Harry Willock book covers

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This time last year I happened to be re-reading my way through the collected short stories of HG Wells; this year I’ve been reading The Island of Doctor Moreau, not to continue the seasonal trend, I simply felt the urge. More about Moreau tomorrow.

These covers are from a series of Penguin reprints which first appeared in 1967 and went through several editions. Harry Willock was the cover artist, and may also have been the designer of the Wells and Verne titles, other text-only Penguin covers from around this time being credited to Willock. The Penguin Science Fiction site describes the obtrusive “A Penguin Book” legend as the “panic top”, a heavy-handed attempt by Penguin’s management to reinforce their brand. Later reprints dropped this but it’s stamped across most of these editions.

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This edition of The War of the Worlds was my first encounter with the novel so the cover has always been very familiar, a factor which probably prevented me from seeing how effectively all the Willock Wells covers work as a set. The Martian war machines aren’t very menacing—especially when they seem to have done little but arouse a pair of butterflies—but I do like the type layouts and the way the illustrations are concentrated into a circle. Willock’s drawings so closely imitate the style of Victorian engravings it’s easy to take them at first glance for the genuine article.

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Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal

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Detail from La Havane by René Portocarrero; photo by C. Marker.

This week’s book finds are a pair of titles I hadn’t come across before in these particular editions, another haul from the vast continent that is the Penguin Books back catalogue. Labyrinths I’ve had for years in a later edition (see below) but the cover of this one seems more suited to Borges (as much as he can be illustrated) than the somewhat bland Surrealism of illustrator Peter Goodfellow. René Portocarrero (1912–1985) was a Cuban painter with a post-Picasso style who specialised in hallucinogenic profiles like the one here. And it’s a guess but I’d bet the “C. Marker” who photographed the painting is French filmmaker Chris Marker (who I compared to Borges last year), director of La Jetée and Sans Soleil. Marker worked as a photo-journalist for many years and made a documentary entitled ¡Cuba Sí! in 1961.

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