Relaunched Weirdbook Scores a Stephen Fabian Cover

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirdbook 31-smallEarlier this month I was very pleased to report that one of the greatest of all weird fiction magazines, W. Paul Ganley’s Weirdbook, is relaunching, with David A. Riley as Senior Editor and Publisher, and Douglas Draa, former Online Editor for Weird Tales, as Managing Editor and Fiction editor.

Last week on his blog David Riley revealed the cover for the upcoming Weirdbook 31, with art by none other than the great Stephen Fabian (at right; click for bigger version).

We are very pleased to be able to reveal the cover for issue 31, the first of the new Weirdbooks. It’s the work of Stephen Fabian, whose art often featured on earlier copies of the magazine.

Indeed, Fabian’s cover art was a hallmark of the original Weirdbook, and I’m thrilled to see that David and Doug have managed to secure him for issue 31. I’m certain it will make old-timers like me feel right at home.

You can see more of Fabian’s artwork in our detailed look at Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends last year, and read more about Weirdbook (including their recent call for book reviewers) at David’s blog. They expect to have issue 31, the first issue of the relaunched magazine, available by the end of August this year.

The Daily Beast on the Surreal Science Fiction Art of Richard Powers

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Man in the High Castle Richard Powers-smallRichard Powers was one of the greatest paperback artists of all time. He revolutionized science fiction art in the early 1950s, and over the next four decades — during which he painted some 1,200 cover illustrations for SF and fantasy novels, including Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night (1954), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ‘s The Sirens of Titan (1959), and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1974) — he was one of the most instantly recognizable artists on the shelves.

Over at The Daily Beast, author Mark Dery kicks off what he promises will be a series of articles celebrating book cover art and design with a detailed look at Richard Powers, sampling some of his most famous covers.

Haunted moonscapes. Alien cenotaphs whose shadows stretch from here to forever, tracing the geometry of dreams. Emissaries from the unconscious, their features running like melting wax. Cancerous cities a trillion light years from now, the undifferentiated growth of their lumpy, tumorous sprawl now silent, still as a fumigated wasp’s nest. Richard M. Powers’s science-fiction book-jacket landscapes are usually depopulated but not always: sometimes, a splinter of a man — an inch-high relative of one of Giacometti’s stick figures — stands alone in the emptiness, contemplating infinity…

Robert de Graff had launched the paperback revolution with his Pocket Books in 1939 and now publishers like Jason Epstein at Doubleday and Ian and Betty Ballantine at Ballantine Books were in the thick of it…. The Ballantines believed in science fiction as a literature of ideas, not gadget porn for ham-radio buffs, so when they opened their doors in 1952 they thought of Powers. His modernist sensibility, steeped in things seen at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, set him apart from the pulp-magazine style — astronauts rippling their pectorals at bug-eyed aliens while space babes cowered in fear — that had dominated the genre for decades. “One of the things that appealed to me about science fiction,” he says, in The Art of Richard Powers, “is that it was possible to do Surrealist paintings that had validity … in their own right, and not necessarily functioning as the cover of a book.”

Read the complete article here.

Art of the Genre: The Art of the Iconic Character

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Predating Paizo by a decade and a half...

Predating Paizo by a decade and a half…

By Webster’s definition, Iconic means ‘of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon’, which in essence reminds me of looking for the Wizard’s 1E D&D Protection from Evil spell only to be told to ‘see Cleric spell of the same name’, unless, of course, you know the word Icon means ‘a person who is very successful and admired’.

Now, having established the meaning, I intend to look at the evolution of ‘Iconic Characters’ [thus Iconic Character Classes] in the RPG setting.

It can be universally accepted that Paizo coined the phrase ‘Iconics’ with the release of its Pathfinder Adventure Paths [and their beta versions from Paizo’s Dungeon Magazine], but that is simple semantics.  In reality, the first true ‘Iconics’ were from the Wizard of the Coast release of D&D 3rd Edition, namely Krusk, Jozan Vadania, Tordek, etc.

These characters were really the first to take players through the game by repeating their exploits in both artwork and description.  Created by artists Todd Lockwood and Sam Wood, players from a whole new D20 generation were introduced to this new system and cut their teeth with the WotC Iconics.

However, I would contend that perhaps the definition of Iconic doesn’t have to depend on players of RPGs actually knowing the character’s name, but rather recognizing their image.  If that is the case, then the role of character class Iconics goes back much further.

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Bernie Mireault: The Forgotten Herald of the Modern

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bernie MireaultOver the weekend, Mark Shainblum pointed me towards columnist Timothy Callahan’s article in Comic Book Resources discussing the work of artist Bernie Mireault. It’s been around for a while, but I’d managed to miss it, so I appreciated the link. Here’s a snippet:

If we look around the axis of American superhero comics, at the groundbreaking Modern work produced in the mid-1980s, it’s the same four or five names that keep popping up in our conversations: Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Rick Veitch, Howard Chaykin, maybe Matt Wagner. These were the creators who changed the landscape of American superhero comics, for better or worse. They heralded the Modern.

Yet there’s one creator who doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often. A writer/artist who was combining the high Romanticism of the fantastic with the mundane life on the street as well as any of the others. A comic book creator whose visual style has rarely been duplicated… I’m talking, of course, about Bernie Mireault.

Mireault (rhymes with “Zero”) has been working continuously in the comic book industry for the past 24 years, but he gets almost none of the acclaim given to his peers… in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s, Mireault produced or helped produce three essential texts of the Modern era, and it’s time those three books were given their due.

