Friday, September 30, 2022

Comic Cuts — 30 September 2022

Things haven't been quite so exciting this week — I have a generally dull life spent sitting mostly in front of a computer or a TV screen, with the occasional walk to the Co-Op, the Post Office or for exercise. For the most part that's all I need to keep me happy, although it's not the jet-setting lifestyle I had hoped for.  That EuroMillions jackpot is taking longer than I thought.

Talking of things I hoped for... I was very pleased that a copy of Rayguns & Rocketships landed on my doormat this week. A hefty little brick of a book, beautifully produced by Korero Press, it has been in the works for a couple of years — I wrote my Foreword just over two years ago and I have been looking forward to seeing it in print ever since. It's a collection of science fiction book covers from the 1950s and 1960s, although there are a few examples that date back to the 19th century.

These vintage covers are what first attracted me to those old 'mushroom' publishers of the Fifties. I go into this in the Foreword, so I won't repeat myself here. All I'll say is that I tried to capture some of the thrill of discovering science fiction art. For me that was in 1974 and it helped shape my future. I also try to recall some of the hopes that I had as an 11-year-old and look at how some of them panned out. It all makes sense if you know that my original title for the Foreword was "The Future I Was Promised" — which I still prefer to the title that has been used in the book.

Other than that, it's a fantastic book gathering together an astonishing array of artwork, both good and bad, which in a way charts the history of British science fiction. As it concentrates chiefly on painted covers, there is a mainstream of SF that isn't included. Classics by H.G. Wells and the 'cosy' disaster novels of John Wyndham and John Christopher are missing as Penguin Books is covered in a sampling rather than the comprehensive coverage given to John Spencer, Curtis Warren, Hamilton & Co. and others at the cheaper (and artistically more entertaining) end of the market. But even these few paperbacks offer clues as to where science fiction cover art was heading by the early 1960s.

Pan Books is a good example, moving from the pending excitement of space travel in Gordon Davies' covers to more subtle, expressive pieces by W. Francis Phillipps. Panther, to my mind, went too far, with close-up photographic montages that were almost expressionist and utterly meaningless. Thankfully, publishers switched back to painted covers in the 1970s and, while they rarely had anything to do with the contents of the books, they were my gateway into reading writers who were poles apart, from E. E. 'Doc' Smith to Ursula Le Guin. There's a symmetry to my love of science fiction art: the 1950s covers of grand spaceships and  ray-gun toting spacemen giving way to the bristling battleships in space of the 1970s.

The book is officially due out on 24 November, according to the Korero website... just in time for Christmas! With 464 pages colour-packed pages, this is the ultimate gathering of vintage British SF book cover art, and it's better than you can imagine!

Rayguns & Rocketships by Rian Hughes
Korero Press ISBN 978-191274004-8, 2022, 464pp, £32.99. Available to pre-order.

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