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Monday, January 30, 2017

Alessandro Biffignandi (1935-2017)

Alessandro Biffignandi (photo: Aldi di Gennaro)
Alessandro Biffignandi, one of Italy’s finest painters of cover art and illustrations for comics and magazines, died in Rome on 21 January 2017, aged 81. He is primarily associated with his decade-long supply of cover art to British war pocket libraries published by Fleetway in the 1960s and his decade plus association with Italian erotic pocket books. His signature rarely appeared, so even in Italy he was little known and only in recent years has his work been celebrated.

Appreciation for his work was slow in developing, Erotic horror comics began to appear in the late 1960s but exploded when Renzo Barbieri set up Edifumetto to publish titles like Biancaneve, an erotic version of Snow White, and Zora la Vampira. The covers painted by Biffignandi and his contemporaries, featured bare-buttocked models, colourful monsters and hints—often more than hints—of sadism. The sexy fumetti inside covered everything from horror to history, fantasy to fairy tales, but the best feature was inevitably the eye-popping covers by some of the most talented Italian artists of the day, notably Biffignandi, Emanuele Taglietti, Roberto Molino and Carlo Jacono.

These pocket titles sold in their millions every month at their peak in the mid-1970s, but sales had collapsed by 1984, although some title would continue to be published until the end of the decade.

Biffignandi’s preference for painting in oil and use of models gave his artwork the look of classical paintings, but it was his use of colour that made them stand out. It reflected the early influence of film posters and the arrival of giallo films, which used vivid colours, disorientating composition and fetishistic close-ups… all terms that could equally apply to Biffignandi’s covers.

Born in Rome on 8 October 1935, Alessandro Romano Biffignandi developed an early interest in art and cartoons through reading the Italian Disney comic Topolino. At 17 he made his debut as a cartoonist working on Captain Walter for AVE.

After graduating from art school, where he developed a fascination with film posters, he became an apprentice to movie theatre billboard designer Averardo Ciriello. After working briefly for movie theatre advertisers Enzo and Giuliano Nistri, at the age of 20 he was head-hunted by the studio of Augusto Favelli, at the time Italy’s most prolific provider of movie posters.

His poster designs included La voice che uccide and Orlando eI paladini di Francia (1956), L’invasione degli ultracorpi [Invasion of the Bodysnatchers; this poster was later used as the cover of Sexton Blake Library #418, Biffignandi's first UK appearance in 1958], La diga sul pacifico, L’incanto della foresta and il momento più bello (1957), Agli ordini del re, La sfida and La morte viene dallo spazio (1958), America di notte and Un giorno de leoni (1961) and Pasqualino Cammarata (1974).

He settled in Milan in the late 1950s, initially providing work for French comic strips ‘Flambo’, ‘Agent K-3’, ‘Peter Berg’ ‘John Kine’ and ‘Rombo Bill’ and covers for Nevada, Hondo, Kiwi, Rodeo and Zemla, published by Lyon-based Lug, who specialised in petits formats (pocket library) titles, some of them also published in Italy.

An association with the D’Ami studio in Milan meant that from 1960 he became a very prolific cover artist for the pocket libraries published in the UK by Fleetway Publications. His major contribution was to the various war libraries (Air Ace, War, Battle, War at Sea, Giant War) and the latter days of Fleetways early adventure titles (Super Detective, Thriller, Cowboy); his talents ranged from sports (a dozen covers for Tiger Sports Library) to schoolgirls (Schoolgirls’ Picture Library) and the fantastic (Fleetway Super Library Stupendous Series).

He also provided illustrations for 8 episodes of the Treasure series ‘The Wonderful Story of Britain’ in 1963 and covers for weekly comic Hurricane (1964) and annuals. For Tell Me Why he drew 12 episodes of ‘Strange Facts’ in 1968-69, as well as more covers for both Tell Me Why and its replacement World of Wonder (1970). In all, Biffignandi produced some 500 covers for the UK.

Biffignandi was also an illustrator for Italian magazines, amongst them La Tribuna Illustrata, Domenica del Corriere, Grazia and Confidenze and cover artist for I Rosa Mondadori, Intrepido, Il Monello, Lanciostory and UFO.