I first met Bernie in 1985, when he crashed at my home in Ottawa, Canada, while attending a local comic convention. I was impressed with him immediately — especially his groundbreaking work on the hilarious Mackenzie Queen for Matrix Comics. He’s extrememly gifted as a comedic artist, and his character design is second to none — as you can see from his marvelous panel illustrating “The Loiterer in the Lobby” by Michael Kaufmann and Mark McLaughlin for Black Gate 4 (above). I hired Bernie as an illustrator when I launched Black Gate, and he graced virtually every issue of the print magazine. I profiled him back in 2009, and Matthew David Surridge wrote a detailed review of his excellent comic The Jam last December. His other work includes Grendel (with Matt Wagner), The Blair Witch Chronicles, and Dr. Robot.

Read the complete CBR article here.

Vintage Treasures: ATTA by Francis Rufus Bellamy/ The Brain-Stealers by Murray Leinster

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Atta Francis Bellamy-small The Brain-Stealers Leinster-small

For the past 17 months I’ve been surveying Ace Doubles here at Black Gate; this is the eighteenth in the series. Donald Wollheim, the founding editor of Ace Books and the man who created the Ace Double, had excellent taste, and he published countless successful titles that would remain in print for decades — and help launch the careers of major stars, including Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Andre Norton, and a great many others. I’ve really enjoyed tracking down later printings and presenting them in these articles as testament to just how enduring the Ace Double selections were — including books like Jack Vance’s Big Planet and Andre Norton’s The Beast Master, both of which have been reprinted more than a dozen times over the decades, with an eye-opening gallery of cover art.

And then we have ATTA and The Brain-Stealers, by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster, published as an Ace Double in 1954.

It’s obvious not even Don Wollheim could pick a pair of winners every time. When I started researching both books, I was fairly certain neither had ever seen another printing. That turned out to be incorrect (but not by much). At least this installment will be short.

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Vintage Treasures: Starshine by Theodore Sturgeon

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Theodore Sturgeon Starshine Pyramid-small Theodore Sturgeon Starshine Pyramid 2-small Theodore Sturgeon Starshine Pyramid 3-small

For this installment of Vintage Treasures, we’re going to set the Wayback Machine for that far distant era of American publishing, when it wasn’t at all unusual for a midlist science fiction writer to publish a paperback collection clocking in at a slender 174 pages… and have it go through nearly a dozen printings in as many years. Ah, for the days when the American public had a greater appetite for short stories!

Starshine was Sturgeon’s thirteenth collection (thirteen short story collections! It boggles the mind). It included three novelettes and three short stories, spanning just over two decades of his career: 1940 to 1961. I’ve captured the covers of all the paperback editions in this article — if you’re an old-timer like me, maybe one of them will jog your memory.

The first edition of Starshine was the December 1966 Pyramid paperback (above left, cover by Jack Gaughan.) It was back in print less than two years later, in March 1969, with a new cover by Gaughan again (above middle). Why it needed a new cover, I dunno – I much prefer the original one.

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Vintage Treasures: Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick/ The Skynappers by John Brunner

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Vulcan's Hammer-small The Skynappers-small

One of the things I love about the early Ace Doubles is that they frequently paired young writers who later became superstars. It’s like finding a movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Elijah Wood when they were both 10 years old (that move exists, by the way. It’s called North. Don’t see it.)

The 1960 Ace Double Vulcan’s Hammer/The Skynappers is a fine example. It paired the 32-year old Philip K. Dick — well established by that point, with seven novels under his belt — with an up-and coming British author, the 26-year old John Brunner, whose first novel Threshold of Eternity had appeared as an Ace Double the previous year. Both went on to stellar careers. Indeed, they’re two of the most highly regarded SF writers of the 20th Century.

Neither of these two books is particularly well remembered, however. In fact, if you’re a Brunner fan and interested in reading The Skynappers, this 55-year old paperback is pretty much the only way to get it.

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An Ancient Egyptian Temple in Madrid

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Templo de Debod in Madrid by flickr user jiuguangw

Templo de Debod in Madrid by flickr user jiuguangw

When the Egypt government began its massive Aswan Dam project in 1960, it realized that a large number of temples and archaeological sites would be submerged forever. Teaming up with UNESCO, it started an ambitious project of survey and excavation, as well as the relocation of several key monuments.

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The Royal Armory of Vienna

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

This highly decorated harness was made in Nuremberg around 1555.

This highly decorated harness was made in Nuremberg around 1555. Many of the pieces in the Vienna collection retain their paint and gold inlay.

Last week we looked at the Royal Armory of Madrid, founded by the Hapsburgs in the 16th century. Another of the great Hapsburg armories of Europe is the one in Vienna. Part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and housed in the Neue Burg palace, it is one of the most impressive collections of royal arms and armor anywhere.

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Vintage Treasures: Bow Down to Nul by Brian W. Aldiss / The Dark Destroyers by Manly Wade Wellman

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bow Down to Nul-small The Dark Destroyers-small

We’re back to our survey of Ace Doubles, this time with a volume from 1960 containing lesser-known novels from two of science fiction’s brightest stars: Bow Down to Nul by Brian W. Aldiss and The Dark Destroyers by Manly Wade Wellman. Ace Doubles didn’t always have a clear connecting theme, but they did in this case, as both novels feature the struggle against brutal aliens who have conquered Earth.

Bow Down to Nul is a Galactic Empire novel, a fairly common theme in early pulp SF, made popular by writers like Asimov and Van Vogt. The empire in this case is a huge stellar realm controlled by the Nuls, an ancient race of giant three-limbed creatures. Earth is a backwater colony world, ruled by a Nul tyrant. The human resistance is disorganized, but aided by a Nul signatory attempting to bring to light abuses on Earth.

As Aldiss noted in his Note From The Author, the set-up strongly parallels the complex colonial relationships he witnessed first hand while serving in India and Indonesia in the forties.

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