The latest 1950s British Science Fiction videocast from Philip Harbottle delves into the history of one extraordinary title, John Russell Fearn‘s novelisation of the film, Creature from the Black Lagoon, first published by Dragon Press/ Scion, in 1954.
“I think this one will create a few red faces and gnashing of teeth amongst dealers,” Philip tells us, revealing the true history of the book’s first publication, as a paperback edition, followed in 1955 by a hardback. This sequence of events is at odds with many bookseller descriptions of the hardback, his finding the result of a lifetime of research into the work of John Russell Fearn.
Philip’s history of the book has already raised some eyebrows among collectors, but his research concerning the initial paperback edition is meticulous, as you’d expect. He notes that the Universal Pictures film proved an instant hit in the United States, when released in March, 1954. In response, Scion publicised their planned book edition in the #5 issue of their Vargo Statten/ British SF Magazine in May, 1954, with a two-page photo supplement of film stills, and announced the book as in preparation for late June or July publication. However, the book was delayed, because Scion were taken over by their printers, Dragon Press, and Fearn’s contract was re-negotiated. This included his taking over the editorship of the magazine with issue #7. (He had not edited issues 1-6, despite what was printed on the contents page as a marketing ploy.) #7 eventually came out in September, along with the book, now published as a Dragon book.
“Given Fearn’s popularity, and the favourable US reception for the film, the first printing was likely to be the normal large one,” says Philip, “which infers that it would have the Apal advert on the back cover. Now – and not many people know this! —when the film opened in Blackpool in December 1954, Fearn was interviewed by his local newspaper, and revealed as the book’s author. He was reported as saying: ‘The book of the film has sold out.’
“This obviously referred to its paperback edition. It’s quite likely therefore, that Dragon decided to do a second print run, and this was the now-rare variant small case edition. However, they quickly decided that it would be more lucrative to reprint it as a hardcover, and stopped printing the paperback edition, which would explain why it is rarer, and why their February 1955 hardcover reprint also had a blank back cover.”
Philip also notes in the video that a new and beautifully produced edition of the novel, published in 2011 by Dreamhaven Books, which he contributed to, “was a dream come true”, since, he had been trying to gain an English publisher for Fearn’s novelisation for forty years! Philip had more success in Italy than here, back in 1982.
Copies of the Dreamhaven edition are still available from the publisher, including the version signed by Julie Adams and Ricou Browning.
Philip Harbottle is a life-long science fiction fan, regarded as a world authority on the works of John Russell Fearn, whose credits encompass writing “Garth” for the Daily Mirror, and the “Golden Amazon” for Spaceship Away (adapting Fearn’s stories). He’s also very kindly contributed a number of synopses of early “Garth” stories to downthetubes, which we are adding as time permits.
Back in the 1950s, he adapted some of the Radio Luxembourg Dan Dare radio shows into comics at a young age – the only record of some of these tales known to exist, since very few recordings survive.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. 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 “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.