Saturday, April 26, 2014

With Just a Touch of Her Burning Hand: The Cover Art of Rowena Morrill

With her very first paperback cover illustration - for Isobel (below, Jove Books, 1977) - artist Rowena Morrill showed an innate talent for depicting the lurid, the fantastical, the unimaginable, with bold eye-catching color and strikingly detailed monsters, heroines, wizards, and other genre-specific characters. Morrill rose to prominence throughout the late 1970s and onward, one of the few female artists to contribute greatly to the SF&F/horror paperback boom. Her cover art is unmistakably of its time, original and painstaking work readers don't often see today - which makes it so wondrously special and worth celebrating.

At top is Burning (Jove, May 1978), and it is easily one of my top 10 paperback horror covers: I love the blood-red title, the terrified women screaming, the house ablaze, all within a half-cube. And add that tagline - "A love that defied the grave"! Man I can't resist. Maybe one day I'll read it!

These two collections of Lovecraft, both Jove 1978, were some of her earliest work, and I must say that besides the famous Michael Whelan covers for Ballantine/Del Rey a few years later, they're simply the best HPL paperback covers. The orange and blue text, sure, but the bizarre creatures could only be painted by an artist who actually read the stories. Same goes for that Frank Belknap Long collection, as it depicts the title tale in all its muck and madness.

It wasn't till just the other day that I came across this Charles L. Grant title, Night Songs (Pocket, June 1984), and it got me started really looking for Morrill covers I hadn't seen before. Haven't read it but I'm gonna assume there's a mermaid involved....

Most of Morrill's covers were for the science fiction and fantasy genres, but we know how that line can blur. Below are just a few examples of her Timescape covers, a 1980s imprint of Pocket Books. Have you read George R.R. Martin's 1979 novella "Sandkings"? Holy shit, it truly is one of the great horror/SF tales of the '80s! The cover is perfect. And of course we all love our Clark Ashton Smith paperbacks, even though personally I have no time for reading about wizards or muscular shirtless heroes.

Perhaps Morrill's most iconic horror paintings were done for Pocket's Robert R. McCammon line. I can't imagine '80s horror without this imagery and vanishing point perspective. Swan Song (June 1987) is a staple of the era, and They Thirst (Oct 1988) is a particular fave cover of mine, Hollywood vampires oh yeah!
Another stunner is this motley crew of bloodthirsty night creatures, folks whose faces we all recognize. Wish I'd seen this when I was a kid, it's from '78 also and I would've killed for it. I was crazy for monsters in castles back then, just crazy.

And then there's The Haunt (Popular Library, April 1990), another book I'd never heard of till researching Morrill's covers. She loves her bats!

So much thanks to you, Ms. Morrill, for some of my favorite horror paperback covers ever.

The artist herself, c. 1970s one presumes

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Go Waltzing Mephisto with Me

I present for your satanic delight a "classic" post-Rosemary's Baby occult horror novel, The Mephisto Waltz (1969), from a writer who would go on to write bestselling mainstream historical fiction about the Civil War and whatnot. Great covers all around, from both the US and the UK. All but the original 1970 Signet paperback below highlight the nude female form, titillating potential readers about what might reside within. But I'm not surprised to learn the novel (and its 1971 movie adaptation starring horror-film icon Alan Alda) is fairly lackluster and lame; check out The Midnight Room review, in which it's referred to as "late '60s quasi Satanic hooey." Ha!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let Fury Have the Hour

Apropos of nothing, simply some cover art I really dig for a novel I couldn't get into (although the movie version is something of a psychic '70s pleasure). All are pretty striking: above, the '80s reprint with feathered 'do art by John Melo, a couple UK editions complete with King references, then the terrific stepback from the original 1977 US paperback, and at bottom the de rigueur movie tie-in edition. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Everville by Clive Barker (1994): Infinite Dreams

(For the ever-popular Throwback Thursday, I present the following, a review I wrote for Amazon back in 1998)

