Crank book covers

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Cover art by Tony Roberts, 1974. A book I received as a present for Christmas, 1974. Also the first place I encountered the words “Popol Vuh”, before discovering the music of Florian Fricke and co. a few years later.

Yes, “crank” is a pejorative word but it’s used with some degree of affection, as in “harmless crank”. It’s also a convenient umbrella term for the books referred to in the weekend post which embrace diverse subjects, from lost continents and “earth energy” to ancient astronauts and flying saucers.

The prime crank decade was the 1970s, a period when publishers were falling over themselves to cash-in on the massive popularity of Erich von Däniken’s dubious investigations, while also catering to the by-products of the hippy era and the occult revival. Books by Charles Fort, Immanuel Velikovsky and James Churchward (the Mu series) all received reprints, with some appearing in paperback for the first time. The British editions of these books were published by imprints like Corgi, Panther and Sphere who were also publishing large quantities of science fiction, a situation that led to many crank titles being packaged as though they were fiction or fantasy. Sphere was in the vanguard, presenting a wide range of books with the same cover designs, cover artists and Novel Gothic typeface as their SF titles. A cynical move, no doubt, but it also makes the crank books seem more like fiction than their authors might have intended.

This post presents a selection of crank titles with cover art by SF artists but there are many more examples out there. (Watch the skies!) I’ve limited the selection to British publishers but the same syndrome was evident in American publishing, as documented at Absolute Elsewhere. And I’ve included a couple of books by sceptics John Sladek and Dr. Christopher Evans. These were intended to dismantle the claims of L. Ron Hubbard, Erich von Däniken and co. but were still packaged in paperback to resemble the books they were attacking. The major demolition of Von Däniken is Ronald Story’s The Space Gods Revealed but covers for that one have always been relatively restrained.

Missing from this list are three paintings by SF artist Peter Jones for books by Dr. Celia Green. The art may be seen in Jones’s Solar Wind collection but I couldn’t find any of the printed covers, which suggests they had a limited run if they were printed at all. These are odd for being typical fantasy imagery attached to serious studies of lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences. Dr. Green is a philosopher and science researcher (she coined the term “out-of-body experience”) so she doesn’t belong on a crank list in any case. Also absent is the most popular British cover illustrator of the decade, Chris Foss, who would have been too busy working through his fiction commissions and creating designs for feature films.

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Cover art by Tony Roberts (?), 1974.

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Cover art by Bruce Pennington, 1974.

Evans was a computer scientist, an occasional contributor to New Worlds magazine, and also the model for the deranged Vaughan in JG Ballard’s Crash. Cults of Unreason investigates crank sects such as the flying-saucer worshippers of the Aetherius Society (hence the cover art), and the Scientologists who caused a stir in Britain in the 1960s when L. Ron Hubbard set up an outpost at East Grinstead.

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Cover art by Colin Hay, 1974.

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Cover art by Angus McKie, 1979.

Continue reading “Crank book covers”

Weekend links 576

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Cover art by Bob Haberfield, 1976.

• I’ve been reliably informed that Australian artist Bob Haberfield died recently but I can’t point to an online confirmation of this so you’ll have to take my word for it. “Science” and “sorcery” might describe the two poles of Haberfield’s career while he was working as a cover artist. His paintings made a big impression on British readers of fantasy and science fiction in the 1970s, especially if you were interested in Michael Moorcock’s books when they appeared en masse as Mayflower paperbacks covered in Haberfield’s art. Haberfield also appeared alongside Bruce Pennington providing covers for Panther paperbacks by HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and others, although his work there isn’t always credited. Dangerous Minds collected some of his covers for a feature in 2017. (The US cover for The Iron Dream isn’t a Haberfield, however.)

• “Like Alice, who can only reach the house in Through the Looking-Glass by turning her back to it, Gorey reversed the usual advice to ‘write what you know’ and wrote the apparent opposite of his own situation.” Rosemary Hill reviewing Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery.

• “Orvil…wanders the countryside, visits churches, rummages in antique shops, and encounters strange men to whom he is no doubt equally strange.” John Self reviewing a new edition of In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch.

• At the Wyrd Daze blog: Q&A sessions with Stephen Buckley (aka Polypores), Gareth Hanrahan, and Kemper Norton.

• “Fellini liked to say that ‘I fall asleep, and the fête begins’.” Matt Hanson on Federico Fellini’s phenomenal films.

• A Beautiful Space: Ned Raggett talks to Mick Harris about the thirty-year history of Scorn.

• Deep in the dial: Lawrence English on the enduring appeal of shortwave radio.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on making a picture for Annie Darwin (1841–1851).

DJ Food looks at pages from Grunt Free Press circa 1970.

• Mix of the week: Fact Mix 814 by Loraine James.

• New music: Clash (feat. Logan) by The Bug.

• At BLDGBLOG: Terrestrial Astronomy.

LoneLady‘s favourite albums.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Porn 2.

Tilings Encyclopedia

Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme) (1977) by Tangerine Dream | Science Fiction (1981) by Andy Burnham | Sorceress (2018) by Beautify Junkyards

Weekend links 403

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Cover art by Bruce Pennington, 1974. Via Clark Ashton Smith vs Bruce Pennington.

Garçons de Joie. Prostitution masculine à Paris 1860-1960 is an exhibition running at Galerie Au Bonheur du Jour, Paris, until May. The catalogue is expensive (and seems to be in French throughout) but features a substantial amount of rare homoerotic art.

• In the latest Expanding Mind podcast Erik Davis talks to Burt Shonberg biographer Spencer Kansa about LA bohemia, psychedelic art, Marjorie Cameron, gumshoe biography, and his new book Out There: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Schonberg.

