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Paperback to the Future: Best of British science-fiction covers from the 1950s

The back story of Britain in the fifties reads like the checklist for a Star Wars script. The war is over, the Empire is dying and the New World Colonies are slowly taking over. Many British pulp sci-fi writers had only to look out of their windows at the bomb-torn urban landscape to find inspiration. Just like George Orwell who used his knowledge of the everyday world of rationing, deprivation, and squalor in 1948 and a little of his time working at the BBC in Room 101 to color his novel 1984.

There were—to put it simply—two schools of thought in sci-fi at the time: write about what you know (or more likely your obsessions) as seen thru the prism of science-fiction, or write space age fantasies about exploration of the stars and seeking out new worlds and life forms as a topical metaphor for contemporary tropes about empire, war, and civilization. 

Both of these were pretty much the mainstay of a whole range of short-lived British science-fiction magazines that flourished between 1950-56. These wonderfully lurid-covered magazines featured work by John Rackham (aka John T. Phillifent), Volsted Gridban (aka E. C. Tubb) and Vargo Statten whose name became the masthead for one popular sci-fi magazine of the day later retitled to the British Science Fiction Magazine. Statten was just one of the many pseudonyms used by the prolific writer and editor John Russell Fearn, who together with Tubb and Phillifent produced the bulk of work for Britain’s golden years of science-fiction magazines before these ‘zines were sadly snuffed out by the flood of comics, movies, and television programs from the USA.

Afterwards, Fearn continued to write sci-fi and crime novels. Tubb became famous for his space opera Dumarest of Terra and writing a series of novels based on Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999. Phillifent went onto write a library of sci-fi novels and a few novelizations for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Most of the covers featured below from Vargo Statten, Tit-Bits Science Fiction and Scion publishing are the work of the brilliant artist and illustrator Ron Turner who supplied artwork, illustrations and comicstrips for Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Daleks.
More gorgeous British sci-fi covers, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
BDSM, forced feminization & a little light torture: The erotic art of Bernard Montorgueil VERY NSFW
10:58 am


Bernard Montorgueil

I suppose it was just another ordinary evening over at Bernard Montorgueil’s apartment. In the front room, there was gathered the usual array of flagellants, sadists, masochists, onanists, fellators, fellatrix, cunning linguists, sodomites and tethered cross-dressers. Each, in their own way, happily enjoying a quiet evening of sex and torture. Most of the men almost naked apart from their stockings and six-inch heels and the glitter of their nipple clamps and cock rings. The women, more sensibly, wore beautiful evening gowns, dress coats or fine tweed skirts and jackets matched by a stout pair of brogues.

It was just as Msr. Montorgueil had imagined it. For he had imagined it all and set it down on paper with a pencil. For this was what Msr. Montorgueil did most days and evenings sitting at his desk—draw pictures of men and women enjoying the carnal delights of S&M.

No one knows the true identity of Bernard Montorgueil. He was so mysterious a figure that “Montorgueil” does not merit even a full entry in Wikipedia. What little is known is that he (or she) was a French artist who produced the bulk of their erotic writing and artwork during the 1920s and 1930s. The work mainly focussed on the world of femdom-malesub with a dash or two of homoerotica and some forced feminization. Montorgueil’s work became very popular in the 1950s, where it was circulated around the underground fetish BDSM community. The drawings were originally produced in pencil and later colored for publication in the 1970s when they were collated into the volumes Dans La Maison des Amazones, Madame de Varennes and Barbara, and Les Quatre Jeudis. These books are long out of print though can be found on eBay. More recently, an edition Dressage was published.
More of the mysterious Bernard Montorgueil’s erotica, after the work…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Classic love and heartbreak songs illustrated in the style of Stephen King horror paperbacks
10:12 am

Pop Culture

Stephen King

Artist Butcher Billy took iconic love and heartbreak songs and reimagined them as if they were Stephen King horror novels. They’re actually quite amusing and it works, in my opinion. The title of this series is called “Stephen King’s Stranger Love Songs.”

I may never listen to these sappy songs the same way again as I’ll have these horror-like visuals in my head from now on.

Prints and t-shirts of Butcher’s work are available through Redbubble.

A post shared by Butcher Billy (@thebutcherbilly) on



More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Sex and Horror: The lurid erotic art of Emanuele Taglietti

Emanuele Taglietti painted some 500 covers for various fumetti or Italian comics during the 1970s. His work featured on such best-selling adult sex and horror fumetti like Sukia, Zora the Vampire, Stregoneria, Ulula, Vampirissimo and Wallestein, among many others. At one point he was producing ten paintings a month for these titles.

