In 2002, the numbers did the talking for 007. Die Another Day, the twentieth film in the series was released, 40 years after Dr. No, raking in over $430 million worldwide, more than any Bond film before it (inflation unadjusted). And 50 years after Ian Fleming sat down at his typewriter to create the character, Penguin, having acquired the publishing rights to Fleming’s 14 Bond books, set about rereleasing the original Bond novels for the first time since the early 1990s. Starting in early 2002, Penguin began reissuing Fleming’s novels in the UK, featuring sleek, modern-looking abstract photographs for the covers, shot by Toby McFarlan Pond. Such a surprise it was, then, when Penguin took a unique and entirely unprecedented approach to the rereleases in the United States, which went on to become the first complete set released in the US in more than 30 years.
Enter Richie Fahey, a New York-based photographer who specialises in pulp artwork. Inspired by the style used in the mid-1900s, Fahey, coupled with Penguin’s art director, Roseanne Serra, went on to create 14 stunning covers for Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. Where cover art of past rereleases of the novels had endeavoured to update the character, perhaps mirroring the ageless characteristic adhered to in the film series, Fahey’s covers boldly brought Bond back to the 1950s and 60s: the era of Ian Fleming. The result was a gorgeous set of strikingly different, yet exceptionally uniform covers that took the fan community’s collective breath away.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you come to be in this line of work?
I started to draw when I was a kid, mostly copying old Pogo comic strips. Both my grandmother and her father, my great grandfather, were professional painters. My folks gave me a 35mm camera when I was in high school. I thought photography would help my drawing and painting. I also had a great art teacher in high school. He taught us pin-hole photography (which I still like to do) and encouraged me a lot. I started using old cameras when a friend gave me her father’s old 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 speed graphic camera. We used to cut film down to shoot with this camera because we could not find any. Later I was able to locate the film and bought a bunch before Kodak discontinued it. I still shoot with this camera once in a while. I went to the University of South Carolina and received a BFA in painting. My photography was encouraged more than my painting and because I thought I had a better chance of making a living as a photographer, I went to Rochester Institute of Technology to study photography after a year of working in a photostore/lab. After two years of classes I moved to New York City.
I like to read old paperbacks so I decided to try and become a cover artist.
How did you get involved with the Ian Fleming reprints? Who was it that made the decision to create the cover art with a 1960s feel, as opposed to updating them with a contemporary look?
I first heard of the project when I received a call from Roseanne Serra at Penguin. I had never read any Ian Fleming books but, of course, I had seen some of the movies. I guess they picked me because they wanted more of a period look. I know that the Ian Fleming Estate wanted to seperate the literature from the movies and I thought they wanted something that referenced that time period: the late 1950s to ’60s. I found out after starting the project that the IFE really liked the British versions (which I think are very slick and sophisticated, very appropriate for James Bond) and I really didn’t know why I was chosen since my stuff is more pulpy. After hearing that the IFE was disappointed with the first cover I did, Casino Royale, I didn’t think I would be doing the series.
Take us through the process of designing one of these covers. What techniques were use to achieve the “retro” effect? Were the girls’ photos shot in black-and-white? What type camera did you use? Also, how exactly did the partnership between you and Roseanne Serra work on the project?
Here’s how the entire process evolved, including my collaberation with the art director, Roseanne Serra:
Penguin decided to start with Casino Royale. I read the book, researched old James Bond covers and made some sketches. I gave the sketches to Roseanne Serra and she presented them to Penguin and the Ian Fleming Estate. Together they chose one of the sketches which consisted of Vesper, nude standing on the left side of the cover; le Chiffre dealing baccarat with two players and James Bond in the foreground within a panel in the middle of the cover; title on lower-right and Ian Fleming’s name in the upper right-hand corner. However, the Ian Fleming estate specified that they did not want naked women nor James Bond on any covers. With the help of my wife Maria Cristina, who did the hair, make-up and styling for the series, Vesper was photographed in a black cocktail dress and James Bond was photographed with low-key lighting so he could not be recognized. I used a friend for le Chiffre, and my wife and I were the baccarat players. I photographed everything in black and white with a medium format camera.
From the contacts, I selected images and composed different versions to show to Roseanne. We picked one version and I made 11 x 14 black and white prints of Vesper, le Chiffre at the Baccarat table, and James Bond. I then colored them with photo oil paints using q-tips and bits of cotton wrapped around toothpicks. After they dried, I scanned them and arranged them and tried different type faces for the title and Ian Fleming’s name. I showed this all to Roseanne and we chose the type faces that worked best. Roseanne thought the cover was lacking something. We decided maybe falling playing cards would be good so I went and photographed, printed, colored and scanned falling cards.
