The Art of Author Branding: The Berkley Poul Anderson

Sunday, August 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Poul Anderson Homeward and Beyond-small Poul Anderson Trader to the Stars-small Poul Anderson Tao Zero-small
Poul Anderson The Trouble Twisters 2nd-small Poul Anderson Satan's World-small Poul Anderson Mirkheim-small

The first six of what would eventually be fourteen Berkley Poul Anderson paperbacks with this design, including the first three books of
the Polesotechnic League. Covers by Rick Sternbach (Satan’s World) and Richard Powers (all others). July 1976 – December 1977

Back in May, inspired by Mark R. Kelly’s review of one of the very first science fiction novels I ever read, the 1977 Ace paperback edition of Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course, I took an extended look at Silverberg’s mid-70s career at Ace, and how the marketing department gave his books a distinct visual identity — one very different from the way his novels were later packaged at Berkley, Bantam, Tor and others.

In many ways this kind of author branding reached its zenith in the late 70s, and in the Comments section of that article there were plenty of suggestions for examples I should look at next. Joseph Hoopman suggested Avon’s black-bordered Roger Zelazny (great choice!) and their vintage A. Merritt, Charles Martel mentioned the distinctive Laser Books cover series by Kelly Freas, Thomas Parker expressed fondness for Frank Frazetta’s Ace paperback covers for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Bob Byrne suggested Tim Hildebrandt’s gorgeous covers for the first half-dozen Garrett, PI books by Glen Cook, among other ideas.

All good choices, and if fortune holds I’ll look at many of them. But today I want to highlight a set of paperbacks more contemporary to the Ace Robert Silverberg — the 14 Poul Anderson volumes published by Berkley and Berkley Medallion between 1976 – ’79.

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Goth Chick News: A New Monster from Harry Potter Creator J. K. Rowling

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Ickabog

Shortly following the advent of the zombie apocalypse which caused us all to seek shelter in our homes and increase our body fat to survive potential food shortages, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling had an idea. Back in 2012 she began writing a new kind of children’s story which she read to her two younger kids, then aged 7 and 9 respectively, a chapter at a time as she created it. However, when it was done, she decided to publish the first of her adult mystery series, The Cuckoo’s Calling instead, and the completed children’s story went into the attic.

However, when the zombies came and we all went into hiding, Rowling understood the situation was particularly difficult for children. She went to the attic and dusted off her story and decided it might be a good way to provide some entertainment for the kids, who would otherwise have been finishing school, then enjoying their summer. She decided she would publish the story online for free, as so many parents were experiencing financial hardship, and new books might be pretty far down the line of priorities.

So, in May of this year, the first two chapters of The Ickabog appeared on its own, brand new website. Rowling then released a chapter or two every few days over the next seven weeks, and a week ago, the final chapter (number 64) was posted. In addition, Rowling provided her young readers with suggestions for illustrating her story. She invited them to send her their artwork, from which would be chosen a series of pictures to be included in the print version of The Ickabog, set to be released in November 2020.

And of course, I read it. No actually I devoured it, like the Ickabog devoured…

Never you mind, no spoilers here.

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The Importance of Good Fantasy Art

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 | Posted by Robert Zoltan

FrankFrazettaConan-small MichaelWhelanStormbringer-small JeffreyCatherineJonesSwordsAndDeviltry-small

Art by Frank Frazetta, Michael Whelan, and Jeffrey Catherine Jones

An adventure tale isn’t good just because it features a bare-chested hero and a sword, and neither is a painting. Stories and art are successful because they are created by talented people who have devoted long hours (usually 10,000 or more) to educate themselves about their field and develop the proper skills and style to express that talent. And the presentation of that talent is absolutely vital to the success of the fantasy genre — creatively, culturally, and commercially.

In Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword and Sorcery, Brian Murphy discusses the root causes of the sword and sorcery revival of the 1960s:

…published in paperback with arresting covers by the most talented artist ever to work in the subgenre, the convergence of authorial and visual artistry, marketing, and business acumen led to the re-emergence and conscious reawakening of sword-and-sorcery in the subgenre’s “silver age,” or renaissance.

No doubt all those elements were important, but I can guarantee you that those books never would have sold in those numbers without that great cover art by Frank Frazetta.