Taglietti’s sex and horror paintings often featured recognizable charcters/actors from popular horror movies like Christopher Lee’s Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Plague of the Zombies, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. According to Horropedia, Taglietti had “a fixation” with the actress Ornella Muti on whose likeness he based the character Sukia.

Born in Ferrara, Italy, in 1943, Taglietti was the son of a set designer who worked with film directors like Michelangelo Antonioni—who was also apparently his cousin. His father regularly took the young Taglietti on to movie sets introducing him to directors, actors, and crew.

Deciding to follow his father into the film business, Taglietti attended art college where he studied design. He graduated and then enrolled at film school in Rome. He became an assistant director working with directors like Federico Fellini and Dino Risi. But this wasn’t enough for the young Taglietti. By the 1970s, he switched careers to become an illustrator for the incredibly popular sex and horror fumetti.

Taglietti signed up with Edifumetto, where he worked at designing and painting covers. His style was influenced by the artists Frank Frazetta and Averardo Ciriello. His paintings successfully managed to convey thrilling narrative with highly alluring and erotically charged action. By the 1980s, fumetti were no longer as popular. Taglietti moved onto painting and teaching. He retired in 2000 but continues to paint.

A beautiful must-have book of Taglietti’s work called Sex and Horror was published in 2015. It’s one that is well worth seeking out.
See more of Taglietti’s delightfully lurid artwork, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The opera based on Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’

Last year the Minnesota Opera showcased the world premiere of a new opera based on Stephen King’s famous novel The Shining, the starting point for an unsettling adaptation by Stanley Kubrick starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. 

The operatic version was composed by Paul Moravec with a libretto by Mark Campbell. Moravec won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2004 for his work Tempest Fantasy.

The opera is an adaptation not of Kubrick’s movie but of King’s book—although the movie, firmly embedded in the minds of virtually everyone in the audience, will surely have an effect. As an example, the famous words “Here’s Johnny!,” shouted by Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in a moment of frenzy, is not in the novel and thus does not appear in the opera either. King has never had any affection for Kubrick’s version of his novel, so it’s noteworthy that the prolific author “maintained libretto approval and gave Campbell the green light 24 hours after receiving the final version.”

The Shining capped off the Minnesota Opera’s 2015-2016 season, with the premiere taking place on May 7, 2016.

The reviews have been respectful to more than respectful. In the magazine Opera News, Joshua Rosenblum was effusive about the production, saying that “Moravec proves to be a masterful musical dramatist.” He added that “Brian Mulligan does the seemingly impossible—he actually makes you forget Jack Nicholson” and that “watching Vega’s Danny step slowly toward the bathtub with the drawn curtain in the forbidden room 217 was as riveting as anything I’ve ever seen in a theater. “

Fun fact: Rosenblum did not mistype Room 237, nor did the librettist commit a flub—in King’s novel the locus of dread is actually Room 217.


More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The master of Moorcock: The psychedelic sci-fi book covers and art of Bob Haberfield

‘The Singing Citadel’ by Michael Moorcock. Cover art by Bob Haberfield, 1970.

Sci-fi author Michael Moorcock has published a dizzying array of books since getting his start editing a Tarzan fanzine when he was still a teenager. In addition to his extensive literary career, Moorcock has also had some pretty praiseworthy experiences in the world of rock and roll including having played banjo for Hawkwind (as well as writing lyrics for the band) and penning three songs for Blue Öyster Cult. However, as excellent as Mr. Moorcock is, this post is about a man whose art adorned countless covers of books by Moorcock and others in the genre of fantasy and sci-fi for years, Bob Haberfield. If you are of a certain age you will very likely remember being in a store (especially in the UK) catching yourself staring right at one of Haberfield’s many contemplative psychedelic book covers that were staring right back at you.

Before he got started doing book covers, Haberfield created album art for UK jazz label World Record Club starting in the early 1960s. His first cover for Moorcock—who he collaborated with quite often during his career—appeared in 1970 on the first edition of Moorcock’s book Phoenix in Obsidian put out by Mayflower in the UK. This would be the third cover for Haberfield after his debut in 1968 illustrating the cover for a book written by seven-time Hugo Award-winning author Poul Anderson, The Star Fox. Haberfield would collaborate with a long list of other authors and it’s also not uncommon to see different artwork by Haberfield adorn a later edition of the same book. Another one of Haberfield’s artistic calling cards is his incorporation of religious symbolism—specifically, those associated with Buddhism.

