Friday 30 July 2010

Frank Bellamy's book illustrations: Not too narrow ... not too deep

 1965 version by Frank Bellamy

I have just finished reading an interesting paperback from the 1960s as a result of learning a while ago that Bellamy did an illustration for it. The book in question is "Not too narrow...not too deep", the first novel by Richard Sale (born 1911 died 1993).

It was in the same year in that James M. Cain wrote one of my favourite films "Double Indemnity", Richard Sale wrote "Not too narrow...not too deep". This book of only 158 pages takes us from the steamy jungle prison camp with 10 (or is that 11?) inmates as they escape and buy a small boat to take to Trinidad, then to Cuba and into the United States. The daily drudge of scorching heat, water rationing and the endless swell of the ocean, is only interrupted storms at night and the loss of some of the escapees and by the musings of our narrator (a doctor) as he observes the interactions between all the occupants of the boat. The real story is who is this eleventh man? Who is Jean Cambreau? And how does he know the future of this group?

By the way, some reviews have been lazy in copying false information. I very much doubt that a prison break covering the distance from 'New Guinea' to Trinidad would work.  The reviewers obviously are mixing up the the largest island in the Indonesian archipelago -New Guinea with French Guiana, which on the northern Atlantic coast of South America.

 1950 version (artist unknown)

I enjoyed the book and was surprised how subtle the story's handling of this strange 11th man and how up to date the writing style is.  I could only see one line that made the book look dated (a reference to how the quantity of aeroplanes was likely to increase!) The atmosphere of unending heat, the availability of water - but none to drink - and their encounters on the mainland were very naturalistic. For those curious about the title, below is the relevant passage but don';t think the whole book is like this, it's not.:

"Listen to me," he said. "There is a town in Jehoraz not far from the old glory of Judea where an old Jew lived. He was very old and he knew that soon he would die, so he had his grave dug before he died to make certain that it would be just as he wanted it. When the grave-digger had finished, the Jew went to the grave and looked down into it and he shook his head and said: This grave will not do at all. The grave-digger was surprised. He'd worked hard and he considered it a good job, well done. So he said: What is wrong with this grave? Then the old Jew replied: I cannot lie in a grave like this. It is much too narrow and much too deep. When the day of resurrection comes, how shall I be able to scale the sides of it and come forth? With the bottom so deep. I will  not be able to climb out. With the sides so narrow, I will not be able to get a foothold. So the grave-digger made the grave shallower and widened the sides, and the old Jew was satisfied and returned home to die."

The book was adapted into a well remembered but renamed classic "Strange Cargo" starring Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Peter Lorre amongst others. The fact there is no woman in the book (except for in a couple of pages before they set off on their journey) means we have the sexual tension (as best Hollywood can do in 1940) and romance. The best site for more information on the film is here . Roughly translating the non-English titles of the film versions from around the world: Spanish and Italian "Devil's Island"; French "The cursed/damned cargo"; Swedish "Flight/Escape"; and finally the German "The fantastic rescue" (which oddly is most appropriate in my opinion - read the book and you'll see why I say that.)

1936 version (artist unknown)

Sale (and his wife, Mary Loos) did adapt various stories to screenplays but not this one. Famously he directed the sequel to "Gentlemen prefer blondes""Gentlemen Marry Brunettes", written by his wife's aunt, Anita Loos  (1955).

Sale wrote lots of pulp stories in Argosy but also a series of 51 stories in Detective Fiction Weekly called Daffy Dill . To read one click on the link

 Pilgrim Books 1984 (Artist unknown)

Anyway back to Frank Bellamy. The latter part of the 1960s appears to be a time in which Bellamy concentrated on Thunderbirds (after he left the Eagle comic) for TV21. He also produced drawings for the TV 'Avengers' and an advert or three and not much else. This cover (no internal illustrations) illustrated by Bellamy has a brooding portrait watching over the boat at sea and is in my opinion a perfect rendition of Richard Sale's intent - the 11th mystery man, watching over the group. Is he a supernatural being, a devil, hypnotist or Jesus himself?

 Corgi 1971 (Illustration by Michael Codd)

Terry Doyle, the original owner of the original artwork, contacted me, he sent a message to Chris Power, a long time Bellamy fan who owns several pieces. Chris kindly forwarded this message with 2 clearer scans 
Hello Norman, I read your entry on Not Too Narrow, Not too Deep with great interest. I'm in the happy position of owning both the original and also a preliminary of the cover, which I acquired from Terry Doyle some years back. The originals are absolutely gorgeous, very rich and vivid in their use of colour and fascinating as they gives us a glimpse of an unpublished preparatory work almost the equal of the finished piece. I think the final cover is the stronger, maybe because the 'face' is looking down from the right? It's certainly more 'worked' than the unused picture. Was this Bellamy's own decision? Or had someone from the publishers Corgi asked for a further option? The unused version is certainly worked up to a level where you could imagine it being used. 
I must say your blog is an excellent resource for those of us bewitched by Bellamy's work. 

Long may it continue. 
Below are the finished piece together with a preliminary or rejected piece.

The original painting is a lot brighter in colour than its published counterpart. Having the book, I believe the 'devilish' eyes of the right hand portrait (which was either a preliminary or a rejection) appear to me to lead the reader in one direction that I'm not sure the author meant to portray

Finished artwork

Preliminary / first artwork

Many thanks to Martin Baines (for providing older rough photos) which led to Terry Doyle nudging the current owner, Chris Power, to send me the clearer pictures above!


Terry Doyle said...

I used to own the original artwork to this cover, along with the prelim (which was quite detailed). Interestingly, the original artwork was same size as the printed paperback cover.

Norman Boyd said...

Thanks for this Terry. I had an email from Martin Baines who kindly attached two pictures. Check out my website - and click on the NOTE- for more details

Anonymous said...

>>Interestingly, the original artwork was same size as the printed paperback cover.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that Bellamy did that with a lot of his artwork...can anyone confirm?

B Smith

Norman Boyd said...

Yes and no is the answer 'B'. The Fraser of Africa were definitely drawn same size. His illustrations for Radio Times and earlier magazines were larger.