BEST IN BOOK – print
Studio Sutherl& and illustrator Neil Webb’s stamps for Royal Mail tell the stories of some of Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mysteries in miniature
Summing up the plot of a murder mystery novel in a one-inch postage stamp is no easy feat. It’s a brilliant and complex challenge for a designer: how do you capture a tale with multiple plot twists in a single image that measures not much bigger than a thumbnail?
Studio Sutherl& worked with illustrator Neil Webb to do just that for Royal Mail last year, creating stamps inspired by six of Agatha Christie’s best-known novels. The result is a charming set of designs filled with hidden clues that are revealed under exposure to heat, UV light and a magnifying glass.
The stamps were commissioned to mark the centenary of the publication of Christie’s first detective story, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Studio Sutherl& and Webb created a series of designs inspired by Christie’s debut and follow-ups Murder on the Orient Express, the Body in the Library, And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and A Murder is Announced.
Each stamp is based on a key scene from the book concerned and hidden clues point to a murderer concealed within the artwork. Stamps also feature a hidden letter from Christie’s name, with the full set spelling out ‘Agatha’.
Studio Sutherl& founder Jim Sutherland read each book before developing designs, making notes and scribbling ideas in the margins. He then briefed Neil Webb on each novel’s plot, discussed some initial concepts with him and prepared some “terrible sketches”. Webb took these ideas and created graphic illustrations that are filled with surprising details – from the silhouette of a murderer in a lit window to a cloud of smoke that forms the shape of Poirot’s b face. “Trying to sum up complex plots in one frame is tricky but very rewarding – without giving anything away, other than the clues to the murderers,” says Sutherland. “The books themselves are beautifully written with such clever plots and twists – I was keen to reflect that in the scenes chosen from each story.”
Sutherland worked closely with Webb throughout the process, swapping sketches and ideas. His illustrations capture the glamour of Christie’s novels and the era in which they were set, without looking retro or pastiche. “[Neil] was a fantastic collaborator – it was very much a joint effort,” says Sutherland. “His styling seemed to fit that classic era but in a modern way.”
While each design hints at a violent crime, Studio Sutherl& and Webb had to avoid showing any guns, gore or blood. They also had to avoid spoilers.
The stamps are beautifully designed but it’s the hidden clues and rich details that really set the project apart. These features create moments of delight and turn the humble postage stamp into a miniature murder mystery game, rewarding interaction and close inspection.
“The key was in only using print techniques that helped to tell the stories – not just using a special ink for the sake of it,” says Sutherland. “There’s so much detailing and handcrafting for such small canvasses…. It’s so satisfying to be able to tell a visual story in such a tiny space.”
Entrants: Studio Sutherl& and Neil Webb @ Début Art. Client: Royal Mail Stamps and Philatelic. Creative Director and Designer: Jim Sutherland. Illustrator: Neil Webb @ Début Art. Designer: Alice Tosey. Design Manager: Dean Price, Royal Mail Stamps and Philatelic.