Bond Bound: Ian Fleming and the Art of Cover Design (3 stars)

This article is from 2008

James Bond books

Of human bond-age

Gentleman shpy David Pollock goesh undercover to inveshtigate the makings of an icon at touring exshibition Bond Bound

It’s strange, considering how conservative a character James Bond is, that his presentation and marketing seems to fall so readily in step with the times. From Sean Connery throughout the smooth, swinging 60s, to the more cartoonishly lurid 70s and early-80s of Roger Moore, the smug, yuppified era of Timothy Dalton, the laddish yet indefinably metrosexual Pierce Brosnan and now Daniel Craig’s more broadly-defined revisionist take on the character, Bond remains the same, but always strikingly different.

Of course, that’s the Bond we’re most familiar with; the movie icon. This cinematic character is one stage removed again from the original Bond, though – the rakish gentleman spy whom Ian Fleming defined over 12 novels and two short story collections between 1953 and 1966.

As explicitly stated in the subtitle of the City Art Centre’s new Bond Bound exhibition (‘Ian Fleming and the Art of Cover Design’), this Bond is supposed to be the one we come to know more about here, but it’s still hard to end up leaving the show without an image of Connery’s sly grin plastered across the memory.

Clearly aware that it’s not as engaging for a viewer to look at a book cover as it is to be dazzled by a large movie poster, the curators have chosen to show a broad spectrum of visual representations of the character. So the first images we see upon entering the exhibition are three international posters for the latest Casino Royale film, featuring Craig in his finest GQ Man pose, all unhooked bowtie, tousled hair and pout.

Across from these hang a selection of posters from the clearly heavily trailed From Russia With Love (1963), the sequel to the character’s hugely successful cinematic debut Dr No. ‘James Bond est de retour,’ they blast over eye-catchingly bright colours and images of slinky girls. ‘James Bond is back.’
And there’s that grin of Connery’s which remains hard to clear from the mind. This was the period when Bond stopped being a popular character in pulp novels and became an icon.

Period artefacts fill out the show, including a manuscript of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which has been annotated by the late Fleming, and a rather wonderful letter to the author from Hugh Hefner. The Playboy publisher, in typical ‘one thing on his mind’ mode, asserts that, ‘Ursula Andress (Dr No’s original Bond girl) is going to be difficult to beat for sex interest.’

Also featured are an extensive set of illustrations by John Burningham from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fleming’s only children’s book, and a couple of pages from the forthcoming comic adaptation of Charlie Higson’s Young Bond book ‘Double or Die’ by Judge Dredd artist Kev Walker.

After such a selection, the rear room’s rows of original book covers from editions printed around the world over the last five decades feel like something of an anticlimax, or at least a part of the show to be pored over rather than blown away by. In truth, Bond Bound itself doesn’t offer a wealth of new knowledge to even a casual fan of the character, but it does demonstrate how first impressions are important to the continued success of such a legend.

Bond Bound: Ian Fleming and the Art of Cover Design is at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until Sun 14 Sep.

Bond Bound: Ian Fleming and the Art of Cover Design

  • 3 stars

Charting the role of artists and designers in defining the look of the world's most popular spy.