Thursday, July 05, 2007

Picture of Ian Fleming: lame or cool?

I picked up a couple of old James Bond paperbacks at the used bookstore a while ago. (That's kind of an odd syntax when you think of it. Shouldn't it be "usedbook store"?) I got Casino Royale and Goldfinger. CR was entertaining and even fairly gritty and realistic in some ways; GF was rather absurd but still readable. Both were laughably sexist, but that's actually part of their appeal -- they're so much a relic of their era.

But along with the book itself, I found the cover design of Casino Royale quite interesting.



A couple of things stand out to me. The first is the small size of the front-cover illustration, with a large corresponding blank space at the top. Thrillers today tend to be much heavier on the graphics. In that simpler time before information overload, simply using red text was enough to capture the consumer's attention.

But what really jumps out at me is the author's picture on the back cover:



I find Fleming's style fascinating: short-sleeved shirt (too short-sleeved by today's standards), bow tie, watch with leather band, cigarette in one hand, and revolver in the other. It all seems so odd and uncool today -- I can't imagine what kind of image that was meant to convey in the late '50s/early '60s.

The gun especially is a curiosity. In that indoor setting, Fleming definitely looks like he's pointing it at someone. Who? Why? Fleming himself seems to have an uncomfortable look on his face. Did he think the pose was silly? Is the picture meant to convey Fleming's bona fides (he worked in intelligence during World War II, but as a planner, not an "agent"), his "cred" as one might say today, to people who might buy the book? Surely even back then, no one was naive enough to be influenced by that sort of thing. Or were they?

If an author tried to pull that off today, people would laugh out loud at the sight of his books. It would be teh lamest thing evar. And yet.... There's still something about the picture that keeps me from really laughing. Maybe it's that he seems to know how to hold a gun, or the sheer insouciance of the pose. I don't know what it is, but Fleming actually does seem kind of cool somehow -- like a killer dentist or something.

So what do you think? Is it lame or is it cool?

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