During the 1970s Biffignandi became a busy painter of covers for dozens of Italian adult horror-erotic comics published by Giogio Cavedon (Ediperiodici), who began launching a series of adult horror titles in the late 1960s, and Renzo Barbieri (Edifumetto) and others. Titles included Lucrezia, Rolando del Fico, Terror, Biancaneve, I Notturni, Playcolt, Vampirissimo Presenta, Il Vampiro Presenta, I Sanguinari, Wallenstein, Zora la Vampira, Sciacallo, Fiabe Proibite, Sexy Favole, Sexy Favole Doppie, Lo Scheletro, Le Avventure di Pinocchio, Fumetti Mezzanotte, Top, Naga, Zorro, Belzeba, Sukia, La Poliziotta, Ilula, 44 Magnum, Misteria, La Peccatrice, Casino, Telenovela vietata / Telefilm Proibiti, Scandali, Strega, Jeans Fumetti, Serie Mezzanotte, Serie Rosa, Tropici Crudeli and Serie Shock.

Beginning in 1995, Biffignandi began producing cover art for American paperbacks and recently, in 2012, he painted a handful of covers for the Swedish Fantomen comic.

To tie in with an exhibition in Perguia Palazzo della Penna (19 April-2 June 2014), Lo Scarabeo published L’arte di Alessandro Biffignandi as a limited volume of 560 numbered copies; the same publisher also released Biancaneve, a portfolio of 10 new paintings in a deluxe edition of only 60 numbered and signed copies, with a further 100 ‘standard’ edition copies (numbered 61-160) featuring 8 illustrations. A further collection of his covers, Sex and Horror: The Art of Alessandro Biffignandi, was published by Korero Press in 2016.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Walter M. Miller Jr. Cover Gallery

NOVELS
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, J. B. Lippincott, 1959)
Corgi Books GS1401, 1963, 278pp.
Corgi Books, 1970, 278pp.
Corgi Books 0552-09474-9, 1974, 278pp.
Corgi Books 0552-11178-3, 1979, 278pp.
Black Swan 0552-99107-4, 1984, 355pp.
----, 1990.
Orbit 1847-23014-0, 1993, 355pp.
Gollancz 0575-07220-2 (SF Masterworks 75), 2001, 355pp.
Harper Voyager 0060-98299-4, 2006
Bantam 0553-27381-8, 2007, 338pp.

Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (London, Little Brown/Orbit, 1997)
Orbit 1857-23561-4, 1997, 544pp. Cover by Peter Goodfellow

COLLECTIONS

Conditionally Human (New York, Ballantine Books, 1962; London, Gollancz, 1963)
Panther Books 1989, 1966, 174pp, 3/6.

The View from the Stars (New York, Ballantine Books, 1965; London, Gollancz, 1965)
Panther Books 2385, 1968, 223pp. Cover photo
---- [2nd imp.]. Cover by Chris Foss

The Best of Walter M. Miller, Jr. (New York, Pocket Books, 1980; in two volumes, Conditionally Human and other stories and The Darfsteller and other stories, below; complete as Dark Benediction, London, Gollancz, 2007)
Gollancz 0575-07119-2, 2000, 472pp, £9.99. Cover design
as Dark Benediction, Gollancz [SF Masterworks 69], (April) 2007
---- (Aug) 2015, 496pp, £9.99.

Conditionally Human and Other Stories (London, Corgi, 1982)
Corgi Books 0552-11991-1, 1982, 228pp. Cover by Peter Jones

The Darfsteller and Other Stories (London, Corgi, 1982)
Corgi Books 0552-11950-4, 1982, 223pp. Cover by Peter Jones

Friday, January 27, 2017

Comic Cuts - 27 January 2017

Here we are at the end of January and I've had to clamber back onto the Hotel Business treadmill to get some articles commissioned for the next issue. After a couple of days off, the e-mail had built up to over 200 by Monday and I blitzed it for a few hours, getting it back to 80 unread mails. Then I ignored it until Wednesday and it had drifted back to 200. Most of it rubbish that I get simply because I've landed on some PR agency's mailing list, but I still need to take at least a quick peep, just to make sure I can dump it.

Between the seemingly endless inrush of unwanted e-mail and a wanted and welcome visit from my Mum on Tuesday, I don't seem to have actually done anything this week. I'm trying to cast my mind back and it's all a bit of a blur. We were out Friday night visiting friends and then at a birthday get-together for a meal out on Saturday; I had to do my tax returns, which I managed to do on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

Somewhere in between I managed to put together a little cover gallery for Walter M. Miller that will be appearing shortly. While I was looking for some other books on Saturday I stumbled across a stack of Ed McBain novels that I hadn't scanned, so I added those to the McBain cover gallery... never did find the books I was looking for, mind. No doubt I'll stumble across them when I'm looking for something else...

