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This has been picked up by numerous other blogs by now, but the rights to the James Bond novels are changing hands, going from their venerable owner Penguin Books to Vintage Classics UK. Two preview covers have been released for the new editions; they remind me more of old ’40s mystery novels—like the Dell Mapbacks—than James Bond novels, with their subtle, art-deco, low-impact covers.

A quick comparison of various other recent reprint covers for the same two novels, starting with their new covers from Vintage on top, and going back through the Penguin UK hardcovers (Michael Gillette) and the earlier Penguin paperbacks (Richie Fahey). Looking at just the first six here; WordPress’ gallery viewers are messy.

Notice the big difference in approach we have going on here. Again, I like the old-school minimalism of the new designs, but they’re not the right fit for Bond. The earlier editions are fantastic, first by virtue of having art to begin with, second from playing up the themes that separate Bond novels from a Le Carre or the Bourne series or whatever: beautiful women and the proper era’s retro decor. I can understand a desire to move away from the sexism as a selling point, but I think it undermines what set Bond apart at the time, and why people keep reading/watching Bond media: the sheer sensationalism of it.

The 2008 UK hardback set feels so very ’70s to me, in style and color choice, and run the gamut of Bond girls and femme fatales. I think Michael Gillette did a really classy job, with the smooth lines and plenty of white (sepia-tone?) space. Take the side cover, for example: crisp white, a nice simple minimalism, broken by the archetypical neon girl silhouette and the book number. The last picture is what you’d see after buying the whole kit and kaboodle in a box set.

But it’s the 2003 paperback set with Richie Fahey covers that I prefer, with rich and lurid covers that are a throwback to the ’50s noir, full of vibrant colors, plenty of variety in fonts and design, and the sensationalist feel that powered the Bond train. The retro style is great, and gives a good feeling of the novels’ 1950s-1960s origin. Perhaps that’s why Vintage made the switch, but it’s not like their designs modernized the Bond look any; if anything, they made it look older.

I have most of the novels—nine, plus Octopussy/The Living Daylights—that I got as a set from a library sale. They’re the old ’60s book club editions, very lame covers with the same silhouette repeated for each book, with subtle changes in which pastel palette is used for each volume. I’m more likely to stick with that format and buy my missing volumes from the same book club set, even though the newer covers are way damn cooler.

And to be honest, the covers I like the best are some of the original paperback covers from the UK… hence why this Adventure is only modern cover art. There are decades of awesome paperback covers I’ll get to later.

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