Monday, July 16, 2012

The Sincerest Form of ... What?

I’ve often written in my main blog, The Rap Sheet, about “copycat book covers,” those that employ the same (usually stock) images on their jackets as have been used previously elsewhere, either unknowingly or in expectation that busy readers won’t notice or be bothered by the replication.

But Rob Mallows of The Deighton Dossier, an excellent blog devoted to the work of spy novelist and military historian Len Deighton, brings to my attention a duplication of a quite different order.

The image atop this post shows the famous black-and-white, 1962 cover for Deighton’s The IPCRESS File, designed for British publisher Hodder & Stoughton by the late Raymond Hawkey. Now, compare that with “a virtually identical jacket” appearing on the Scottish paperback edition of Harry Lipkin, P.I., the new novel by Barry Fantoni (released in the States as Harry Lipkin, Private Eye). That Fantoni edition comes from Birlinn, “one of the largest independent publishers in Scotland.”

While this case of duplication might be called an homage, nobody thinks it was coincidence. “[Birlinn] would, one imagines, have known what they were doing,” writes Mallows, “and this appears like a--admittedly, quite clever--bid for press coverage by this Scottish publisher, working to the maxim ‘all publicity is good publicity’. After all, I’m writing about it; designers are up in arms; it’s in the news.”

And now I’m writing about it.

I guess the publicity tactic has worked, if that was the point.

Still, the decision to “borrow” Hawkey’s concept for Harry Lipkin, P.I. (without even crediting Hawkey’s original concept) has kicked up “a bitter row” in UK publishing circles. As The Guardian reports:
Hawkey’s widow, Mary Hawkey, Deighton’s biographer, Edward Milward-Oliver, and a number of Hawkey’s contemporaries have branded the jacket a rip-off and asked for its withdrawal, condemning it as “shameful” and “outrageous”.

Mary Hawkey calls the jacket “plagiarism”. “I can’t tell you how distressed I am on seeing such an obvious copy of Ray’s work. He was extraordinarily generous with, and encouraging towards, young graphic designers, but I believe he would have been appalled and angered by such a naked, barefaced copying.”
It’s obviously impossible to know Hawkey’s reaction to all of this; he died in 2010. Yet other designers have reacted with outrage, and at least one of them--Mike Dempsey, a former art director at two leading UK publishing houses--has called on fellow designers to “lodge an e-mail protest to the publishers with the message:


Dempsey opines in his blog that Birlinn “should send a letter of apology to Mary Hawkey and a design fee for their lamentable copy of Ray’s cover. There is a delicate line between paying homage and ripping off. This effort falls wildly over the latter.”

We shall see if anything comes of such protests. I won’t bet on it.

READ MORE:Raymond Hawkey--A Personal Note from Edward Milward-Oliver” (The Deighton Dossier).


Richard L. Pangburn said...

Well, yes, though this doesn't seem to be as bad as many others that I have seen, usually done by the major houses on the powerless independents.

As it is, the cover of the Fantoni suggests the text inside with the dentures in the coffee cup, with pills on the side instead of cigarette butts--though the protagonist says that his stomach cannot dissolve pills.

While parody is free speech, the Fantoni text itself is a bit of parody on the detective novel, not on the spy novel. Moreover, the title does not suggest a parody of IPCRESS, nor is there an epigraph quoting IPCRESS, nor characters that resemble IPCRESS.

Although not as sharp as MIKE DIME, the tongue-in-cheek stuff in here is quite amusing.

Ronald Tierney said...

I like both covers — a lot. But whether it is a spoof or a tribute, mentioning something that acknowledges the original might have been the right thing to do.

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