Penguin Modern Classics edition (2001) and Penguin Essentials edition (2014)
The main filler of my time has probably been watching the second season of The Man In The High Castle, the superb Amazon series. You need to be a Prime member, but it's easy to join and almost as easy to quit again before your next monthly payment is due. I think I got this (and the first series) for the price of a DVD. Some of you at least will have read the novel by Philip K. Dick, which I re-read a couple of years ago, but the TV series has meandered from the plot of the novel – there have been twenty 50+ minute episodes, after all – without losing too much of the tone.

The show has been a critical success; I disagree with criticism that the plot of season two has grown unwieldy – it has simply expanded without losing any clarity. I don't want to spoil the series for anyone who decides to watch it (that's the beauty of streaming services – you can start at any time!) and I certainly don't want anyone to be put off by unnecessary criticism.

Another Axis wins WWII novel is about to hit TV screens – I'm not quite sure when, but some time in February – in the shape of the BBC's adaptation of Len Deighton's SS-GB. It's one of my favourite Deighton novels: he was always a superb writer of war stories and this one, a detective yarn set in a German-occupied London, was one of his best.

Although they share the same basic premise, the stories couldn't be more different. Similarly, or, rather dis-similarly, Robert Harris's thriller Fatherland is nothing like C. J. Sansom's political thriller Dominion, nor James Herbert's horror thriller '48 like Eric Norden's police procedural The Ultimate Solution. American isolationism leading to Axis wins is central to Harry Turtledove's In the Presence of Mine Enemies and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, but, again, they couldn't be more different.

I have vague memories of watching An Englishman's Castle, a BBC drama from the late 1970s starring Kenneth More and a very young Nigel Havers. Apparently it's available on DVD... something I shall have to investigate.

Random scans... well, it just has to be come of the books mentioned above, doesn't it? I've also thrown in a couple of others... Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, the Hugo Award-winning novel by Adolf Hitler, and another alternative invasion of America, this time by sneaky Russians in the pages of Brauna E. Pouns's novelisation of the TV mini-series Amerika.

Who on earth was Brauna E. Pouns? Definitely a pseudonym, but copyright records haven't provided any leads. It looks like an anagram.

The last image is an oddity that popped up on a Facebook page I belong to: it's the rear cover of the 1965 Penguin edition of Man In The High Castle... but that's not a photograph of author Philip K. Dick. Rather, it's a picture of Ted White, himself an author and editor of SF.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Commando issues 4987-4990

Commando issues on sale 26th January 2017.

Commando – 4987 – Operation Arrowhead
In the fourteenth century, the English bowmen were the scourge of French knights. The machine gunners of their days, the bowmen used six foot bows to fire long arrows with three inch wide arrowheads to pierce the hearts of their enemies.
    One such arrowhead was found six centuries later in a field in France by Private Len Mason. This chance encounter saved Len from being gunned down by the enemy.
    Surrounded by the bodies of his squadron, Len wondered why he had survived the brutal attack. Was the arrowhead a good luck charm or was it simply a coincidence?

Story: George Low
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Carlos Pino

Commando – 4988 – Blaze of Glory
A squad of Commandos set out to deliver one R.A.F. Flight Lieutenant to an address in German-held Norway. Mark Ritchie was his name – and desperately daring was his nature. The trick was to get him there alive…

Introduction
Following a devastating crash, claustrophobic R.A.F. test pilot, Mark Ritchie, didn’t expect to be chosen for an immediate mission to accompany a Commando squad into the heart of Nazi-occupied Norway to steal a never-before-flown aircraft prototype.
    Wilkinson’s fast-paced story brilliantly captures Mark’s battle to prove his worth, creating dramatic tension between the pilot and the Commandos. The story is perfectly complemented by Buyella’s mastery of ink, as his visuals lead us from the cockpit of an unarmed plane, across vast seas, and deep into enemy territory. This is one action-packed adventure that’s not to be missed!—The Commando Team.

Story: Wilkinson
Art: Buylla
Cover: Alvaro
Blaze of Glory, originally Commando No. 299 (December 1967)

Commando - 4989 – Tromsø
The Tirpitz was one of the most feared battleships of the Second World War. A forty-two-thousand-ton titan of the seas, the R.A.F.’s brave and desperate attempts to destroy it became notorious.
    Lesser known was the story of Erik and Olav, scientists turned S.O.E. agents, and their role in the battleship’s fate. Their lives inextricably linked with brutal Nazi Major Herman Klinger, see how they came to take their revenge in the barren town of… Tromsø!

