Ask most 007 fans to name their favorite James Bond movie and you’ll probably get a wide variety of answers. But ask them to name the best Bond continuation novel and you’re guaranteed to hear the same response over and over again: Colonel Sun.
Written by Kingsley Amis (under the pseudonym Robert Markham), the book’s razor-sharp prose, suspenseful plot, and sinister villains continue to thrill readers more than five decades after its publication. Personally, I’ve always loved the way Amis dives headlong into his twisted tale without pausing to refamiliarize us with Bond’s backstory. Though it lacks the romance and sex that we expect to find in a top-tier Fleming novel, Colonel Sun more than compensates with its powerful action sequences and nightmarish torture scenes.
Naturally, when Pegasus Books published a brand-new hardcover edition last year, I instantly snatched up a copy, and the first thing I noticed was its superbly stylish cover design.
Created by award-winning designer Charles Brock, the book’s jacket brilliantly merges the sophisticated literary 007 with the sensational cinematic version, and the result is one of the most eye-catching Bond covers we’ve seen in a very long time.
A book designer for over 20 years, Brock spent the majority of that time as co-principal and creative director of Faceout Studio, a design firm that produces book covers for a variety of publishers and authors. Throughout his career, his work has been recognized by esteemed organizations like Communication Arts, Print Magazine, Graphis, the New York Book Show, and Bookbuilders West. Now in business for himself, he currently lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and two Bullmastiffs.
I spoke with Brock recently about his work on the Colonel Sun cover. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
JAMES BOND RADIO: Before we discuss your work on Colonel Sun, I’m curious to hear about your relationship with the Bond franchise in general. Are you a fan of the series, or are you more of a casual viewer?
CHARLES BROCK: I’m definitely a fan. My interest in James Bond comes primarily from the films. As a child, I remember staying up at night and watching Bond movies on the late show with my dad. It was always a treat. That’s where I first fell in love with them. Later, I revisited them in my teen years. I had all the VHS tapes, and then I got the DVDs when they came out. I especially loved the early movies. Sean Connery was always my favorite Bond, but I really liked George Lazenby, too. I enjoyed Roger Moore, but more in a nostalgic way. As a kid, his movies always seemed a little more sensational.
JBR: Do you have a favorite film in the series?
CHARLES: I like Thunderball a lot. The underwater scenes still blow my mind. I also watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service over and over again. I can pretty much sit through those first six movies from start to finish whenever they’re on.
JBR: What about the Daniel Craig films? Do you enjoy them as well?
CHARLES: Yeah, I like those a lot. To me, they really brought the series back. I remember my wife and I saw Casino Royale together, and we were just like… Wow!
JBR: I hear that quite often. After the Brosnan era, I think the Craig films were a nice reboot for the franchise. They helped freshen things up.
CHARLES: I don’t dislike Brosnan, but he’s not one of my favorite actors. He always felt a little prissy to me. I mean, you don’t get manlier than Sean Connery, and with Craig I think we got some of that masculine vibe back again. He seems like he really fits the character. He’s confident, sophisticated, and nuanced. So, the Brosnan movies were probably my least favorites in the bunch. I actually liked both of Timothy Dalton’s films quite a bit, though.
JBR: Prior to working on Colonel Sun, had you read any of the Bond books?
CHARLES: No, I hadn’t read any of them, but I picked up a few over the years. My father-in-law was actually a really big fan of the Bond novels. I’m a reader and I love books, which is kind of why I got into designing book covers, but this job makes it difficult to read for fun. I mean, obviously I don’t have time to read every book that I’m doing a cover for, but I have to read a fair amount of them, especially fiction, in order to have a good sense of what they’re about and what their tone is like.
JBR: Did the publisher provide you with a summary of Colonel Sun before you began the assignment?
CHARLES: Yes, they did. It was a brief one. Probably only a couple of pages long. The client was actually pretty straightforward about what they wanted to see on this cover. They said the estate was very particular about not portraying Bond.
JBR: This is the Ian Fleming estate you’re talking about?
CHARLES: Yes. Showing Bond was basically off the table from the start, because they didn’t want to represent him in any kind of way. So, instead we went back to the Maurice Binder credit sequences for inspiration, which kind of made sense to everyone.
JBR: The cover really does have the feeling of those classic credit sequences. From the woman’s pose to the dreamy coloring, it definitely captures Binder’s style.
CHARLES: I was trying to give it that look. I didn’t want to go too dark, because the client said they don’t like darker covers, so I went with more of a ‘60s vibe instead. It’s bright and colorful, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to go too retro with it. That’s why the typeface is more contemporary. One of the other ideas they had was to include something in the background that suggests the Greek Isles, where the story is set. So, I tried to find an appropriate image that I could desaturate and flatten a bit. That way, the type would read well against it and the figure of the woman would stand out nicely.
JBR: This project sounds like the perfect job for a Bond fan.
CHARLES: Oh yeah, this was a lot of fun to work on. I’ve been lucky in my career to get a fair amount of projects that I’d consider dream jobs, whether they’re properties I’ve enjoyed or authors whose work I admire. So, this assignment was really cool when it came in.
JBR: Was the shot of the woman on the cover an existing image or something you photographed yourself?
CHARLES: It was an existing image.
JBR: Complete with the gun in her hand?
CHARLES: Yes. A lot of what we do is make existing images look interesting and unique. Luckily, nowadays with the micro-stock photo sites, there’s some really high-quality stuff available that’s royalty free. You can find images there and manipulate and colorize them to create a custom look. Still, I like to take our own photos when possible, because it’s fun and we’ve done it successfully in the past. We’ve hired models and photographers, and it’s great because you end up with really unique imagery that’s never going to pop up on another book somewhere down the line.
JBR: There’s some text on the cover that refers to the book as “a James Bond adventure,” which I find interesting because so many of the recent books in the series use the dull phrase “a James Bond novel.” Did you suggest using “a James Bond adventure” on the cover, or did that tag line originate with the Fleming estate?
CHARLES: It came to us from the client, Pegasus Books, but I’m sure they had to run it past the estate to get approval.
JBR: The typeface you selected is quite striking and elegant. Did you have to run that by the client as well?
CHARLES: No, this client and I have a really good relationship and they trust me. They showed me about four or five book covers that they liked for reference, including a few Bond covers. From there I presented comps with different approaches. They pretty quickly picked the one we ultimately went with. We didn’t do any revisions from the original design. As I mentioned before, I didn’t want to go too retro. I just wanted to give a little feeling of the ’60s in there somewhere.
JBR: Personally, I think this cover looks much fresher than the standard pastiche we often get in the series. It’s both modern and timeless, and it really catches the eye.
CHARLES: Thanks. That’s what I was hoping for. This felt like the opportunity to do something a little different, while still maintaining what Bond is all about.
JBR: For your own curiosity, did you go back and look at any of the previous Colonel Sun covers?
CHARLES: You know, I actually did. But I can’t recall them at the moment.
JBR: The most famous one is probably the first edition cover by artist Tom Adams. It’s a surreal painting with a melting gun and a humanoid figure with a giant ear for a head. I remember seeing that cover as a child and wondering, “is this the right book?”
CHARLES: I just pulled it up on my computer right now. Yeah, that’s an odd one!
JBR: So, after hearing about your history with Bond, it’s safe to assume that you’d be interested in designing another cover in the series if the occasion ever presented itself, correct?
CHARLES: Absolutely. The stories are so rich with possibilities! I think it would be a lot of fun to go back and repackage some of the classic original novels with a similar look.