SF books and magazines expert, author, publisher Philip Harbottle has been enthusing about a new book by artist and author Rian Hughes, Rayguns and Rocketships in his latest 1950s British Science Fiction videocast, describing it as “the finest non-fiction book yet published on popular science fiction art.”
Published by Korero Press following a succesful crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, Rayguns and Rocketships is a glorious celebration of 1950s and and 1960s British SF paperback cover art. The book 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, and Philip provided help behind the scenes on the book, and contributes a special afterword.
Rayguns and rockets! Spacesuited heroes 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!
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.
Spotlight on Vargo Statten and Volsted Gridban
As well as reviewing Rayguns and Rocketships, Philip has also recently published another video, “Spotlight on Vargo Statten and Volsted Gridban”, filmed by his granddaughter, Eleanor. In this enjoyable episode of 1950s British Science Fiction, he dispels a few internet myths, and shares more of his amazing collection of rare SF books, many very hard to find today.
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.
A vintage comic strip by Philip Harbottle, adapting John Russell Fearn’s much admired SF novel Across the Ages, has finally been published – some sixty years after the now renowned author and publisher drew it (Read our news item about this here)