Story: Colin Watson
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando - 4990 – Pirate Patrol
Nick Borley cursed the day he had been switched from commanding a fast motor launch to take over an antiquated schooner. And never more so than now as they ran before a storm, the sails and rigging in tatters after the Luftwaffe had paid a call.
    Up ahead lay the hostile enemy-held coast and at Nick’s elbow was the grinning, bearded pirate who had started all this trouble. And he wasn’t finished yet!

Introduction
If you’re looking for a swashbuckling tale of heroism and maritime madness, venture no further than Pirate Patrol! Veteran writer, Alan Hemus is at the top of his game in this seafaring thriller. Hemus creates a great anti-hero in the form of Barney Lee, a loveable rogue with interesting views on the Second World War erupting around him. His counterpart, Lieutenant Nick Borley, is the perfect straight-laced man to counter balance Barney’s disorder, and both are expertly depicted in Keith Shone’s excellent interior art.—The Commando Team.

Story: Alan Hemus
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Jeff Bevan
Pirate Patrol, originally Commando No 2455 (March 1991)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases 25 January 2017

2000AD Prog 2015
Judge Dredd: Deep In The Heart by Michael Carroll (w) Tiernen Trevallion (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Kingmaker by Ian Edginton (w) Leigh Gallagher (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
Kingdom: As It Is In Heaven by Dan Abnett (w) Richard Elson (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
The Order:  Wyrm War by Kek-W (w) John Burns (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hope: ...For The Future by Guy Adams (w) Jimmy Broxton (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Judge Dredd Megazine 380
Judge Dredd: The Rubicon by Michael Carroll (w) Ben Willsher (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Anderson, Psi Division: Dragon Blood by Alan Grant (w) Paul Marshall (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Angelic: Home Is The Hunter by Gordon Rennie (w) Lee Carter (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Lawless: Long-Range War by Dan Abnett (w) Phil Winslade (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
Features: Thrill-power Overload Update, David Hitchcock interview, Simon Furman/Geoff Senior interview
Bagged reprint: The V.C.s: Old Soldiers 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Philip Kerr Bernie Gunther cover gallery

The Bernie Gunther novels began with a trio of critically acclaimed crimes noir, two set in pre-World War II Nazi Germany (March Violets, The Pale Criminal) and one in the immediate aftermath (A German Requiem). Over a dozen years passed before Kerr returned to the character, a former soldier who later worked as a private investigator, whose career he has continued to chronicle since. You can find a very good summary of the novels here, written by Philip Turner.

 
Berlin Noir (March Violets, 1989, The Pale Criminal, 1990, A German Requiem, 1991)
Penguin Books 0978-0140-23170-0, 1993.
---- [40th imp.] n.d., 834pp, £16.99. Cover photo by Ullstein-Bilderdienst
Penguin Books 0978-0241-06235-0, 2012, 806pp, £16.99. Cover photo by Ullstein Bild-Yva
---- [2nd imp.] n.d.

The One From the Other (2006)
Quercus 978-1847-24292-1, 2008, 410pp, £7.99. Cover design by mecob.org

A Quiet Flame (2008)
Quercus 978-1847-24558-8, 2008, 413pp, £7.99. Cover design by mecob.org

If the Dead Rise Not (2009)
Quercus 978-1849-16193-0, 2010, 455pp, £7.99. Cover design by mecob.org

Field Gray (2010)
Quercus 978-1849-16414-6, 2011, 567pp, £8.99. Cover design by mecob.org

Prague Fatale (2011)
Quercus 978-1849-16417-7, 2012, 534pp, £7.99. Cover design by mecob.org

A Man Without Breath (2013)
Quercus 978-780-87627-6, 2013, 517pp, £7.99. Cover design by Ghost

The Lady From Zagreb (2015)
Quercus 978-1782-06584-5, 2015, 564pp, £7.99. Cover design by Two Associates

The Other Side of Silence (due 2016)
Quercus

Prussian Blue (due 2017)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Art of Reginald Heade

The Art of Reginald Heade has been a labour of love for author Stephen James Walker. Collecting Heade artwork is no easy task, nor a cheap one. As a collector of old cheap gangster digests, I can attest that books were relatively cheap in the 1980s, but began to creep steadily upwards in price in the 1990s. In the 2000s, some Heade books were going for three figures as interest spread to collectors in the USA. Scarcity meant contemporary British digests were also rising in price, but nothing when compared to titles that could boast Heade covers.

To have all these rare book covers in one place fulfils a collector's dream. I can speak with first hand knowledge of how difficult it is to gather all of Heade's covers into one place, having taken over for some years (2003-06) the Hank Janson website set up by Allan Tagg. Heade was a prolific paperback cover artist in the post war years for some of the cheapest, lousiest publishers around, and to lay your hands on a high quality copy of any of his books is nowadays akin to a miracle.