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The Art of Author Branding: The Ace Robert Silverberg

Sunday, May 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Seed of Earth Silverberg-small The Silent Invaders Silverberg-small Recalled to Life Silverberg-small
Next Stop the Stars Silverberg-small Collision Course Silverberg-small Stepsons of Terra-small

The Ace Robert Silverberg: skewed titles and unclutterd art. The Seed of Earth, The Silent Invaders, Recalled to Life,
Next Stop the Stars, Collision Course and Stepsons of Terra. All from 1977. Covers by Don Punchatz

If you cruised the bookstore and supermarket racks in the 70s and 80s for science fiction paperbacks, Robert Silverberg was everywhere. I mean, everywhere. It wasn’t just that he was enormously productive — that was certainly true. But his books remained in print, or were returned to print, countless times by different publishers.

This was the era when agents would package up backlists by top writers en masse, selling the rights to multiple novels, and publishers would release them virtually simultaneously, usually with the same cover artist. If you had a popular novel — and Silverberg had many — a diligent agent could package and re-package it many times. That’s how Silverberg’s Hawksbill Station was released by Doubleday, The Science Fiction Book Club, Avon, Tandem, Berkley, Star, Warner Books, Tor, and many others between 1968 and 1990, just to pick one example.

The 1977 paperback edition of Robert Silverberg’s Collision Course was one of the first science fiction books I bought (the other was Star Trek 2, by James Blish). Mark Kelly reviewed it for us here last month, calling it “a fascinating, ordinary 1950s science fiction novel.” The mix of far-flung space adventure and galactic intrigue was perfectly pitched for a 13-year old however, and I loved it. Naturally I returned to the bookstore to find more in the same vein, and lo and behold, I did: five more Robert Silverberg novels, cleverly packaged by Ace Books to capitalize on the natural brand loyalty of young SF fans (see above).

This practice of bundling authors, and creating custom cover designs for each, was by no means unique to science fiction, of course. But if you’re a student of SF art there’s an enormous amount to learn by examining the visual language built up around the most popular SF authors in the 70s and 80s, and the ways editors and Art Directors at the major publishers used that language to draw in readers with familiar images and themes, and simultaneously differentiate themselves from the competition on overcrowded paperback racks.

There are countless examples, of course. But for our purposes, I’m going to single out Robert Silverberg, mostly because he’s the one I think of when I think of author branding. Well, Silverberg and Larry Niven (whom we’ll get to in a minute).

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Future Treasures: Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta by J. David Spurlock

Monday, May 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta-smll

There’s not many novels in the publishing pipeline this month, to be honest with you. The regular flood of advance proofs and review copies that wash up in the mailroom at Black Gate‘s rooftop headquarters here in Chicago has slowed to a trickle, and the only thing flooding in these days is book cancellations and postponements.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have exciting publishing news for you. Would we ever let you down? (Hint: no.) The upcoming month of June is looking lighter than usual from a publishing perspective, but that just means the books remaining in the schedule will be all the more cherished. And that goes double for J. David Spurlock’s oversized tribute to one of the great fantasy artists of the 20th Century, Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta.

J. David Spurlock is the author of Art of Neal Adams, Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art, and Paintings of J Allen St John: Grand Master of Fantasy, all from Vanguard, as well as multiple volumes dedicated to Frank Frazetta, including the Frazetta Sketchbook (two volumes) and The Sensuous Frazetta. His latest is Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta, which repackages and expands the long out-of-print The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta from 1977 into a 120-page coffee table book. It arrives in hardcover next month from Vanguard.

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Horror in a Time Of Coronavirus

Thursday, April 16th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

The Nightmare Henry Fuseli-small

The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781

Horror is a reflection of its times.

All story-telling is: you can read the words of any time and find its birthday stamped in all its pages. Jane Austen couldn’t write a Renaissance novel, Hemingway didn’t write regency fiction, and Shakespeare couldn’t write in the sparse, bare bones prose that Hemingway did.

But horror is rather specifically tied to its own moment. When it works, it grows out of not just an individual’s fear but the atmospheric fear of an age.

Every generation of Horror has its own kind of terroir (a term from wine making that means the taste-remnants of every factor that goes into a bottle, from sun to rain to the trace minerals in the soil to the specific woods in the barrel a vintner uses). Frankenstein is stamped with Mary Shelley’s own biography (the loss of her children, her strained and strange relationship with her father and the ghost of her mother), but also a Romantic-era tension between technology and nature, Humanism and the ideas of divinity. Dracula is most obviously steeped in Edwardian era anxiety about sexuality, women’s role in society, and how rapid social changes are affecting both.

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Call for Backers! Artist Elizabeth Leggett Discusses Her Illustrations for DreamForge Magazine, and More!

