Boys Own Books




More pulp revenants come blinking back into the light. The runaway success of The Dangerous Book for Boys among fathers as well as sons has set British publishers casting about for new ways to exploit masculine nostalgia. Repackaging a few old warhorses is Penguin’s solution and a cheap one since most (all?) of these titles are out of copyright. I like these covers (and can’t find a design credit unfortunately), they’re well done, capture the right tone and look great as a set.

zenith.jpgThe Man Who Was Thursday seems to be the odd man out (as it were) story-wise. All the other books are typical adventure fare but in Chesterton’s novel what appears at first to be a pot-boiler turns out to be a metaphysical allegory closer to Charles Williams than John Buchan. One of Sax Rohmer‘s Fu Manchu volumes would have been more suited to this series but I suspect their “Yellow Peril” racism makes that less easy today. The Chesterton cover is curiously out-of-synch too, a pastiche of El Lissitzky/Bauhaus styles rather than the Edwardian designs the others are imitating. This isn’t a mistake, however, the fractured lettering suits a tale of anarchists with a plot full of twists and surprises. I tried a similar Modernist approach in 2001 with my jacket for Savoy’s edition of Zenith the Albino. In that instance the style was derived from Mondrian, with the colours coming from the initial description of the albino’s black clothes, white skin and red eyes. I’d venture to suggest that Anthony Skene’s thriller is a far better book than all of the above, Chesterton included, but then I am rather biased.

Update: Coralie from Penguin has the credits in the comments.

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Wladyslaw Benda


The American Magazine, May 1933.

An atypical piece by Wladyslaw Theodor Benda (1873–1948), a Pole who moved to the US to work for the magazines. His illustrations are rarely this splendid but he gained a later reputation as a mask-maker, a talent that would have helped with his cover depicting the Mask of Fu Manchu for Collier’s.


Collier’s, May 7th 1932.

This page has a great succession of images showing how Benda’s original mask design managed to survive reinterpretation by subsequent Rohmer illustrators—what you might call a case of visual Chinese whispers.

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Vintage magazine art II
Vintage magazine art