The book is astonishingly complete for those covers we know about. Beginning in 1933, Heade began producing covers for the popular magazine Britannia and Eve, a task he continued for a decade, and dust jackets for hardbacked books. The Second World War cut short what would have been a glittering career. He suddenly faced an uncertain future as magazines folded and book publishing became patchy at best as paper shortages devastated he publishing industry.

It was only in the post-war era of cheap paperbacks that Heade thrived again, painting covers for most of the Hank Janson novels and for many of Hank's rivals. His talents were spotted early by Raymond Locker, who employed Heade for his Paul Renin romance novels and gangster yarns by Michael Storme, Gene Ross and Spike Morelli, amongst others. When the Lockers headed across the pond to set up Leisure Library, Heade was one of their major selling points.

A golden age was dulled by the death of his wife and the enforced departure of his daughter; Heade struggled on even as his publishers were gradually forced out of existence through destruction orders and prosecution. He resurfaced as Cy Webb, painting covers for Panther Books and Pan Books, but his health declined and he died at the age of 56.

For the most part, the book is everything that fans will want. Short bursts of text give context to the various sections the book is broken down into (Hank Janson, Locker & Co., US editions, harbacks, periodicals, etc.) with the bulk of the book's 168 pages given over to cover reproductions. The majority are presented four to the page, with selected covers shown full page. His fully-illustrated children's books (Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe) are reproduced at much smaller size, which is a shame, as they are uncommon and deserve to be seen at their best.

Whilst larger reproductions in places would be nice, it is a case of wanting more rather than problems within the book.* If I have any complaint to make, it is that the scarcity of some books has resulted in a number of rather poor scans being reproduced. The low quality of the original printing and paper doesn't help matters, but some scans have obvious jpeg artifacts, notably Plaything of Passion (p.53), Girl of the Bordellos (p.78), Don't Fall Sucker (p.98) and elsewhere.

Overall, this is everything the Heade collector could want. There is an author's note at the back in which author Walker mentions a number of titles that might be Heade and a second noting a handful of titles that have escaped his efforts to find. I've racked my brains trying to think of any covers that are missing from the book and I can think of only one – it's unsigned but I suspect this could be Heade.

The Art of Reginald Heade by Stephen James Walker. Telos Publications ISBN 978-1845-83115-8, January 2017, 168pp, £26.99. Available from Telos / Amazon.

* I've found only one actual error: p.106, The Two Red Capsules by David Lindsay was published by John Hamilton rather than Hamilton & Co., the commonly-used abbreviation for Hamilton & Co. (Stafford) Ltd., as used elsewhere in the book.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Comic Cuts - 20 January 2017

I've had quite a fun week dipping into past projects. The job that pays the rent was all packed off to the printers by end of play Tuesday, and I was able to take a look at a package of correspondence sent to me by someone who was involved in trying to put together a Hank Janson TV series back in the 1980s and to relaunch the books. It came to nought, the blame laid squarely at the feet of the copyright owners who wanted too much money.

By coincidence, I've also had some correspondence with a relative of Hank's creator, Steve Frances, and, of course, Telos have just released The Art of Reginald Heade, which I'll be reviewing tomorrow. All this, plus the recent flood warnings that we've had down the east coast of Anglia put me in mind of a rather scarce Hank Janson spin-off, Britain's Great Flood Disaster.

On 31 January 1953, a storm surge whipped up the spring tide in the North Sea, driving water into the channel between England and Holland, breaching sea walls and flooding more than 12,000 homes. 307 people were killed.

Frances and his publisher put together a glossy, 64-page book, filled with photographs of the disaster and the relief operation with the story of the flooding told by Hank Janson through a lengthy article and dozens of captions. It was priced 2/6 and the entire print run was offered to the Lord Mayor's Fund for the relief of the flood's victims. It was refused because they had no way of distributing the title. Other relief organisations also turned the book down, so Reg Carter, of New Fiction Press, arranged his own distribution, and the book was hawked around football grounds and greyhound tracks.

This way the book was able to make a small profit which was fed to various charities. Unfortunately for Carter, what he did with the profits was no concern of the Inland Revenue. Their only interest was taking their share of tax on the profits and what had started out as a charitable gesture to aid people in desperate need ended up costing Reg Carter a considerable sum.

And so to today's random scans, which have the "floody" theme of water. Two Sam Peffer covers, a Heade and one signed Paul, who also did western covers for Badger Books. That just leaves Lonely Water, which might be S. R. Boldero, although I wouldn't swear to it.

.