Old Marvel versus Sherlock Holmes


Arriving in the post this week, one of the books whose covers I was creating late last year. Work-wise, the past year has been busier than usual which means I’ve fallen behind with the logging of recent commissions. In the past few months I’ve created several album designs, more book covers, an entire book design (cover plus interior), and also been working on two bigger projects at the same time. Things have calmed down a little now so updates will be forthcoming.


Old Marvel: The Scientific Detective is another design for Mark Williams’ Dark Lantern Tales imprint which once again resurrects a forgotten detective from pulp obscurity, and in a larger format than before. The new volume is significant for presenting a Sherlock Holmes-like character—credited to the pseudonymous “Grip”—who predates Holmes’ first appearance by three years, thereby suggesting a possible inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes collector Joe Rainone provides the details of publication and sets out the available evidence in an informative foreword. The Old Marvel character not only pre-empts Holmes by using his scientific knowledge to solve mysteries but he also pre-empts subsequent generations of spies and investigators with the various gadgets he uses, including what may be the first fictional deployment of an Edison voice recorder. My brief for the cover was to combine the illustration of the character with a vignette showing a shipping disaster from the story plus some of the contents of the detective’s tool kit.


The book is actually two stories in one volume, with the second half being a reprint of the very first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. Both stories are presented as semi-facsimiles of their original US printings, together with reproductions of title pages and so on. The Holmes story is reproduced from its appearance in The Illustrated Home Guest in 1892, and includes rare illustrations one of which appears on the cover. Doyle’s first Holmes novel is the most controversial of all his stories—at least if you’re a Mormon—since this is the one where the inhabitants of Salt Lake City are depicted as a murderous religious cult. I filled out the cover with panels showing the two main story locations: a view of London via Ludgate Circus and a canyon in Utah. Finding a period engraving of St Paul’s Cathedral that remained visually interesting when narrowed down in this way took some time.


Previously on { feuilleton }
More detectives
The Joe Phenix Detective Series
Illustrating Sherlock Holmes

More detectives


I was going to post these designs a couple of weeks ago but other things kept intervening. Gilded Age Detective Stories and Steam-Age Crime Stories follow my earlier design for the Joe Phenix Detective Series (below), with all three forming a colour-coded trilogy of books from Dark Lantern Tales reprinting late-Victorian crime fiction. My earlier post about the Joe Phenix series went into some detail about the lettering design so there’s no need to repeat that here. The new covers follow the template established by the first, the main deviation being the larger title box for Crime Stories, each title of which is by a different author. As before, the illustrations are adapted from the often crude wood engravings that ran with the original stories. The illustrations in pulp magazines of this period tend to lack the finesse of their counterparts in books and newspapers but then you could say the same about the stories; if you’re attracted to this material then the rough edges are part of the package.


As before, all these books are currently available as ebooks only but plans are afoot for a series of paperback reprints. Any further news about this will be posted in due course.


Previously on { feuilleton }
The Joe Phenix Detective Series

The Joe Phenix Detective Series


After six months of black-and-white drawing it’s been good to return to colour book covers of which this is the first of a new crop of designs. Albert W. Aiken (c.1846–1894) was a prolific American author of pulp fiction, whether writing under his own name or pseudonymously (and sometimes as a woman) for Dime Library, Banner Weekly, Saturday Journal and many other publications. Joe Phenix (also named Phoenix in later stories) was one of his more popular creations, a late-Victorian detective whose investigations ran to over 20 adventures. These tales are in the process of being made available by Mark Williams in ebook form so my task was to provide a single cover design that could function for all the titles.

In keeping with the new format, the style deployed here is mostly a pastiche of the dime novel idiom with a few contemporary touches. Many of the dime publications favoured a large box in the top third of the cover which would contain a typically florid title arrangement. The accompanying illustrations were often comparatively crude but the titles followed the style of the period with engraved drop shadows, gradients and lots of fine decoration. It’s fun to imitate this style although it can also be more time-consuming than contemporary design since everything has to be worked out one piece at a time. Several of the decorative elements on this cover are what printers used to refer to as “combination ornaments”, very small details which can be pieced together in a number of ways to form banners, borders and other motifs. Combination ornaments were a solution to the problem of working elaborate decoration into spaces of variable size and shape; instead of a pre-shaped design you’d shape the decoration to fit the space. They were also lucrative since printers charged for the use of each small element. In a digital composition such as this the joins between the pieces are invisible but in a period design you can often spot the combination pieces (especially in border designs) when the individual elements fail to line up properly. The figure with the gun, incidentally, is Mr Phenix himself, taken from the cover of Beadle’s Dime Library.

The first few Joe Phenix titles are available now at Amazon and other ebook outlets with further titles to follow.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The man who wasn’t Tesla
The George Dower Trilogy by KW Jeter
Steampunk in the Tank
More vapour trails
Steampunk catalogued
Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism
Steampunk Calendar
Words and pictures
Nathanial Krill at the Time Node
Fiendish Schemes
Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam
Steampunk Revolution
The Bookman Histories
Aether Cola
Crafting steampunk illustrations
SteamPunk Magazine
Morlocks, airships and curious cabinets
The Steampunk Bible
Steampunk Reloaded
Steampunk overloaded!
More Steampunk and the Crawling Chaos
Steampunk Redux
Steampunk framed
Steampunk Horror Shortcuts