Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sam Peffer - a tribute

A recent obituary in The Times recorded the death on 14th March 2014 of Sam Peffer, a commercial artist who was not a household name, but whose artwork graced the early Pan editions of the James Bond novels and inevitably found a place in thousands of homes across Britain and beyond during the late 1950s and 1960s. 

Away from Bond, Peffer designed cover artwork for paperbacks published by Corgi, and Panther, among others, and throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s produced lurid film posters, usually for X-rated, horror or kung-fu films. He retired in 1985 when poster commissions dried up as film companies turned to photo montages, rather than painted artwork.

But it is his work on the Bond novels for Pan that Sam Peffer is probably best known. His pulp-fiction style perfectly reflected the tough, violent, hard-boiled adventures within. In tribute to his work, here are the covers attributed with certainty to Sam Peffer.

Casino Royale (1958): In Peffer's depiction, Vesper Lynd is portrayed as damsel in distress, rather than the femme fatale of subsequent covers. Peffer's cover is notable for depicting James Bond in a way that was in more keeping with the character described in the novel. Instead of the smooth card player shown on the first paperback edition of 1955, we have a strong, tough agent, complete with a comma of hair. And the model for Bond? That was Peffer's brother-in-law, a stuntman named Jack. 

Dr No (1958): James Bond drags an exhausted Honey Rider through the Jamaican swamps as they escape the clutches of Dr No, whose cruel omnipotence is brilliantly suggested by Sam Peffer artwork. And Peffer's depiction of Bond in jeans and coarse work-shirt reminds us that Bond is a man of action prepared to get his hands dirty, a far cry from the dinner-suited spy of today's popular imagination.

From Russia, With Love (1959): James Bond forcefully holds Tatiana Romanova by the wrist. Tatiana appears reluctant to travel with Bond, as if uncertain of her fate once on the British side or fearful of the reaction from SMERSH on the Russian side.

Moonraker (1960): With his ripped shirt and exhausted expression, James Bond is every bit Ian Fleming's tough, commando-like secret agent. Bond tightly embraces special branch agent Gala Brand, who looks on in sheer terror at the missile launch depicted in the background.

Sam Peffer's artwork was replaced by those of Raymond Hawkey in the mid 1960s, but Peffer's legacy lives on. There were hints of Peffer's work in the series of pulp-fiction style covers designed by Richie Fahey for Penguin in 2006. It is also testament to the affection held by Bond afficionados for Sam Peffer's covers that many of the contributors to 'Field Reports' on the Artistic License Renewed website have cited them as their favourite Bond dustjackets in paperback or by continuation authors.


The images have been taken from the Piz Goria website, an excellent site which is dedicated to collecting James Bond paperback novels by Ian Fleming.

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