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020 | Posted by Emily Mah

BethFP-PPD-16-2002In the second of two interviews supporting DreamForge’s Year Two Kickstarter Campaign I had the privilege of interviewing Hugo Award winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett, who has provided several illustrations for DreamForge.

She has also illustrated for magazines such as Lightspeedand art directed, Women Destroy Fantasy and Queers Destroy Science Fiction. But I’ll let Elizabeth and her gorgeous art speak for themselves.

Emily Mah: You’ve illustrated several stories for DreamForge, that I’m aware of. How many have you done for them and what were the stories?

Elizabeth Leggett: I have been profoundly lucky. DreamForge has found some of the most talented writers and they have let me play in their sandbox through illustration.  The first two pieces I did for them was for Lauren Teffeau’s short story, “Sing! And Remember.”  The first was the cover image and the second was a black and white design.

My next contract was for David Weber’s story, “A Certain Talent.”  This one is close to my heart because I was not only allowed to illustrate the main character, but also conceptualize Jim Moore (Jane Lindskold’s husband) as the power player!  Next, I needed to leave my comfort zone and illustrate Jennifer Donohue’s story, “The Fundamentals of Search and Rescue.”  Good heavens. wreckage sites are a challenge to draw!

My last illustration for last year was for John Jos Miller, “The Ghost of a Smile.”

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Cover Reveal: Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds by Matt Betts

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 | Posted by christopher paul carey


Science fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, wrote four novels and a novella about former stuntman Carson Napier and his wayward adventures on the planet Venus (or Amtor, as it is known to its inhabitants). Now get ready to transport yourself into the Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe with the first new Carson of Venus novel to be published in more than fifty years: Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds by Matt Betts.

The Edge of All Worlds releases Spring 2020 from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., and launches the canonical ERB Universe series of interconnected novels.

Stranded on the planet Amtor for nearly two decades, Earthman Carson Napier returns from his latest adventure to discover a mysterious enemy has struck his adopted nation of Korva and reduced one of its cities to ash and cinders. The trail of the mysterious threat leads Carson and his love Duare through dark cyclopean corridors deep beneath Amtor to a distant land, where they must confront both a powerful new alien species and the shadows of Carson’s past.

I’m pleased to present the exclusive cover reveal for Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds, featuring the artwork of the amazing Chris Peuler.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of November 2019

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth-small Made Things Adrian Tchaikovsky-small The Killing Light Myke Cole-small

It’s December already. Hard to believe, I know. But it’s true.

It’s many ways I’m not sad to have November in the rear view mirror. For one thing, the weather was terrible. More importantly, it brought disturbing changes to one of my favorite genre websites, the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, which fired all their freelancers on November 26th. I don’t know if the ongoing changes will also impact folks like founding editor Joel Cunningham, or Jeff Somers, who writes the top-notch book survey every month, but I really hope not. We’ve benefited greatly from their work here at Black Gate, and I hope it continues.

In particular, Jeff Somers’ monthly survey of the best genre books is something I always look forward to, and he never disappoints. His November column — with 25 titles by Neil Gaiman, Myke Cole, Walter Jon Williams, and many others — is a classic example. Packed in there with the blockbuster new books by E.E. Knight, Howard Andrew Jones, and Rebecca Roanhorse, are several genuine surprises. Here’s a look at the best unexpected books on the list.

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Gahan Wilson, February 18, 1930 — November 21, 2019

Friday, November 29th, 2019 | Posted by Andy Duncan

Gahan-Wilson-I-think-its-his-beeper cartoon

The cartoonist Gahan Wilson, who died last Thursday, was a Guest of Honor at the first International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts that I ever attended, in 1995, and that is the scene of this story.

I arrived at the con hotel a day early, knowing no one, and mostly roamed the halls, hoping someone might talk to me. Seeing a propped-open door, I walked through it, and found myself in a big room set up for an art show, a maze of temporary walls. Hanging on them were dozens of original Gahan Wilson drawings. So much larger than the published versions, several feet to a side, these were museum-quality works, in pen and ink and pastel, their captions handwritten across the bottom.

I slowly roamed the exhibit, taking my sweet time in front of each piece. I examined them up close and from a distance. I savored every moment of that private viewing, that wholly unauthorized VIP preview experience.

And repeatedly, my path kept crossing that of the only other person in the room: a balding man in a safari jacket, holding a clipboard, who stopped in front of each piece and jotted a note. I assumed he was a conference official, some sort of curator, and I expected him to ask me, politely, to leave, and to come back when the exhibit was open.

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