Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Reina M. Bull, who also signed her work RMB and Janine, has been a bit of a mystery woman for collectors of old British science fiction. Almost nothing was known about her beyond a handful of contributions to a couple of SF magazines published in the early 1950s, notable for their flat, almost two-dimensional design. The covers were sexual at a time when the emphasis was on hardware—space rockets, astronauts, robots—or vistas of alien planets; Bull's focal point was always a menaced female. Brian Aldiss called her "one of the most remarkable artists to enter the British field," whilst Simon Marsh-Devine noted that "Her science fiction style has often been considered as reminiscent of Margaret Brundage, an American, painting for Weird Tales, mainly in the 1930s and early 1940s. Though possibly inspired and to an extent influenced by the work of Brundage, another woman, RMB covers were originally conceived and different in style and method."
Her career at the cheaper end of the paperback market began immediately after the Second World War when she was discovered by Todd Publishing, who used a number of imprints—Vallancey Press, Poynings press, Polybooks and Bantam Books—to publish short (often only 16 page) collections of stories during and after the War. These have become very scarce and are highly collectable as they include booklets by Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Louis Golding, E. Phillips Oppenheim, P. C. Wren and many others.
Her subsequent career in this market was patchy and came to an end with her contribution of four covers to Nova Publications in the early 1950s. Between those two dates—1945 to 1952—she produced some remarkable work. Her career outside of those two dates remained a mystery, although I can now fill in a few gaps relating to her family life.
She was born Reina Mary Sington in Bexhill-on-Sea on 24 July 1924, the eldest daughter of Alfred Julius Sington and his wife Gwendoline. Alfred Sington was born in Hamburg, Germany, in around 1890, a German subject, who moved to England and was living with his uncle Philip J. Jonas, a farmer based in Stock, Essex, by 1901. Alfred earned a scholarship at St. Paul's School and attended University College, London, studying German.
During the First World War he served with the 3rd Home Counties (Cinque Ports) Brigade, earning a Military Cross, which he was awarded in 1919. He continued to serve in the Territorial Army Reserve with the 59th (Home Counties) Brigade into the early 1920s and rose to the rank of Captain in 1924.
In 1923, Professor Sington married Gwendoline De Pinna in Battle, Sussex. Two daughters were born, Reina Mary in 1923 and Sylvia Ann in 1925. In 1926 Alfred and Gwendoline travelled to Japan where Alfred worked as a lecturer in Kobe. Gwendoline returned to raise their children in Bexhill-on-Sea until 1930 when the whole family travelled to Japan, where another daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1931. Gwendoline and her children returned to England in 1934 and Professor Sington followed in 1936. It is possible that Professor Sington was the A. J. Sington appointed in 1948 as His Majesty's Consul for Solovakia who resided in Bratislava. If that is the case, he was awarded the O.B.E. in 1951.
Alfred Julius Sington died in Sussex in 1951, aged 60. Mrs. Sington outlived her husband by many years, her death registered in Lewes, Sussex, in 1972.
It is interesting to speculate that her early travels to Japan had an influence on the artistic work that Reina Sington was to subsequently produce, although one might also claim that she was as influenced by classic paintings of Rubens and the then contemporary style of fashion design. Whatever her direct influences, Reina Sington melded them into a unique style.
Her early (1945-46) work for Todd was signed 'Sington', and included not only covers (at least two of them for Agatha Christie booklets) but a number of internal illustrations as well. She is next sighted as an illustrator of fairy stories published by T. V. Boardman and Andrew Dakers in 1949. Around the same time she also teamed up with Benson Herbert and began illustrating magazines for his Utopian Press, the first, College Capers (Sep 1948), signed 'Reina' although all her subsequent covers for Utopian were signed 'Janine', perhaps to distance her from her fairy tale illustrations.
The Utopian magazines were collections of saucy short stories with plenty of emphasis on stockings, panties and female flesh, mostly told in a humorous style, but veering off into any direction the monthly title dictated. Utopian's publisher, Benson Herbert, wrote some of the stories himself, but the bulk of the stories were written by Norman Firth and Sydney Bounds, who told me that it was a good place to learn his craft as he was able to practice and get paid at the same time. Syd wrote sexy crime epics like "Death in Black Chiffon" and "Model for Murder", illustrated sexily, but innocently, by 'Janine'.
Because of laws restricting the publication of new periodicals, Herbert's regular monthly magazine carried a new title each issue: Sultry Stories, for instance, was followed over the next few months by Taboo Tales, Prairie Pranks, Footlight Follies, Hayride Antics and Racy Stories. A full checklist of these magazines can be found at our companion site, Bare Alley, not from any prudery on my part but because Bear Alley gets quite a few hits from young children. It's unlikely that they'll be reading this, so consider it a treat for regular readers who actually read these columns.
In 1949 Reina Sington married Randolph Cecil Bull. Bull (1922-1997), a director of publisher Home & van Thal Ltd. who was also an editor of anthologies. His books include Perturbed Spirits (Arthur Barker, 1954), Upon a Midnight (Macdonald, 1957), Great Stories of Detection (Arthur Barker, 1960) and Great Tales of Mystery (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960; reprinted as Great Tales of Terror, Panther, 1963).
Her connection to Nova Magazines, publishers of New Worlds and Science-Fantasy was probably through Walter Gillings, early editor of the latter who may have known Bull from her time at Utopian. She painted four remarkable covers for the two magazines, all of them stylistically remarkable and unique. Simon Marsh-Devine notes: "Certain threads continue to link the two periods, i.e. a complete and deliberate disregard for formal laws of perspective, unusual disjointed and often impossible poses, the use of impractical and very feminine garments whatever the genre."
After the last of her four Nova covers, Reina Bull disappears from sight (my sight, at least). A number of illustrations were submitted by John Carnell to Phil Harbottle in 1969 when Harbottle was editing Visions of Tomorrow but they were non-fantasy and disappointing; Phil rejected them, uncertain if they were old, unused artwork from the 1950s or new material.
It seems likely that Bull and her husband separated at some point as her death was registered under her maiden name of Sington in Uttlesford, Essex, in November 2000.
Books illustrated as Reina Sington
The Black Cat and other stories by Edgar Allan Poe. London, Vallancey Press, 1945.
Holiday from Life by Lyn Arnold. London, Vallancey Press, 1945.
Little Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen. London, Poynings Press, c. 1946.
The Magic Forefinger, and other Welsh fairy stories by William Glynne-Jones. London, T.V. Boardman, 1949.
The Book of Fairy Princes by Isabel Wyatt. London, Andrew Dakers, 1949.
Little Bear by Arthur Groom. Hyland Press, n.d.
Cover illustrations as Reina Sington
Poirot Knows the Murderer by Agatha Christie. London, Francis Hodgson, 1946.
Poirot Lends a Hand by Agatha Christie. London, Francis Hodgson, 1946.
The Invisible Companion and other stories by J. Jefferson Farjeon. London, Polybooks, 1946.
The Talking Gun by Nigel Morland. Polybooks, 1946?
Three Plays by John Galsworthy. Pan Books (49), Jun 1948; reissued as Escape, Pan, 1951.
The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie. Pan Books (55), Jul 1948.
I, Said the Fly by Elizabeth Ferrars. Pan Books (56), Aug 1948.
A Deed Without a Name by Dorothy Bowers. Pan Books (67), Nov 1948.
Cover illustrations as RMB [Reina M. Bull]
Science-Fantasy, Winter 1951, Spring 1952.
New Worlds, Autumn 1951, Nov 1952.