Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Grisly Adams: Keeping Christie in View

Part of a series honoring the late cover artist Tom Adams.

The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie (Pocket, 1971)—a Hercule Poirot novel that’s far superior to the three-part 2018 BBC One television series it inspired.

It’s often been said that Tom Adams (1926-2019) is the best-known artist to have been associated with mystery fictionist Agatha Christie. That’s because, from 1963 to 1980, he was under commission by British publisher Fontana Books (the paperback imprint of William Collins, Sons, now part of mammoth publishing house HarperCollins) to create covers for the UK and European editions of Christie’s releases, both series and standalones.

“For many of the Christie books,” explains this excellent article on the Web site BeautifulBooks.Info, “Tom designed two, or even three different covers over the course of his work on her mysteries, and his mastery of different techniques and habit of hiding clever clues in the cover designs, combined with the familiarity of his work across different continents creates interest in collecting his paperback designs.” The site goes on to paraphrase Adams as saying that he “read each Christie novel he illustrated three times, first very quickly for the story and mood, second to make notes of characters or incidents, and third to choose ideas for the illustration. Early on he rejected the idea of showing [spinster sleuth] Miss [Jane] Marple or [Belgian detective Hercule] Poirot, rationalizing that ‘the characters were so firmly fixed in the reader’s imagination that they could never be satisfactorily shown.’”

There are simply too many Adams-illustrated Fontana editions of Christie’s works to feature here. But I’ve embedded eight examples below, to give you an idea of his oft-surreal and macabre style. (Additional paperback fronts can be found here.) Click on any of these images to enjoy an enlargement.

Adams’ artwork wasn’t confined only to Christie’s British editions. As the Web site Collecting Christie explains, “Tom Adams was contracted by Pocket Books to design covers for 26 U.S. covers, all of which were published between 1971 and 1974. Pocket Books had a different vision for the covers—ones that provided more narrative, utilizing the full cover with no white space and an image that wrapped around the whole book, using the spine and rear panel. The narrative that these covers communicate has a lot of depth and should be closely scrutinized to fully appreciate.” Indeed, Adams’ Pocket illustrations are dramatically conceived, offering a universally grim, haunting tone but plenty of handsome details drawn from Christie’s tales.

Below are 16 of those fronts. Click here to see the entire set.

Anyone wishing to learn more about Adams’ long association with best-selling author Christie should check out either or both of these two books: Tom Adams’ Agatha Christie Cover Story (Dragons World Limited, 1981) or the newer Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond (HarperCollins, 2016).


Collecting Christie said...

Please note that the link to the page for Adams is actually:

J. Kingston Pierce said...

That link has now been fixed. Thanks!