Tom Adams Uncovered

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After looking at the Tom Adams Flickr pages for the 20th time I realised it was about time I bought the recent book of his work. So I did. It’s a good one.

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Tom Adams book covers

Weekend links 504

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Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass; Fillmore Auditorium, October 19-21, 1967 by Bonnie MacLean.

• RIP Bonnie MacLean, another of the original San Francisco poster artists, and the only woman of note in the US psychedelic poster scene. (Not the only woman, however; in Europe we had Marijke Koger.) Related: Bonnie MacLean’s posters at Wolfgang’s. And RIP to illustrator Tom Adams, an artist whose exceptional covers for novels by Agatha Christie are only one part of a long and varied career.

The Litanies Of Satan (1982), the short but uncompromising debut album by Diamanda Galás, is reissued on Galás’s own label later this month. Further albums from her remarkable back catalogue will follow. Related: video of Galás performing The Litanies Of Satan in 1985.

• “Scorsese is amazed that United Artists didn’t touch one frame of Raging Bull, since it’s the first time in his life as a feature director that this has apparently occurred.” In 1981 Derek Malcolm talked to Martin Scorsese about his reasons for making a boxing picture.

“…in a post-AIDS world, its scenes of mass male-on-male decadence evoke a sense of the spiritual: Not to put so blunt a phrase on it, but the majority of the men we see in Cruising‘s bars would likely die within the next decade, victims of a very heterosexual genocide of neglect. These are blurred, melancholic memories locked forever within Cruising‘s celluloid; a phantasmagoria of men whose liberation was not legislatively delivered, but recovered in the privacy of leather bars and cruising joints. The film’s overt sexuality makes it hard to escape a sense of catastrophic loss.”

Jack King on William Friedkin’s Cruising

• The Pet Shop Boys’ eccentric feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here (1988), is released on blu-ray and DVD in June. The video for You Were Always On My Mind gives an idea of the contents.

• “Orion being one of the brightest constellations makes it a lot of people’s favourites, and he was my favourite as a kid.” Ben Chasny on his history of stargazing.

• “You think the Holy Grail is lost? No. I have it on my piano.” John Boorman talks to Xan Brooks.

• Laura Cumming on the dark and haunting paintings of Belgian Symbolist Léon Spilliaert.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 631 by Ondness.

Alistair Ryder chooses 10 great killer plant films.

Howl by John Foxx And The Maths.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Gleam.

The Litanies Of Satan (1969) by Ruth White | Grail (1971) by Grail | Plants’ Music (1981) by Ippu-Do

Of Mice and Minestrone

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I’ve done a lot of cover work this year, and there are still more designs waiting to be announced. Of Mice and Minestrone isn’t my usual line of work but it’s actually the third cover I’ve done for a Joe R. Lansdale book, although the previous titles were horror and steampunk respectively. The latest volume is a collection of crime stories, and an addition to Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books, a series about a pair of Texan detectives whose popularity now extends to a TV show.

Crime presents many of the same challenges you find in other genres, all of which come with their own set of clichés which you can either choose to engage with or avoid. In the case of crime there’s a tendency for degraded typefaces to proliferate, along with variations on a red/black/white colour scheme. One of the early drafts of this design did use a red/black/white arrangement but I was told that Joe Lansdale was (unsurprisingly) tired of seeing this scheme applied to his own books. The title of the collection comes from the opening story which concerns the young Hap’s involvement with an older woman and her abusive husband; the marital abuse is resolved via a bowl of soup which has been poisoned with a dead rat, hence the title and the cover image. I like using pareidolia when I can, and the slightly unusual imagery pushed the appearance away from generic clichés (if you discount the bullets) towards the marvellously surreal covers that Tom Adams painted for Agatha Christie’s novels.

The background photo is a rare example of my using a stock image. The soup bowl looked fine from the outset but the background lacked a suitably ominous quality, and was at risk of looking too much like a recipe book. (As it happens there are some recipes by Kasey Lansdale following the fiction although I don’t think any require the use of dead rats.) After trying a number of different table surfaces I decided on a lateral approach so went searching for pictures of Texan storm clouds. The image we eventually used—a tornado over farmland near Patricia, Texas by John Finney at Getty Images—was the second one I tried and it worked so well we decided to keep it.

Of Mice and Minestrone will be published by Tachyon in March 2020 but is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Gods of HP Lovecraft
Lovecraft’s Monsters
Ten titles and a cover
Steampunk overloaded!
New things for April

Tom Adams book covers

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Dust jacket for The Magus (1966) by John Fowles.

I pulled my 1982 paperback of John Fowles’ The Magus from the bookshelf recently. After flicking through the pages I decided to start re-reading it, having realised that in the thirty years which have elapsed since I first read it I couldn’t remember much at all about it. One thing I did remember, however, was the cover of the first edition, a painting and design I’d admired in the past without knowing the name of the artist responsible.

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American illustrator Tom Adams is the artist in question, and looking at his painting again it further occurred to me that his cover deployed an evocative but not wholly specific assemblage of figures and objects that I’d often seen elsewhere, notably on the first edition cover of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. So it was no great surprise to discover that Tom Adams was also responsible for that cover painting. The Fowles and Straub novels are big books which slowly reveal their layered mysteries. Adams’ approach to illustrating them strikes me as an ideal solution when neither of the novels can be easily reduced to a single image. (This hasn’t prevented subsequent designers from trying.) Fowles approved wholeheartedly of the painting but this isn’t a particularly fashionable technique at the moment, the trend being to try and condense complex narratives into a single motif.

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Cover painting for Ghost Story (1979) by Peter Straub.

Looking for more of Adams’ art tipped me into an entire world of Agatha Christie book covers which were the artist’s main body of work for many years. Adams is understandably celebrated by Christie-philes (Paper Tiger published a book of his Christie covers in 1981) but outside Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown I’ve never had much of a taste for the classic detective story so this was a previously undiscovered niche. Here Adams sidesteps the chore of painting Christie’s meddlesome sleuths in favour of a remarkable display of grotesque Surrealism which—for a sceptic such as myself—makes the books seem potentially interesting. As with The Magus and Ghost Story there’s the same assemblage of evocative figures or objects but with an additional macabre twist. Many of these covers are so grotesque they could easily function as horror illustrations so it’s no wonder he was asked to illustrate the Straub. This Flickr page has many more examples (warning: wretched user-unfriendly Flickr layout in operation) as does this site. The artist has a website where prints of The Magus painting may be purchased.

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