Gregg Anderson on 20 years of Southern Lord’s dark and heavy art. Related: Earth’s Dylan Carlson announced a new solo album, Conquistador, and single, Scorpions In Their Mouths.

Without any formal training, Smith began to paint and draw his strange visions of sentient plants, grotesque creatures from other dimensions, and throbbing alien landscapes. Eventually commissioned to provide illustrations for Weird Tales, he became one of Lovecraft’s most voluminous correspondents (though never as voluminous as Lovecraft himself). Over the next 10 years, they filled one another’s mailboxes with effusive admiration for each other’s stories and poems. With Lovecraft’s adulatory wind at his back, Smith never strayed far from the Long Valley, and sat home to produce more than a hundred bizarre, linguistically challenging, often unforgettable stories and novelettes for the pulp magazines between 1925 and 1936. Unsurprisingly, Smith’s spurt of fictional creativity didn’t survive the death of Lovecraft in 1937, and while that rich burst of stories may not have earned Smith much money or fame, it caused an almost episteme-shifting earthquake in the brains of the young, aspiring writers lucky enough to read him.

Scott Bradfield on Clark Ashton Smith

Psychomagic, An Art That Heals will be Alejandro Jodorowsky’s next feature film if the crowdfunding is successful. Many rewards are available, large and small.

• At The Quietus this week: Val Wilmer on Sun Ra, and The Strange World of…Cocteau Twins.

• Spectacular images from Chicago’s turn-of-the-century design bible (The Inland Printer).

The shop that buys your dead uncle’s porn collection.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 642 by Mokira.

Cafe Bohemian (1959) by The Enchanters | Genius Of Love (1981) by Tom Tom Club | A Scandal In Bohemia (1986) by United States Of Existence

Science Fiction Monthly

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Art by Chris Foss.

Recent uploads at the Internet Archive include an incomplete run of British magazine Science Fiction Monthly, a large-format collection of SF art and original fiction that ran for 28 issues from 1974 to 1976. Science Fiction Monthly was significant for my generation since it was the only regular British SF magazine available in the mid-70s. (Michael Moorcock and co. were still producing issues of New Worlds but the only ones I saw were the quarterly paperbacks). Science Fiction Monthly was published by New English Library which made it seem at first glance like a promotional tool for the publisher, even more so when most of the cover art and almost all the ads were for NEL titles. The early issues lean heavily on NEL content but later issues had a broader reach and contained all the features you’d expect from an SF magazine of the period: news columns, film reviews, interviews, a bad comic strip, and so on. The thing I liked most at the time was the reproduction of book cover art at a large size, with full-colour paintings filling the broadsheet pages or spreads, all printed with the intention of being removed and fixed to bedroom walls. The early issues were also unique in giving regular attention to the artists, running interviews and even showing photographs of the people responsible for all of that familiar paperback art. I didn’t see all of the early issues but the interviews were later collected in book form by NEL in Visions of the Future (Janet Sacks ed., 1976), a volume that made a considerable impression since it showed me that SF and fantasy illustration was a viable career rather than the product of remote and mysterious talents.

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Artist Bruce Pennington (see this post).

A few page samples follow. It’s a shame the collection at the Internet Archive is incomplete since the magazine’s contents were interesting to the end. The only copy I own today is the one for October 1975 (not currently available online) which is almost a JG Ballard special, with a feature on the writer, an interview about his new novel, High-Rise, and an original piece of fiction.

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Art by Bruce Pennington.

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Art by David Pelham.

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The art of Karel Thole, 1914–2000

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The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976).

A disagreement I have with the burgeoning world of Lovecraft art is the relentless focus on monsters—and I say this in a week when I’ve been working on a new commission of exactly this: six pictures of Lovecraftian creatures. Lovecraft famously emphasised atmosphere as the paramount ingredient in a weird story, and atmosphere in his fiction is often generated by his descriptions of landscape and architecture; Angela Carter’s insightful essay in the George Hay Necronomicon (1978) was entitled Lovecraft and Landscape. Architecture often receives considerable attention in the stories: The Call of Cthulhu, The Dreams in the Witch House, The Haunter of the Dark, and At the Mountains of Madness all concern invented (or reimagined) architectural settings. Given this, you’d expect architecture to be more represented in Lovecraft art but this is seldom the case. When it comes to Cthulhu, a creature whose myriad representations must be reaching some kind of critical mass, artists will lavish great attention on tentacles, claws and flourished wings but the Cyclopean stones of R’lyeh are invariably reduced to a tentative backdrop.

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I mostri all’angolo della strada (The Monsters on the Street Corner, 1966).

Hence the attraction of the wraparound cover by Karel Thole for I mostri all’angolo della strada, a Lovecraft story collection with one of the few cover designs I’ve seen that attempts to communicate anything of the writer’s preoccupations with angled space. Thole was a very prolific Dutch artist, producing many covers for Italian publisher Mondadori, and painting covers for Mondadori’s SF magazine, Urania, for over 20 years. The first paintings of Cthulhu I saw were those by Thole (above) and Bruce Pennington in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (1978); Thole’s monster doesn’t have the required scale (and Pennington’s cover is a favourite) but for me it still carries a Proustian charge. The art for I mostri all’angolo della strada was featured in The Cosmical Horror of HP Lovecraft (1991), one of the first attempts to anthologise Lovecraft-related illustration past and present. The book contains many excellent reprints together with dubious material from European comics. Thole’s street scene—a curious combination of Escher, De Chirico and Art Nouveau—stood out among page after page of slavering abominations. I’d like to see more art that follows this direction; less of the monsters, more of the monstrous architecture.

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Colui che sussurrava nel buio (The Whisperer in Darkness, 1963).

Continue reading “The art of Karel Thole, 1914–2000”