Selected Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book Covers Part 1
A varied selection of retro SF and Fantasy book art. Sci-Fi-O-Rama was pretty much built upon the back of posting forgotten book and games art, so with a renaissance in blog activity what better than to revisit the archives and excerpt another sampler.
What’s fascinating with each of these examples is that though they might not always fully hit the mark there’s always something of interest or worthy of reference. This then might be a style of colouring, a technique in rendering, the choice and application of a typeface, or even something as obscure as the design of a motif. In short, even the most subtle fragment of detailing can flick a creative switch, it’s all about your own imagination. That isn’t, however, to say that every Sci-Fi book cover has merit – au contraire – they most certainly do not. But that’s what we’re here for, to filter and serve only the very finest…
In putting this (abridged) selection together we’re go revisit several of the artists featured at Sci-Fi-O-Rama before, people who defined and shaped the genre such as David Pelham, Dean Ellis, Ian Miller and others perhaps slightly less well known such Adrian Chesterman or Peter Tybus. The majority of covers here have come via my Flickr favourites feed and prior to that a Flickr group I’ve mentioned before, the simply titled ‘Sci-Fi Books‘ pool. Of course, these days with Tumblr and Pinterest and the ever-evolving Google image search there is a multitude of ways to sophistically search for this kind of art, but I would say the crowd sourced ‘Sci-Fi Books’ collection still represents the best entry point. As such I recommend that as the first stop on the road for further research.
Let us begin with the art and notes, starting with the header image….
‘Nightmare Blue’ Art by Justin Todd 1975 (top of post)
As is customary I always load the post head with the most arresting image of the pack, so what to say about this one? Hmmm… Well, how about for starters it’s bloody mental. Supremely sinister and rendered in an unusual very idiosyncratic style, this is the work of British Artist Justin Todd. Something about it is strangely very contemporary, but in fact, it dates from 1975 and so is actually slightly older than your site author.
Todd, an artist I’ve only just come across, is a classically trained illustrator he lectured Illustration at Brighton University in the 1960’s alongside Raymond Briggs (The Snow Man, When The Wind Blows). Someone I’ve earmarked to revisit, for now you can read a little more on him here at arts.brighton.ac.uk.
The story, by the way, revolves around a highly addictive drug ‘Nightmare Blue’ whose users die without another hit… I’ll just point out I haven’t actually read any of the books featured here, so I’ll add a little snippet like this with each cover.
‘Cinnabar’ Peter Goodfellow 1978
This is one of those slightly abstract airbrush type covers so popular in the 70’s, the indeterminable sense of scale and swathes of cobalt blues lend an appropriate otherworldly theme. This is English artist Peter Goodfellow’s depiction of Cinnabar, a city at the centre of’ time.
The book is actually a collection of short stories based around this would be futuristic utopia, I believe some which may have been printed in the legendary OMNI magazine which I’ve posted about way back when. Interestingly after forging a career Illustrating book covers, Goodfellow would move to become a highly regarded landscape painter in Scotland, that future path perhaps hinted at here by the covers distant snowcapped mountains.
Read a little more about Peter Goodfellow here.
‘Frankenstein Unbound’ Art by Paul Bacon 1975
The cover of Brian Aldiss’s ‘Frankenstein Unbound’ comes complete with an appended $1 mark scrawled on the monster’s temple. Ignoring the graffiti then, and this slick inked illustration is the work of American graphic designer and Illustrator Paul Bacon. Love the subtle shift in hues and the way the grained texture of the heavy watercolour paper comes through. This style is in fact very reminiscent of Micheal Foreman, who illustrated the original Erik the Viking book, that was featured here a little while back.
Again somewhat embarrassingly this was the first I’d actually heard of Paul Bacon, although I’m not entirely sure how as I am familiar with some of his work. Perhaps you are too? Bacon created the iconic first edition covers for some of the 20th century’s most important novels including Ken Kesey’s ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five‘ and the legendary ‘Catch 22‘ by Joseph Heller (love that book). Read a little more about Paul Bacon at Wikipedia.
A quick story synopsis: Time travelling 21st American Joe Bodenland finds himself with Byron and Shelley in the famous villa on the shore of Lake Geneva. More fantastically, he finds himself face to face with a real Frankenstein. Sounds pretty good, and indeed in 1990 was adapted to the big screen with no other than Roger Corman at the helm, the undisputed heavyweight champ of cult cinema. Frankenstein Unbound stars staring John Hurt, Bridget Fonda and Raul Julia check it at IMDB.
‘ The Incandescent Ones’ – Adrian Chesterman
This sinister looking chromed robotic figure is the work of Adrian Chesterman another artist who’s popped up here before. Chesterman, an American artist produced a series of these somewhat warped airbrushed covers for Penguin Science Fiction during the late 70’s and Early 80’s. It’s a look that’s quite distinguishable being characterised by exceptional costume styling and rendered with just the right amount of highlighting sheen. Above is a fine demonstration of these traits, and as with all Chesterman’s covers is underpinned by a deep love for the subject matter.
Also of note is that despite being a (one assumes) being from the future, it’s also impossible to escape the influence of the present or what is now the past. As such Chesterman’s work contains subtle visual clues that reflect the times; a touch of Disco here, a splash of ‘Simon Says’ and of course the inevitable Starwars references.
Definitel a favourite of mine, check out the complete set of Adrian Chesterman cover’s over at the excellent Penguin Science Fiction website.
