Sneak Peek: Rayguns and Rocketships! a new book by Rian Hughes celebrating the cover art of 1950s and 60s SF

Heading to bookshops, soon, hopefully, from Korero Press is Rayguns and Rocketships, a celebration of 1950s and and 1960s British SF paperback cover art, compiled by ace artist, designer and author Rian Hughes.

Although the book has been listed on several booksellers web sites, Rian tells us the project that publication schedule is still to be decided, and may be the focus of a Kickstarter – more news to follow as we get it.

The cover for Rayguns and Rocketships, featuring art by Ron Turner, one of his "recreation works", a creator whose art was a mainstay of many a successful SF title of the 1950s and 60s, drawing on images chiefly from early issues of Vargo Statten SF Magazine
The cover for Rayguns and Rocketships, featuring art by Ron Turner, one of his “recreation works”, a creator whose art was a mainstay of many a successful SF title of the 1950s and 60s, drawing on images chiefly from early issues of Vargo Statten SF Magazine

Rayguns and Rocketships, not to be confused with the board game of the same name, although you might like that too, is introduced by Bear Alley publisher and archivist Steve Holland, who has charted the careers of many an author and artist involved in creating the books inspired by this collection.

Rayguns and rockets! Spacesuited dames caught in the tentacles of evil insectoid aliens! Who could resist such wonders? Science fiction paperbacks exploded over the 1940s and ’50s literary landscape with the force of an alien gamma bomb.

Titles such as Mushroom Men From Mars by Rick Conroy, writing as Lee Stanton, published in 1951, Dawn of the Mutants, by Lionel Fanthorpe, writing as Lionel Roberts, published in 1959, and Rodent Mutation!, also by Fanthorpe under the pseudonym Bron Fane, published in 1961, appeared from fly-by-night publishers, some, in the early part of the Fifties, at least, making the most of the end of post-war paper rationing. They were brash and seductive – and for a shilling, the future was yours.

The stories were often conceived around a pre-commissioned cover from an artist, and a title suggested by the publisher. The story writers were paid by the word, and sometimes not paid at all; titles were knocked out at a key-pounding pace, sometimes over a weekend, by authors now lost to literary history (and a few slumming professionals), some of whom hid behind pseudonyms such as Steve Future, Volstead Gridban, Brian Storm and Vargo Statten.

Despite the punishing deadlines and poor pay, the books’ cover artists managed to produce artworks of multihued, brain-bending brilliance, and collected here is some of the best of their output during an unparalleled period of brash optimism and opportunism in book publishing. Beware the space fiend!

Let’s hope Korero Press ramp this project up soon, however they plan to get it published, because it looks fantastic!

Rian Hughes

Rian Hughes is an award-winning graphic designer, illustrator, comic artist, author, and typographer who has worked extensively for the British and American advertising, music and comics industries. Rian’s latest novel, The Black Locomotive, was released earlier this month. He’s also written books about design and illustration, including Cult-ure: Ideas can be Dangerous and Custom Lettering of the ’20s and ’30s. Many of his comic strips were collected in Yesterday’s Tomorrows, and his font foundry, Device, has released over 200 original designs since 1994.

Korero Press is a London-based publisher. At the heart of everything they do is a love of lowbrow and kustom kulture. Their list is mainly made up of pop culture, street art, erotica and horror titles, and they’ve published books by such renowned contemporary artists as Ron English, Patrick J. Jones and Derek Yaniger. You can buy their books in traditional bricks and mortar bookshops, or directly from their website and elsewhere online.

• For news of new releases, events and offers from Korero Press, sign up for their newsletter and follow the publisher on social media | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram

Please be aware some but by no means all of Korero Press titles include adult imagery

• If 1950s British science fiction is an interest, then be sure to subscribe to Philip Harbottle’s 1950s “British Science Fiction” videocast on YouTube, where he has been sharing some of the treasures from his unique collection

Rayguns and Rocketships is listed here from AmazonUK | ISBN 9781912740048 | It is currently only available to add to a wish list – note publication date listed is incorrect (Affiliate Link)

With thanks to Steve Holland for the heads up and Rian Hughes for additional information. This article was updated on 25th August 2021 to include information on possible crowdfunding

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: Art and Illustration, Books, downthetubes News, Other Worlds, Science Fiction

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