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That Big Thing Back There

Thursday 18 March 2010 - Filed under Horrorthon Posts

Another old paperback, sandwiched between some other sci-fi on a difficult-to-reach bookshelf. Check this out! (You really have to click to see the large version.) When I was ten or eleven years old (as near as I can remember), this book was the coolest thing in the world. What I did not realize at that time was that Ballantine Books was in the habit of recycling 1930s-1940s Hugo Gernsback back-catalog serial-magazine properties with new art by geniuses like Dean Ellis, undisputed master of “that big thing back there” and the painter of this particular gem of a cover. Of course their scheme worked and I bought this immediately. I was lucky in that this amazing image does actually relate to the 1933 story in the pages within (albeit in a very fanciful and inaccurate way). (Note also that the book costs $1.50.)

Looking at this, years later, I can see several problems with the painting — there are some serious scale and perspective issues, and the detailing is wildly uneven — but, far from detracting, they actually amplify Ellis’ pictorial skills. Look at that crazy sky!

ADDENDUM: I have to say something about that tag-line. “The thrill, the tremendous joy of awakening in a strange world of the future!” Then you look at the picture. “Um, pal, are you seeing what I’m seeing? Because I’m not sure where you’re getting this ‘tremendous joy’ you’re talking about.”

2010-03-18  »  Jordan

Talkback x 13

  1. Catfreeek
    18 March 2010 @ 12:34 pm

    That's great!

  2. JPX
    18 March 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    At a quick glance I was reminded of the cover for the book The White Mountains, see it here, must confess, Jordan, ever since your post about all your paperbacks I've been searching antique malls for similar examples. I love those old covers! Also, I can't believe that there was a novelization of Sgt. Peppers, did you read it? Was it different from the unwatchaable film?

  3. Johnny Sweatpants
    18 March 2010 @ 3:38 pm

    That's funny Jeff I thought the exact same thing! I love it! I want to read it based on the cover alone.

  4. Octopunk
    18 March 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    That big thing back there!This phrase has been a sort of in-joke between Jordan and me for years, just referring to the tendency for sci-fi artists (mostly painting covers for novels)to depict just such a big thing in counterpoint to whatever's going on in the foreground.I'm not familiar with Dean Ellis by name, but I like what I saw on that page you linked to. His perspective cheats don't leap instantly to the eye, but gosh those tentacles don't vary in thickness much between their ends and their origin points "way up there."I also didn't know about the reprinting of the stories from the Gernsback pulps. As some of you might already know, I am a huge fan of the sci-fi pulp mag covers from the early 20th century (as mentioned in my review of the 2005 King Kong). In fact, I think I started a post about this subset of sci-fi art that I never finished. I bring this up because I read somewhere that while the cover art was memorable, much of the writing wasn't. Despite featuring premiere work by people like H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs, a lot of the stories in those pulps were pure hackery. Funny that they got reprinted.

  5. Octopunk
    18 March 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    Yeah, what is it with the big tripods? H.G. Wells is the obvious suspect.I like the pic JPX linked to better.Didn't they make those stories into a BBC series?

  6. Jordan
    18 March 2010 @ 6:52 pm

    The novelization of Sgt. Pepper is, truly, one of the strangest books I own. I was just looking at it again. They found this unbelievable moonbat of a writer who had an almost Rod McKuen approach, in present tense, earnestly telling this asinine story about the fucking characters in Beatles songs. It's simulaneously awful beyond description and strangely beautiful.

  7. HandsomeStan
    19 March 2010 @ 5:50 am

    "Monnbat" has entered the vernacular. Genius.

  8. Jordan
    19 March 2010 @ 7:05 am

    As far as the scale goes (of the Man Who Awoke cover), the way I see it is that it only works if you "read" the row of buildings (including the one prominent building being stepped on) as little model buildings, 4-7 feet tall, standing in an irregular row about twenty feet back behind the cowering protagonist on our side of that stone gate (left side). Little model buildings, and the big saucer itself is only about 7" thick from top to bottom and roughly thirty feet across. Anyway, that's how I see it…

  9. JPX
    19 March 2010 @ 11:22 am

    "It's simulaneously awful beyond description and strangely beautiful."You've sold me, I'm looking for this on Ebay immediately.

  10. Jordan
    19 March 2010 @ 12:22 pm

    Suit yourself, but remember that I'm not kidding and it really is "awful beyond description."

  11. JPX
    19 March 2010 @ 3:42 pm

    That's a dead-on accurate review of the film as well =)

  12. Jordan
    19 March 2010 @ 5:45 pm

    The film's also really ugly (unlike the drippy novel, which at least allows you to picture something that's not garish and awful).

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