Everville... the eternal city, the mythic point where this earth and the heavens meet, the "axis mundi," the crossroads of eternity and time, the sacred and the profane. Is Clive Barker the only author of these sore days who sees into these crossroads? It's a more than worthy sequel to 1989's The Great and Secret Show. Barker continually impresses me with each new book, both in the themes and characters he explores, the language he uses, and his subversion of the both the horror and fantasy genres. If I see one more book review or interview that refers to him as a "master of horror" - argh! He's got more in common with a Joseph Campbell, a William Blake, a Dali or Cocteau, than any mere horror writer. I think Everville is a very good book; but yes, I did get some smirks and sneers from my more "literary" acquaintances. Pity -they don't know what they're missing.

 2009 UK reprint

Barker's prose is as measured and musical as ever; this is the first book of his which, on several occasions, stirred me nearly to tears. While reading it, I kept a pen nearby, underlining dozens of beautiful passages. The story flows effortlessly - which it needs to, as Barker understands, as Story is the only way things of consequence get told. As he writes: And every life, however short, however meaningless it seems, is a leaf on the story tree. British-born Barker does well depicting "everyday" people in a small American town; a nice change from the distant misfits of his short stories and early novels. There is risk-taking here on his part, and yes, sometimes some of the Americana rings a tad false, and I was little let down by the literalization of Quiddity, but any writer who has the courage to revision Jesus, the Christ - the Christ of Dreams, and Dreaming - in the course of a "popular" novel, has my utmost admiration. Of course, anyone who's read Imajica or Weaveworld knows Barker does not shy away from re-imagining of what the supernatural is and what it means to those caught up in it.

 1995 UK paperback

I love Barker's depiction of reality as ever in flux, something malleable and always in transformation. As Joe Flicker asks himself, traveling through the Metacosm: "But when he slept here, and dreamed, was he entering yet another reality, beyond this one, where he might also sleep and dream?" An eternal question, asked by the ancients of all cultures. Stories and dreams have always made and remade the world; we are never satisfied with Reality. Why else would we regale ourselves with tales and visions of resurrections and journeys, virgin births and sacred mountains, men of wisdom and women of purity? All of this is "the Great and Secret Show" we never tire of, and Barker seems to effortlessly reach behind the veil and pluck out our appetites, our perversities, our loves and our hopes, our desires to comprehend these mysteries. That, I think, is the Art: a skill to divine our souls. One character, Owen Buddenbaum, desiring communion with the "gods", expresses this eloquently: be free of every frailty, including love; free to live out of time, out of place, out of every particular. He would be unmade, the way divinities were unmade, because divinities were without beginning and without end: a rare and wonderful condition.

 1999 Harper trade paperback reprint

The visions in Everville are classic Barker: the creation of the Metacosm (a Jungian archetype if ever there was one) by Maeve O'Connell and Coker Ammiano - a whorehouse at the crossroads, negating the bluster about this nation being found on Christian values. Joe Flicker in the Metacosm, and absorbed into the 'Shu (marine pieces of the Creator - see Barker's sketch at bottom), then into the Iad, then a wandering spirit dreamed to glorious flesh by his lover Phoebe; the transformation of Tesla, and the glimpses she gives to Detective D'Amour of stories to come; Tommy the Death-Boy cradling a child "to his burned body, whistling for the killing cloud to follow him"; Lucien's talk of us being "vessels for the infinite"; the description of the city b'Kether Sabbat, "shaped like an inverted pyramid, balanced on its tip." Yes, all those, and more, right this way....

This is an amazing book, a gripping read, an epic in the making of "four journeys" as Barker writes: "One to the dream world, one to the real; one to the bestial; one to the divine." Like many contemporary literary novels, Everville is concerned with the act of storytelling itself, a self-conscious reflection on the creation of tales, events and characters readers know are made up but still have the power to transform and enlighten - in fact, they transform and enlighten precisely because they are created by us. Read this book carefully, savor its elegance and ferocity of imagination, and you will be uplifted. Everville - and Barker's fiction in general - is a worthy addition to the infinite branches of the story tree.