A quick note the on the book itself and this one sounds perhaps targeted towards a younger adult demographic. A young art student receives a cryptic message that is to lead him on to a series of startling adventures…
‘Times Last Gift’ Art by Peter Tybus 1975
A rainbow coloured somewhat fauvist cover from Peter Tybus this one dating from 1975. The story, if you hadn’t of guessed revolves around time travel.
Tybus is something of a Sci-Fi-O-Rama enigma, and there is little or no digital footprint of him beyond a series of magazine and book illustrations dating from the 1970s. Indeed the top search result listed by google is in fact a Sci-Fi-O-Rama’s past feature on him. Anyway there’s always alot of love here for his iridescent style that’s also reminiscent of the work of David Pelham, of course, also a Penguin Sci-Fi Cover illustrator.
If you do have more info on Peter Tybus do let us know, it’d be great to one day run an expanded feature…
‘R is for Rocket’ cover art by Ian Miller
A collection of Short Stories penned by Ray Bradbury. This cover is the unmistakable work of British illustrator and blog favourite Ian Miller, featured a good few times before. Millers work is a demonstration in ornate crafting finished with laser guided precision and is juxtaposed into chaotic compositions swathed with wild gothic stylings. This is the definition of frenetic, never a moment will your eye rest upon Ian’s work, such is demonstrated above. Also take note of a hawk-eyed passion for architectural and geometric detailing.
Miller doesn’t really do Sci-fi or Fantasy, the work is simultaneously both and neither, and of course is all the better for it. If you are unfamiliar with his work and intrigued (you should be) why not have a browse back through past entries or check his official website ian-miller.org.
‘The Menzentian Gate’ (Year Unknown)
The Menzentian Gate is a fantasy novel, penned in 1958 and is part of whats known as the Zimiamvian Trilogy. The saga fact loosely linked to Eddison’s more famous work ‘ The Worm Ouroboros‘ featured here way back in 2008.
The cover is by Barbara Remmington an American artist and Illustrator most famous for her Ballatine Books first edition covers for Lord of the Rings. It’s a colourful style of work reminiscent perhaps of that Bayeux tapestry mode of visual storytelling, and busy composition loaded with clues and character. Certainly captures the ethos of what a fantasy book should like, and the Dragon/Serpent looks fantastic.
‘Der Himmel über Pern‘
From the dragon that devours its own tail to one that shrouds an astronaut. Let’s not beat about the bush here, this cover is tarnished by some feeble typesetting. But lets clone stamp that out of the way and concentrate on the artwork. Judging by the creatures sinister almost demonic appearance I’m guessing this could be the work of Wayne Barlowe or possibly Chris Achilleos, both masters in the art of fashioning evil looking winged reptilian beasts. It may well be however that it’s the work of someone else entirely, please post if you know. Also are dragons actually reptilian? If I ever see one I’ll be sure to ask.
The German title translates as ‘The Skies of Pern’ a science fiction novel by the American-Irish author Anne McCaffrey. The story is just one of a series set on the mythical world of Pern and the concept of Dragon Rider’s, hence the cover art.
‘Gillis Bonde från Ham’ (Farmer Giles of Ham) – 1970 by Rolf Lagerson
Another Dragon here and a swerve towards decidedly lighter material. This is cover for a 1970 Swedish edition of the J. R. R. Tolkien children’s book ‘Farmer Giles of Ham’. Tolkien originally wrote the story of Farmer Giles and his encounters with the wily Dragon Chrysophylax (great name) back in 1939 but it wasn’t to be published until 1949.
Lovely illustration from Rolf Lagerson which I came across by chance whilst pin-balling around various Pinterest boards. Drilling through to source to uncover Laura Ottina‘s wonderful Illustration blog ‘Animalarium‘. Animalarium put simply is a a vast resource of illustrated animal imagery, best summarised by it’s own simple strapline: “Animals as an endless source of creative inspiration”.
‘The Tar-Aiym Krang’ art by Dean Ellis 1972
Back up to Sci-Fi and here’s another taster from a prolific genre Illustrator, the late Dean Ellis. I believe this is the seventh appearance on Sci-Fi-O-Rama of an Ellis Illustration, all are characterised with a highly distinctive almost classical style, similar in many ways to the work of space art pioneer Chesley Bonestell. Beautiful renderings of distant worlds and the inky black star-fields the lay within, Ellis’s work is awash with soft hues and subtle shading.
If it’s your first time viewing a Dean Ellis cover I certainly recommend taking the time to study more
The book itself; ‘The Tar-Aiym Krang’ sounds like classic space opera fare and focuses on young orphan and thief known as ‘Flinx ‘ who comes cross a fabled star map…
‘Empire of The Atom’ 1974 (Designer Unknown)
An interesting typographic solution with smart colour schemes forms the cover for a 70’s edition of Van Vogt’s 1957 novel. Empire of the Atom caused something of a stir at the time due to similarities with Robert Graves’s Claudius stories. Having read neither, I couldn’t possibly pass judgement! Slick graphics though proving minimal jacket sleeves such as these can have just as much impact…
Well once again, what started out as mini post idea and a brief scan through Flickr has completely snowballed out of control into another creaking behemoth type article. This one is playing out like a Sci-Fi-O-Rama Who’s Who, and there’s, of course, many more artists I can and will feature. However, I’m slightly conscious of post length and attention spans, not least of which my own! so I’m going to sever the post here and conclude with a Part 2…
In the Meantime, be sure to check out the following resources…