It’s my opinion that the Australian graphic designer’s work is somewhat criminally underappreciated. And for the time that his far-out creations were displayed on a lengthy list of sci-fi/fantasy books, his work really stands apart thanks to his bizarre, thought-provoking imagery and use of color. I mean this is the guy who put Adolf Hitler on a futuristic-looking motorcycle, wearing a Dracula cape hauling what dubiously appears to be a fucking bomb behind him to the backdrop of a blazing red swastika for author Norman Spinrad‘s critcally acclaimed 1972 book, The Iron Dream. If that last bit didn’t quite convince you of Haberfield’s mad, mad genius, then perhaps checking out more of his work, which I’ve posted below, is in order. Much of it is NSFW.

An incredible alternate cover by Haberfield for author Norman Spinrad’s 1972 book, ‘The Iron Dream’

The grim cover of the first edition paperback by Haberfield.
More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Mouth-watering trailer for a ‘what if?’ 1970s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s ‘High-Rise’
02:12 pm


J.G. Ballard

Ben Wheatley’s recent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s masterful 1975 novel High-Rise scratched a profound itch many of us had had for years, but by rights we really should have had an adaptation from its own time, a brutalist B-movie with dissonant stereophonic music that should take its rightful place alongside Death Race 2000 and Logan’s Run.

We never got that movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend.

Adam Scovell has helpfully put together a marvelous trailer for a make-believe BBC series based on High-Rise using imagery from a really interesting-looking series from the early 1970s called Doomwatch that garnered controversy at the time for several episodes, including one that focused on mutant rats taking over the streets of London. The episode Scovell used is called “The Human Time-Bomb,” and it ran on the BBC on February 22, 1971.

I don’t know much about the plot except that the bland plot synopsis from the time sounds intriguingly Ballardian: “Dr. Fay Chantry performs a biological study of tower block life—and finds far more than she expected.”

On his blog Celluloid Wicker Man, Scovell raises a very interesting point, which is the possibility—one might even say the likelihood—that “The Human Time-Bomb” is actually a direct source for Ballard’s novel:

The Human Time-Bomb rather uniquely pre-empts almost all aspects of High-Rise in such detail that it must be considered whether Ballard himself actually saw it when broadcast. I have little doubt that he at least knew about the series, such was the crossover of the series’ goals with his own conflation of science and disaster.

He also notes that during this time, it wasn’t hard at all to find Ballard’s themes played out on the telly:

British Television of this period is brimming with Ballardian imagery; endless brutalist structures, obsessive emphasis on cars, violence and misogyny.  This is all compacted into a huge variety of drama, only ever really escaping from such aspects when a series or play was set in period.

Have a look at the trailer for the 70s ‘High-Rise’ that shoulda been, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Insomnia or the Devil at Large’: Gorgeously primitive watercolors by Henry Miller
08:47 am


Henry Miller

In the mid ’60s, Henry Miller, the great and often controversial American writer whose works were mostly banned in the US until 1961, developed an infatuation on a Japanese lounge singer and actress named Hoki Tokuda. Miller and Tokuda would eventually marry (a true May-December affair—their age difference was almost 50 years, and the marriage was reportedly…unconventional in other respects as well), but before sealing the deal, fretfulness over their relationship would provoke a prolonged bout of insomnia in Miller, and during that spell of sleeplessness, he produced a series of watercolors and the short story “Insomnia or the Devil at Large.” Miller described the watercolors thusly:

They reflect the varying moods of three in the morning. Some were sprinkled with bird seed, some with songes, and some with mensonges. Some dripped from the brush like pink arsenic; others clogged up on me and came out as welts and bruises. Some were organic, some inorganic, but they were all intended to lead their own life in the garden of Abracadabra.”


“Insomnia” would eventually see its most widely-distributed publication as a 33-page book in 1974, but in 1970, Loujon Press of Albuquerque, NM produced a rather lavish boxed portfolio featuring 17x22” reproductions of the Insomnia watercolors and a letterpress book containing the story. Several editions were made, with the intention of producing 999 boxes in all, but the reality was somewhat more modest. Evidently only about 300 of the wooden cases were made, and the editions, designated with letters A through F, were all published in smaller numbers than originally hoped, some in cheaper boxes, some in an “economy” edition comprised of simply the book and prints with no case at all.

