers Are Two of a Kind” (May 27, 2006)
When Two Aren’t Better Than One” (May 30, 2006)
Did They Really Think Nobody Would Notice?” (January 10, 2007)
Double Faults” (May 20, 2007)
Too Much of a Good Thing” (June 13, 2007)
Bad Company” (July 3, 2007)
Can We Retire These Photos Yet?” (August 26, 2007)
Repeat Offenders” (March 13, 2008)
Double Exposure” (March 19, 2008)
Twin Piques” (July 7, 2008)
Imperfect Mates” (August 2, 2008)
Seeing Doubles” (December 10, 2008)
Run, Buddy, Run” (March 13, 2009)
Familiarity Breeds Contempt” (April 9, 2009)
Take a Gander” (August 19, 2009)

READ MORE:Déjà Vu,” by Ben Boulden (Gravetapping); “The Most-Used Cover Image in the World” and “This Damned Necklace Won’t Stay On,” by J.R.S. Morrison (Caustic Cover Critic); “Copycat Cover--Best Foot Forward,” by Karen Meek (Euro Crime blog); “The Great Gamble, The Hidden War, the Same Photo,” by Joseph Sullivan (The Book Design Review).


Bill Crider said...

Love those copycats!

You're right about WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER. There was no sequel, though I'd hoped to write one. When Byron Preiss died in an automobile accident, iBooks shut down and later filed for bankruptcy.

JRSM said...

The Martin Booth/philip Kerr image is also used on this German noveL: see http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blut-f%C3%BCr-Eisen-Uwe-Friesel/dp/3485010405

JRSM said...

AND the naked woman lying on the road can also be found on a German translation of Peter Robinson (http://www.amazon.com/Das-stumme-Lied-Peter-Robinson/dp/3548264255) and on a Polish Jon Kellerman http://store.escapi.net/covers/53/51554_o.jpg).

I'll be going now.