Monday, May 10, 2021

Thomas Tessier: The Paperback Covers

Author Thomas Tessier, born on this date in Westbury, CT, in 1947, has long been one of my personal favorite horror writers. One of the first books I reread when I began this blog was Finishing Touches, which I hadn't read since the late 1980s. It's an erotic horror masterpiece, filled with a fatalistic conviction that I find irresistible—and featured a credible mad scientist too. He forayed into the devious mind of a stalker in Rapture and made his shocking sociopathic behavior seem rational. Nightwalker, his second novel, is an ambiguous tale of lycanthropy praised by both Stephen King and Peter Straub. Not too shabby!

Tessier's short work was published in many horror anthologies of the late '80s and into the '90s, and these should not be overlooked. Stories like "Food," "Evelyn Grace," "In Praise of Folly," "Addicted to Love," and "Blanca" brim with a wit and fearlessness that is too often absent from horror fiction; they never fail to disturb, provoke, disgust, and chill the reader. And I can't ask too much more from any horror writer than that.



Friday, April 9, 2021

Jaws Paperback/Movie Preview Booklet

What an unexpected item to add to my collection! I didn't even know this piece of ephemera existed till now: a stapled booklet the size of a mass market paperback that previews the "upcoming" film adaptation of Peter Benchley's massive bestseller from Bantam Books, Jaws. A little edgeworn and torn, it was given to me by crime novelist, journalist, and fellow New Jerseyan Wallace Stroby, who sent me an ARC of his new book with this surprise stuffed inside. 

I forget exactly how Stroby and I met online. Probably through his own blog, maybe when he'd posted his terrific 1990 interview with Clive Barker, which I recalled reading when first published. He'd reviewed some books for Fangoria back in the vintage era, which he mailed to me some years ago (and he included a CD mix of Springsteen rarities too). He told me he picked this up at a bookstore giveaway around 1974 or early 1975. Anyway, enjoy!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Cover Artist William Teason Born on This Date, 1922

For years I have wondered about the identity of the artist who painted these gorgeous paperback covers for classic Shirley Jackson reprints in the mid-Seventies, from Popular Library. Some time ago a reader commented on a long-ago TMHF post on Jackson that they had lived next door to the artist William Teason (b. Kansas City, MO, 1922-2003) and had modeled for some of these covers. This was just the clue I needed! Then I simply emailed the family members who run Teason's official website, included the above photo, and simply asked if they could confirm this for me. I thought it was a long shot, but Teason's son replied within a few hours, said he recognized most as his father's work but was unsure about one and that he'd check and get back to me. Which he did. And told me yes—those are all by Teason. Mystery solved!

Quite often Teason signed much of his work, including skillfully working his signature into the wooden boards on the original 1963 paperback cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a personal top favorite (yes, someone "borrowed" this image for Bava's Shock poster). Most of his output was for mysteries and crime classics, titles by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, but in the Eighties he began producing terrific covers for Zebra. With his long, award-winning career, Teason is without a doubt one of the masters of vintage paperback cover art!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A Month of Black Sabbaths: The Horror Paperbacks of Daniel Rhodes

Not much to catch the eye in this classy cover art for Next, After Lucifer (July 1988), but the critical blurbs seem to be impressed! One of those authors about whom I never knew anything but whose paperbacks have been plentiful in used bookstores for years, Daniel Rhodes had two more titles published in the late Eighties through Tor's prolific horror line, Adversary and Kiss of Death, from 1989 and 1990 respectively. In the United Kingdom they were put out by New English Library—adorned with much better cover art—complete with Graham Masterton singing the praises.
Looking into the author, turns out Rhodes is a pen name of thriller author Neil McMahon, who is still hard at work today. I was pleasantly surprised to find Next, After Lucifer to be written in a style not usually found in horror paperbacks, elevated and inspired by the stories of M.R. James—the novel is dedicated to the writer—but with requisite updating (drug use, illicit sex). Actually, it was published in hardcover by St. Martin's Press, which might explain the higher quality prose and all-around cultured nature of the tale within.
Anyway, there's an ancient evil in a quaint French town where American medieval studies scholar John McTell and his indifferent newlywed wife Linden are taking a sabbatical. It's Templar Knight Guilhem de Courdeval from the 14th century, burned at the stake for sorcery and various occult antics, whose spirit is trying to invade McTell, thanks to McTell stumbling across the knight's grimoire in castle ruins in the hills. Come on, dude, you're a medieval studies prof, you know waaay better than to mess with that stuff.

Rhodes is a literate and careful writer, and I was impressed by the depiction of local color, an indulgent priest, the villagers, and especially the snobby, drunken antics of Linden's sister, husband, and a Eurotrash hanger-on who crash the McTells' getaway and liven up the proceedings. It's quiet, allusive, historical horror here all the way, which was fine, a couple gory touches, but I definitely felt it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, or maybe I just mean it needed more oomph in narrative, dramatic tension. Plus there's a sequel I didn't know about, Adversary, so that means the climax is a touch half-hearted. Worth a read, worth adding to your collection, but remember to watch out for grimoires that write themselves...

Saturday, February 13, 2021

RIP Rowena Morrill (1944 - 2021)

Illustrator extraordinaire Rowena Morrill has died at age 76 after a long illness, according to Locus. I was just thinking of her too as only several days ago I purchased a copy of 1978's Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories, solely for her stunning cover art. It arrived on my doorstep earlier this past week (with more scuffing than I'd expected from a seller description of "F/NF" but oh well that's not what I'm here for today). I just love the "roll call" of Draculas, male and female alike! Pretty spectacular work, in every respect.

Many of my favorite horror paperback covers were painted by Morrill, regardless of whether I liked or even read the novel adorned. My personal taste runs to her horror work, obviously, like her stunning debut, 1978’s Jove paperback original Isobel:
Way to make an entrance! More late Seventies horror art came in the form of two Jove Lovecrafts and the haunting lesbian love story Burning
In the late Eighties she produced perhaps her most iconic horror covers, for the Pocket editions of Robert McCammon's novels. These editions are emblematic of that entire era of horror fiction, and truly belong on any collector's shelf:

Most of her work looked to me as if she'd actually read the stories she was illustrating, which is not always something artists had time to do, I'm sure. These two covers for Frank Belknap Long and George R.R. Martin classics are good examples:

Happily Rowena Morrill was lauded and well-thought of for her entire career, and did not, like so many other artists, languish in obscurity. I can’t count how many science fiction, fantasy, or horror books her work has graced over the decades, but the genres are all the better for it. For a good obit, with plenty of background, visit here.