One of the nicer sets, from edition G, has just come up for bidding via the Aspire Auction company. Its provenance is about as direct as can be—it was procured directly from Miller himself by a book and art dealer named Arthur Feldman, and it’s signed.

Insomnia or The Devil at Large”, book and a portfolio of twelve works, 1970. Lithographs on paper, book with comb binding, marked Edition G out of 385 copies to colophon, first edition, signed and dated by the artist “May 1st 1970”, published by Loujon Press, Albuquerque, NM. In wooden box with sliding lid, overall 24” x 19 ⅛”

Bidding closes on Thursday, April 6th. Best of luck. The images that follow are from the copy being offered for sale, and are culled from the auction house’s web site. Clicking spawns an enlargement.

More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Ian Svenonius conducts a seance, summoning the spirits of Brian Jones, Jim Morrison & others
01:29 pm


Ian Svenonius

In 2012 Ian Svenonius, well-known D.C.-based indie rock frontman (Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, Weird War, Chain and the Gang, etc.) published a volume with the provocative title Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group for Akashic Books. It’s a highly amusing read.

Svenonius consorts with a “hostile” protester
In January 2013 Svenonius visited Candela Books + Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, and held a seance to illustrate the points outlined in the book. Before he can get going, however, he is interrupted by a “protest” organized by the UFLRSA, that is, the United Federation of Living Rock Stars of America, whose attorneys reads a statement focusing on the unfair treatment toward the working rock and roll stars of today who happen to suffer the unfortunate fate of being alive.

In what proved to be a highly scripted turn of events, Svenonius proposes a seance to bridge the differences between the living and the dead. But he has no candles, which everyone knows are required for a seance. Candles are duly produced.

In short order four volunteers are seated around a table asking questions of, in order, Paul McCartney (the hoax was true!), Little Richard (alive then, alive now), Brian Jones, and Jim Morrison, who offer useful advice to would-be rock superstars such as “it helps to be British” and “manufacture nostalgia.”

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Get Down with ‘The Philly Sound’: The Ultimate Guide to Philadelphia Soul Music
12:57 pm


Dick Clark

I’ve known Jason Thornton for most of my life. He’s one of the world’s consummate crate diggers and has amassed (and sold and then amassed again) a vinyl collection of epic proportions. He started collecting Elvis’ Sun Records 45s with his father when he was six years old, the two of them scouring garage sales and junk stores panning for plastic gold. By the time he was twelve, he was already an otaku-level “sophisticate” when it came to music, especially classic soul and doo-wop, rockabilly and what is now called “old skool” rap and hip-hop, but was then still a brand new thing. When I met him, he was part of a group of older record-obsessed friends in my hometown of Wheeling, WV. From time to time, when he was still in high school, he’d stay on my couch in New York and spend a few days vacuuming up amazing and obscure finds in lower Manhattan’s record stores with the zeal of a first-time visitor from Japan plotting out his record shopping with ruthlessly military efficiency.

Fast forward a… uh “few” years (okay thirty of them) and he’s a married middle-aged graphic designer working in the Boston area. In recent years Jason (the designer) and his partner Dave Moore (the writer/editor) an Englishman based in Spain have been publishing the well-respected There’s That Beat, a rare soul music fanzine. They were asked by the Swedish book publisher Premium Publishing to channel their expertise into a book on the history of Philadelphia’s music makers and the result is the absolutely mind-bogglingly detailed and comprehensive—not to mention freaking massive—guide to the City of Brotherly Love’s music scene ever published The Philly Sound: Philadelphia Soul Music and its R&B: From Gospel & Bandstand to TSOP. Chock full of rare photos, label scans, sheet music covers, vintage print ads and lots and lots of great stories, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could ever come along and top this truly definitive volume in the future. It’s nearly 700 pages, printed in color on thick glossy paper and weighs more than my dog, so I’m guessing about ten pounds.

And that’s the problem. For reasons related to the shipping costs of such a huge book, Amazon opted not to take on The Philly Sound: Philadelphia Soul Music and its R&B: From Gospel & Bandstand to TSOP, but you can buy it directly from the authors at the There’s That Beat  website.

I asked Jason and Dave some questions via email.

Dangerous Minds: A “music city”—be that Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, London or Kingston, Jamaica—presupposes an infrastructure to support the business and practical side of things (recording studios, a pool of good musicians, record labels, venues, radio stations, etc). What made Philly such a “strange attractor” for soul musicians?

