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Friday, March 04, 2016

Comic Cuts - 4 March 2016

I've reached the conclusion that I really need to sort out my office. I mean it REALLY needs sorting out. The reason is simply that a dozen-or-so books have gone missing and I haven't a clue where they might be.

It started last weekend when I was trying to do a little more research on Ray Theobald, the artist I mentioned last week. I know he contributed to Digit Books and have recently spotted an unsigned western that was clearly his work. It sent me scurrying to my little collection of Digits in the hope of finding more... only to find that books I know I own weren't where I expected to find them.

I know I have them: the missing books include the Luan Ranzetta SF novels, various other SF novels by Tom Wade, Terence Haile, Vern Hanson and others and a few war titles.  I'm also missing a couple of Badger Books that I need to refer to.

You need to understand that my office is the corner of a former garage that I've filled with shelves, two deep with paperbacks throughout. Piles of comics, magazines and more books have built up alongside the shelves over the five years we've lived here. These ebb and flow as I create teetering piles of books that are boxed-up just before the pile collapses. (Sometimes shortly after.) Some of the books haven't moved since we arrived here back in August 2010, although a rough system developed over the next couple of years, so I knew (or thought I knew) roughly where everything was.

Over the past few days I've dismantled all the piles, pulled all the books off the shelves to see what's behind them and unstacked boxes to see what was in them—and I still can't find those damned books. I haven't a clue what has happened to them.

Mel is away at a convention for the weekend and I'm thinking that it might be an opportunity to pull everything out of the office and maybe put it back in a way that means I'll be able to find everything, or at least have a better idea where the various books might be.

I had to spend some time catching up with some of the unanswered work e-mail left over from last week as it was approaching 300. Some of the junk is easy to spot and just needs to be deleted, but it's surprising how much time can be eaten up just opening e-mails, scanning them for anything interesting and responding to them either with a follow-up message asking for more details, or closing it and deleting it. One in maybe every twenty is a message asking if I'd received a message earlier that day / that week / that month. They, too, get deleted.

Slowly the total has dropped: 227 on Tuesday, 216 on Wednesday (my mum was visiting on Tuesday, so I didn't get as far), but only 66 by the end of Wednesday. I'm taking some time off to write this and clean up a couple of covers, but another blitz on mail on Friday should clear the decks. [Update: I'm back up to 118 at 8 o'clock Friday morning.]  Unfortunately, on Monday I'm posting information about the next issue which always generates a ton of enquiries, so the whole process will begin again.

I promised to do a bit more digging into the career of Ray Theobald. I've compiled a little checklist of publishers I know he worked for, but I've yet to complete a checklist, so that will have to wait for another occasion.

Theobald started in 1949—although I speculated last week that there may have been working for Gramol earlier. Let's put that to one side as I'm still not certain that the artwork was his. In roughly chronological order, he worked for Curtis Warren (1949-53), C.M. & Co. (1950), Modern Fiction (1951, 1953-57), Pan Books (1951-52), Barrington Gray (1952), Brown Watson (1952), John Spencer (1953-59), Gannet Press (1953-54), Edwin Self (1954), R. S. Gray (1954), Castle Books (1954), Digit Books (1955-57), Robert Hale (1957-60), Four Square (1959-60), Arrow Books (1959), Frederick Muller (1960).

The scans below are from either end of Theobald's known work. The Cup-Tie Challengers dates from 1949 and might be his first cover for Curtis Warren. I believe he did all the 'Aero Fiction' titles under the pen-names Glen Allen and Ken Ford, and did some of the later SF covers despite CW also employing the far better Gordon Davies.

At the other end of the decade, we have titles from Four Square, Arrow Books (one of their Grey Arrow series) and a dust-jacket from Frederick Muller (nabbed from the Existential Ennui website here), dating from 1959-60. You can see that Theobald could do better work than some of the hack stuff he produced in the early- and mid-1950s; the Four Square especially makes me wonder whether he would be more respected as a cover artist these days if he had been given the time and money to produce more consistently better artwork.

The curious thing is that there's no other sign of him beyond these book covers. I've not found any illustrations or paintings signed by Theobald and no sign of him in any official records, either working as an artist or in birth and death records. Ray or Raymond Theobald isn't that common a name... could it be a pen-name? 


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