As promised a couple of weeks ago, this book-cover post is one of several that originates with Franz Rottensteiner’s horizon-expanding The Fantasy Book: The Ghostly, the Gothic, the Magical, the Unreal (1978). Rottensteiner’s study was important for me not only for its introduction to many hitherto unknown writers but also for its wide-ranging collection of illustrations and cover designs. Most of the artwork has since become very familiar but a few examples were by artists or designers I hadn’t encountered elsewhere. Hans Ulrich Osterwalder was one of these, his art for a series of German horror titles appearing inside the book and, in the case of the US edition of The Fantasy Book, on the cover. Searching for Osterwalder’s work a few weeks ago I was delighted to discover that the German covers were part of a series of horror/dark fantasy reprints for the Bibliothek des Hauses Usher imprint from Insel Verlag, for which Osterwalder created many more striking and unusual covers.
Bibliothek des Hauses Usher published 26 novels or story collections from 1969 to 1975. I thought at first that this was a paperback series but all the books were hardbacks with uniform black covers and white spines. The imprint logo is a rather ordinary looking House of Usher cracking down the middle (a nod to Arkham House, perhaps) with a slogan on the back cover borrowed from Ambrose Bierce: “Can such things be?” Each volume was printed on light green paper, at least until the paper stock ran out. The last three volumes were printed on white paper then on green again when further stocks were found.
Osterwalder’s work on this series stands out for being innovative, surreal and free of the cliches that persist on horror titles. Most of the artwork is illustrative of the contents but it manages this without being too overt or obvious which isn’t an easy thing to do. The list of authors is an interesting mix as well (if you overlook the typically lamentable absence of women writers): many of the names are those you’d expect in a series such as this but there are also some such as Jean Ray and Stefan Grabinski who you wouldn’t find in an Anglophone series. Grabinski was a Polish writer of weird fiction who receives a mention in Rottensteiner’s book (and is a favourite of China Miéville) but whose work is still largely unknown to Anglophone readers. Just as obscure to English readers is Thomas Owen who was a Belgian writer (real name Gérald Bertot) and a friend of Jean Ray’s. Tartarus Press published a collection of Owen’s stories in 2012 but I’ve not read it so can’t vouch for their quality.
All 26 covers are shown below in their order of publication. Hans Ulrich Osterwalder still works as an artist and designer, and has a website here. Franz Rottensteiner was interviewed at 50 Watts a few years ago.