Corgi SF Collector’s Library

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Cover artist unknown.

“Here, for the connoisseur, for the devotee of the SF genre, and for those who like their reading to combine excitement with good writing, is the Corgi SF Collector’s Library – a series that brings, in a uniform edition, many of the Greats of SF – standard classics, contemporary prizewinners, and controversial fiction, fantasy, and fact…”

Only in the 1970s would you find a line of SF paperbacks with all the titles set in Thalia, a Victorian typeface revived by the post-psychedelia predilection for any design that was florid and ornate. Corgi’s SF Collector’s Library was published from 1973 to 1976, arriving just as my reading was moving from child-friendly SF to adult fiction. Consequently, I bought quite a few of these books, and still own a couple of them. The design was uniform but with a surprising amount of variation for such a short-lived series. The background colours ranged from deep blue to purple, while the card used for the covers was regular paperback stock for some of the titles with the majority using textured card, a treatment that further distinguished the series from its rivals on the bookshelves.

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Art by Joe Petagno.

Looking at these covers again I’ve been wondering if the idea of framing the artwork in a circle was borrowed from Penguin’s run of HG Wells reprints from 1967. Corgi had done something similar the same year with their Ray Bradbury series (all with art by Bruce Pennington) but the Wells editions went through several reprints, and the SF Collector’s Library follows their form even down to allowing the artwork to break the frame.

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Art by Bruce Pennington.

The samples here are a small selection of the series which featured a fair representation of British SF illustrators of the time. None of the artists were credited on the covers, however—a poor showing on the part of Corgi—so a few of them remain unidentified.

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Art by Tony Roberts.

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Cover artist unknown.

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Lockdown elevation

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The post this week included a poster print by Toby Melville-Brown, an artistic response to the lockdown of April and May. Toby has a colourful graphic style that favours architectural views in the mode of Archigram and other futurists, past and present; at the end of February I featured one of his invented book covers (below) in a weekend post. The title of the cover—Notes from a Troubled Rock—seemed darkly humorous at a time of political turmoil and a growing pandemic. Four months on it reads like a summary of 2020.

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The lockdown poster, Life Indoors: A Cross-Section, is more positive, a cutaway elevation of a high-rise block, with each apartment showing the response of a real person or group of people to the viral situation. To fill out the rooms Toby sent an email to 175 households asking for a photographic reflection of lockdown life. I’m in one of the rooms but if you want to know where you’ll have to buy a copy of the poster which is available here. All profits go to Refuge, a charity supporting those at risk from domestic violence. When I first moved to Manchester I spent four years in a Brutalist flatblock that would have had JG Ballard’s wealthy high-rise denizens fleeing for the suburbs. Toby’s elevation looks like a better place to be.

(And I’ve just been informed that the poster sale will end at midnight [UK time] on Friday 12th June.)

Illustrating Zothique

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Cover art by George Barr, 1970.

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for a Zothique story by Clark Ashton Smith, The Garden of Adompha, so this post may be regarded as a more substantial sequel. If Smith remains something of a cult author then Zothique is the pre-eminent cult creation from his career as a writer of weird fiction. Most of Smith’s stories can be grouped together according to their location: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne in medieval France, the planet Mars, and so on. Zothique was a more original conception than his other worlds, being the last continent on Earth in the final years of the planet, an idea which had precedents in earlier novels such as William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land but which hadn’t been used before as a setting for a cycle of stories. The distant future suggests science fiction but, as with the Zothique-influenced Dying Earth of Jack Vance, science and technology is long-forgotten and sorcery rules the day. The poetry that Smith wrote before he took to writing short stories had a distinctly Decadent quality—”like a verbal Gustave Moreau painting“—and Zothique is a richly Decadent world, with the entire planet in a state of decay along with its barbarous, demon-worshipping peoples.

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Weird Tales, September 1932. Art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

All the Zothique stories had their first printings in Weird Tales, a magazine that ran illustrations with most contributions, but unless you’re a pulp collector many of the illustrations have been difficult to see until very recently. One of the pleasures of looking through fiction magazines is seeing how their stories might have been illustrated when they were first published. Popular tales eventually find their way into book collections but their illustrations tend to be marooned in the titles where they first appeared unless the artist is of sufficient merit to warrant a collection of their own.

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Weird Tales, March 1933. Art by Jayem Wilcox.

The examples here are all from recent uploads at the Internet Archive which now has a complete run of Weird Tales from 1923 to 1954. The illustrations also run in order of publication with links to the relevant issues, although I agree with Lin Carter’s ordering of the stories. Smith never organised them himself, and the later reprints from Arkham House and others tend to scatter them through separate volumes. When Lin Carter edited the Zothique collection in 1970 he put the stories into an order that follows the very loose chronology running through the cycle.

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Weird Tales, January 1934. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.

One surprise of this search was discovering that Smith himself had provided illustrations for several of the stories. Some Smith enthusiasts like his drawings and paintings but I’m afraid I’m not among them, his sculpture work is better. It’s doubtful that these would have been printed at all if they weren’t the work of the author.

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Weekend links 481

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L’Hamestoque (1977) by Christine Gaussot.

• Another announcement from Strange Attractor Press: Of Mud & Flame: A Penda’s Fen Sourcebook edited by Matthew Harle and James Machin will be published at the end of October. Among the contents will be the screenplay of David Rudkin’s cult television play, an item that’s always been impossible to find in print.

• A trailer for Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955), another semi-animated fantasy film by Karel Zeman which will released on disc next month by Second Run.

• “There was craziness in getting lost and dizzy.” Stereolab choose favourite songs from their back catalogue.

E=MC² (1976), an album of spacey jazz-electronica by Teddy Lasry which has never been reissued.

• “Why do so many book covers look the same? Blame Getty Images,” says Cory Matteson.

• Mix of the week: The Ephemeral Man’s Teapot by The Ephemeral Man.

Masataka Nakano has been photographing a deserted Tokyo for almost 30 years.

• Beyond the bounds of depravity: an oral history of David Cronenberg’s Crash.

Woodblocks in Wonderland: The Japanese Fairy Tale Series.

• A new novel by M. John Harrison is always a good thing.

Hamid Drake‘s favourite music.

Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Crash (1980) by Tuxedomoon | A Crash At Every Speed (1994) by Disco Inferno