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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

ARTIST PROFILE: Ian Robinson - created 13 Christie book covers for Fontana in the 1960s.

Updated: 2 days ago

In 1963 Fontana paperbacks made the decision to change the narrative style of cover art for their Agatha Christie books away from the pulpy femme fatale style they had been using in the 1950s and the basic text blocks that crept into use in the early 1960s. The new directive was to shift to a trompe l'oeil style that would incorporate a few key elements from each book. This new approach shifted the world of cover art for the next twenty years. The art now became an integral part of the mystery itself, initially intriguing the book buyer with the clues, and then drawing the reader in to solve them. As such, the story and the art became mutually symbiotic for the first time since paperbacks emerged in the 1930s.

Two artists were hired by Fontana to design these covers in the 1960s - Tom Adams and Ian Robinson. In 1962 Fontana asked Adams to design a cover for "A Murder Is Announced". This cover was first used on the 4th Fontana impression of this title, printed August 1963. Book sales were swift so a 5th impression, using the same art had to be released just three months later. The success proved to Fontana that the new style of cover art was the right shift in tone. Fontana chose to use this new artistic direction on both the ongoing stream of new paperbacks, as Christie's new books shifted from hardback versions, and on updating much of the back catalogue. Yet during the early 1960s Adams was still actively engaged in other commitments so Fontana hired artist Ian Robinson to support this initial volume of releases. While Adams ended up creating over 100 covers for Christie (several titles were redesigned), Ian Robinson created a total of 13 covers - from 1965 to 1972.

Fontana consciously directed both artists to deliver a similar aesthetic. As such the average reader would be hard pressed to know there were different artists involved. To make identification harder, due to the volume of work demanded during these early years combined with the natural evolution of an artist honing their craft over time, some of Tom Adams' early covers were not of a similar quality to his later covers. Tom's notes show that he grouped these together as his "ten substandard covers". Tom later created new covers that met his personal standards to replace them. Both the original 10 and their replacements will be the subject of a later article. However, because these 10 are stylistically different from his later work, many have speculated they were by a different artist - commonly assumed to be Ian Robinson. Consequently, there has been a lot of misinformation and speculation over the years about who did which covers and for many fans the hope is that this clarity will be appreciated.

This article is the first time a definitive list of the 13 Robinson covers has been made available that includes the year the books were first published. Support was provided by both Tom Adams (in prior years) and, more recently, Georgie Adams to help create this article. In addition, notes made during an interview between Tom Adams and John Curran about this topic were also reviewed.

Ian Robinson was a gifted artist and yet his contribution to the wonderful Fontana Christie paperbacks of the 1960s is often forgotten - likely due to this uncertainty in the fan and collector worlds of which really were his books. Hopefully this clarity will bring greater appreciation for his contribution to the world of Christie books.

For each of the books below, the earliest known Fontana edition that used his cover is listed. These first uses are believed to be completely accurate. However, it must be noted Fontana had many errors with their publishing histories as listed inside their paperbacks. As one example, multiple copies of "Cards on the Table" are known to exist with different print histories. One copy states the 6th impression was from June 1968, while another cites the 6th as April 1964. and the 7th as June 1968. Readers are encouraged to let us know if they have a copy of an earlier stated use of Robinson's work. However, the 13 titles listed below are the complete list of Robinson covers.

The List:

The Pale Horse

First used on the 1972 Fontana edition. This was the last Robinson cover created. Given the other covers, I would expect to have seen this cover used in the 1960s. However, it is possible Fontana held on to it, releasing it later than the rest.

The Big Four

First used on the 1st Fontana edition in 1965. This was the first Robinson cover.

The Labours of Hercules

First used July 1966 on the 3rd impression.

The Listerdale Mystery

First used in 1966 on the 3rd impression.

Partners in Crime

First used in March 1967 on the 2nd impression.

Dumb Witness

First used in 1967.

The ABC Murders

First used in October 1967 on the 3rd impression.

Cards on the Table

First used in June 1968. Due to publishing errors by Fontana this may reflect as either the 6th or 7th impression.

Sad Cypress

First used in 1968 on the 6th impression.

Five Little Pigs

First used in 1968 on the 6th impression.

The Hollow

First used in 1968 on the 9th impression.

A Murder is Announced

First used in October 1969 on the 7th impression.

The Mystery of the Blue Train

First used in 1969 on the 10th impression.

Values: Most of these paperbacks are readily accessible and can be obtained in very good condition for £10 UK ($13 US). However, a few of the books are particularly difficult to find, especially in good condition. These are Five Little Pigs, Partners in Crime and The Listerdale Mystery. Expect to pay up to double if being sold by a knowledgeable seller for any of those titles. That said, building a collection of Ian Robinson covers is a great way to celebrate this artist's contribution to the Christie world of books.

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