Jason Thornton: Like most industrial cities, Philadelphia drew lots of black people from the south to seek jobs. Those people brought their talents up north to help create some incredible music, many honing their craft in church and under streetlamps. With the invention of the 45rpm record, it became very inexpensive for people to cut a record and get it into the marketplace. On top of that, the popularity of American Bandstand, a show that started locally and went national, was inspiring people to rush into recording studios and try for that unique exposure. Philadelphia was also a major distribution point for records getting out into the world and Dick Clark was financially linked to distributorships and record labels, not to mention all of the great influential DJs from the many radio stations that catered to black audiences. With all those factors combined, Philadelphia had the perfect terroir for all sorts of music and all of the vehicles in place to help it thrive.

Dave Moore: It was the city’s emergence as a pivotal gospel center via the music of The Ward Sisters, and The Dixie Hummingbirds, alongside Billie Holiday’s blues recordings during the era of the “race records”  that first put the city’s black artists on the musical map. With the rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the 50s, white record label owners were looking for white interpreters of this musical phenomenon and Philadelphia-born Bernie Lowe’s Cameo and later Parkway, identified the Italian teen idol as being a great commercial vehicle. His company dominated the record market on the back of American Bandstand with an artist roster that included Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Fabian.

After the Beatles and the British Invasion just about destroyed Cameo/Parkway’s business, waiting in the wings with a new kind of black music were the likes of Maurice Bailey Jr., Kenny Gamble, Joe Stevenson, Leon Huff, Thom Bell, Luther Randolph, Johnny Stiles and Weldon A McDougal III, John Madara and David White, Richard Barrett and Wally Osborne.  During the early sixties these musical entrepreneurs along with others, created a platform that delivered many of the classic Philly soul records of its golden era.  With one eye on Detroit’s successful Motown company,  the city’s musical landscape was sculpted by these people, some more successfully than others. The pinnacle of Philadelphia’s second musical coming came about when Joe Tarsia purchased a building on N 12th St just round the corner from 309 Broad St (the old Cameo Studio).

With Joe’s expertise as a sound engineer, the foundations of MFSB coming together at Frank Virtue’s Studio and Gamble and Huff enjoying success with the Intruder singles, the fuse of Philadelphia’s rocketing success was lit. International hits by Billy Paul, the O’Jays. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, McFadden And Whitehead, Jerry Butler, The Jones Girls all ensured that Gamble and Huff’s “The Sound Of Philadelphia” took pride of place in the city’s musical achievements.

Over the decades who were the power players of Philly Soul?

Dave Moore: I guess the guys who really rose to the top of the city’s musical hierarchy are probably identified in three distinct groupings during the timeline of the 50s to the 70s.

Firstly, in the ‘50s, there were those that enjoyed the initial pop success i.e. Bernie Lowe, Kal Man and Dave Appell via America’s teenage awakening years and Dick Clark’s ascendancy with Bandstand. Although not all soulful outings, the labels they established would prove useful apprenticeships for many of the city’s future soul stars.

The 60s saw the emergence of the black influence both in front of and also behind the microphones and mixing board.  Jimmy Bishop’s WDAS radio show put him on top of the promotion pile and his Arctic label was unlucky not to recreate Berry Gordy’s success with Motown. Jerry Ross was enjoying much success with a number of acts and labels and the decline of Cameo/Parkway saw openings for Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell amongst a swathe of young ambitious entrepreneurs.

As the 70s emerged the undisputed crown kings of Philly Soul were The Mighty Three:  Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell.  Joe Tarsia had created the perfect cauldron at Sigma Sound Studios and with MFSB (and particularly Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young as its heartbeat), delivering unrivaled talent, The Mighty Three drove the juggernaut that was a worldwide international success: The Sound Of Philadelphia.     

Leon Huff, Thom Bell and Kenny Gamble

What are some songs that best exemplify the Philadephia sound? What was “the TSOP”?

Dave Moore: “The Sound Of Philadelphia” has become synonymous with the green record label bearing the same name owned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. They could certainly lay a strong claim to be so. The music created by their company via Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studio was certainly an identifiable and unique sound of the time incorporating lush arrangements, bongo-driven intros, lavish string components and of course with the backing voices of the Sweethearts of Sigma, MFSB’s skills were allowed to breathe fully. If I had to select a solitary song that exemplified this cauldron of talent I’d plump for The O’Jays’ “I Love Music.” Comprising a tell-tale intro, metronome-like drumming from Earl Young, plus effervescent vocals from a real iconic singing group, the whole ensemble are at the top of their creative game.   
Much more after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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