Roseanne showed this version to Penguin and the Ian Fleming Estate. The Ian Fleming Estate did not like the cover (I think they really liked the British versions and mine are very different from them) but Penguin and the Estate were able to work it out by taking James Bond off the cover. The rest of the covers would basically go through the same process and follow the same guidelines we created for Casino Royale: Ian Fleming in the upper-right,
colourful background, panel in the middle, a female character, the villan and an element from the story with my inspirations coming from the particular story and old Bond covers. James Bond would only appear as a suggestion on a few covers, as a small and unrecognizable figure and as the hand holding the gun on the back. I photographed the women naked for the next two covers and the Estate did not seem to mind (true to the novel Doctor No, Honey is naked when James first meets her).
Some of the covers are quite risqué; were there any censorship concerns in designing the artwork? How much freedom was given in designing the covers?
Roseanne and Penguin were very open to a lot but the Ian Fleming Estate had some restrictions: for example, no James Bond and no naked women (they actually came to like the naked Bond girls, and later in the series they were disappointed when Roseanne and I chose clothed versions of the models, for instance, The Man With The Golden Gun). I would have definitely shot Vesper naked if I wasn’t specifically told no nudity at the start.
Did you read the novels – or were you already familiar with them – in order to get a feel for what each cover should look like?
I read each novel before making any sketches. Penguin only had the last published versions of the series but
the covers were pretty awful so I found older versions of the book to read; mostly the Signets from the 60s.
Was there any artwork that was rejected or changed for any of the covers? Were there any entirely different alternate covers?
The first cover I did, Casino Royale, was important because it determined whether or not I was going to do the series. To make the Estate happy I had to take out the James Bond character from Casino Royale and I did not get to use him for Doctor No either. I shot two different versions for Thunderball and just put the second version on the back.
The woman featured on your On Her Majesty’s Secret Service cover is actually Victoria Zdrok, one of the Playboy bunnies featured in continuation novelist Raymond Benson’s “Midsummer Night’s Doom” short story. Can you tell us about the other models featured on the covers?
I was not aware that any of the models did any other modeling for James Bond work. I always find it difficult to find the right models. I went to modeling agencies, used friends and friends of friends, my wife, and found some through the web like the model on You Only Live Twice who actually refered me to the model I used for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Similarly, whose hand is that holding the Walther PPK on the back covers? And who was Bond on the covers that showed James Bond (for example, Goldfinger)?
With some effort, I eventually found a model through a New York modeling agency to portray James Bond whom both Roseanne and I liked. I photographed him to be used for the first three covers (Casino Royale, Doctor No and Goldfinger). Only the picture of Bond tied up for Goldfinger was chosen, along with, of course, the hand holding the gun on the back of every book. For the other covers that have a Bond character, I used a friend and once even my brother-in-law.
Speaking of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, two different versions of the cover have appeared online, featuring a different title font and background; why were these changes made to the cover, and were there any copies of the novels with the alternate artwork published?
The James Bond covers I have on my website are the versions I gave Penguin and not the final versions.
There are some slight differences, for example in Thunderball, but I think the differences of typefaces for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were my mistake. I put the wrong version up.
Are you aware of the extremely positive reaction your artwork has received in the 007 fan community?
Roseanne had forwarded me some emails and I also received some emails through my website, from people who liked the covers.
Do you know how successful these rereleases have been?
Not exactly. After doing the first, Casino Royale, I didn’t think I was going to do any more because of the Ian Fleming Estate’s reaction. After I got the go ahead, Penguin’s plan was to wait to see how the first half of the series sold before doing the rest. I was just happy to be able to do the whole series and I assumed they must have been selling fairly well, since I was allowed to continue.
Which cover was the most difficult to get an idea of what you wanted to do with it? Which one created the most creative problems? Which covers went through the greatest amount of designing processes?
I think Octopussy was the hardest one. I had a hard time getting ideas from that story and I had to read it twice. I think I had to reread The Spy Who Loved Me also. The most difficult part for each cover was coming up with the background element and finding models.
Which is your favorite cover and why?
From the earlier ones I did, I like Casino Royale best. I think the later ones are better overall; of those I like For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me.
Have you seen any other James Bond book covers? If so, which other covers have you liked best?
When researching for my sketches I tried to find old versions to see what has been done before and to help me get ideas. In the beginning I had a difficult time finding samples. The Art of James Bond website was helpful for research, but I only stumbled upon it halfway through the project and before the website was complete – I think now they have a sample of every version of the covers ever published. I like the first Pan paperback editions and also the early American versions up to and including the Signet series. I also like some of the hardback versions. If you look hard enough you can find where I got some of my ideas from.
Tell us about your non-Bond related work.
I do mostly pulpy kind of work.
If there was one book – any book, any author, fact or fiction – that you would wish to design a cover for, what would it be and what would you do? In short, your dream project?
My favourite author is David Goodis.
And finally… the James Bond legacy has been a hugely popular institution for over 50 years now; how did it feel to be given the opportunity to put your own unique stamp on it? Did you have any hesitation, at all, in accepting the project?
As I mentioned, I questioned why Penguin wanted me for this project. I didn’t know how well my style would translate into the spy genre. I am just glad everything worked out. I enjoyed doing the covers and was very happy for the opportunity to do the whole series.
The Richie Fahey James Bond gallery