They say never judge a book by its cover, but book covers do a much of the heavy lifting to help to sell a book. None more so than Richard ‘Dicky’ Chopping’s iconic artwork for Ian Fleming’s Bond novels.
His first commission for them was From Russia With Love and up until then, the previous covers for Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Moonraker had been unremarkable. Chopping’s cover was bold, beautiful and arresting. It marked the beginning of his signature Trompe l’oeil style, which would leave an indelible mark on the series and for generations of book lovers to come.
Up until 1957, thriller and spy genre book jackets while highly evocative, were often pulpy and less about composition and featured scenes almost lifted from the pages of the book. Some of the better ones were for Nevil Shute, Desmond Cory, Alistair Maclean and Helen MacInnes.
The impact of Chopping’s work was to elevate Ian Fleming’s book sales and leave a lasting legacy on book jacket designers, of whom the following took inspiration from.
Broom-Lynne was a prolific cover designer, but two of his most notable works which heavily showed the influence of Chopping was for Adam Diment’s The Dolly Dolly Spy (1967) and The Great Spy Race (1968), as well as Dick Francis’ Odds Against (1965). All three books were for the publisher Michael Joseph.
Tom Adams is perhaps more famous for his Agatha Christie book covers and is a legend of the field. He also is a master of the Trompe L’oeil style, notably for covers for John Fowles’ The Collector and the Dali-esque cover for Kingsley Amis’ (writing as Robert Markham) James Bond continuation novel, Colonel Sun.
After Chopping’s last Bond cover, Licence Renewed, which would be the first for John Gardner, Trevor Scobie was drafted in by the publisher Jonathan Cape to pick up the baton. The following two covers Role of Honour (1984) and Nobody Lives for Ever (1986) would continue the Chopping style in emphatic fashion. Trevor remarked:
“Although we never met I very much admired Richard Chopping’s paintings for his dust jackets of Ian Fleming’ s James Bond especially the elegance of his cover From Russia, with Love, so when Tony Colwell asked me to work on some new covers it was a real privilege for me. At that stage, Tony still wanted to continue the wood grain background of the previous covers.”
Mark Thomas art for Mark Gatiss’ Black Butterfly, adroitly utilises Chopping’s Trompe L’oeil style, right down to the “wood” backdrop and fly, common to many of his Bond covers.
The overall composition explicitly references the late Chopping’s cover for The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) courtesy of designer Ben Willsher.
Mark Gariss remarked;
“I have some (fake) James Bond hardback first editions with a cover designed by Richard Chopping. Genuine first editions would cost about £50,000 but these are from an American company that does perfect facsimiles.”
Barbosa was an artist best known for his distinctive cover illustrations for George MacDonald Fraser’s The Flashman Papers novels, which he produced for 25 years.
However, he intentionally channelled Chopping for the cover of a little-known book by Mary Wickham called How 007 Got His Name (1966).
This book tells the story of the real man named James Bond, an ornithologist, and his meeting with Ian Fleming. It includes a photograph of the two together in Jamaica.
Bond was an expert in Caribbean birds and wrote the definitive book on the subject, Birds of the West Indies, which was first published in 1936 and Fleming considered this one of his bibles on the subject.