Monday, January 18, 2010

John Bellairs' The Mummy, The Will, and the Crypt

We left off exploring the Edward Gorey illustrated mystery stories by John Belliars at 1983 with the publication of The Curse of the Blue Figurine (see my post from May 24, 2009). As mentioned in that posting, this title marked permanent return of Edward Gorey as the illustrator for the series from 1983 to 2000.

Published in 1983 by Dial Books for Young Readers, The Mummy, The Will, and the Crypt once again features young Johnny Dixon and the ever cranky Professor Childermass. The flap copy on the dust jacket refers to this tale as a sequel to the previous book, but it is really just the return of these characters.

I own the original watercolor artwork for the cover portion of the dust jacket. This watercolor is very painterly with its stormy night sky, and I really like the use of opaque watercolor for the snow and lightning. The touch of red in Johnny's jacket plays nicely against Mr. Gorey's "mushroom colors" in the rest of the painting. I am using a portion of this image as the header for my blog.

I purchased the cover art in 1994 from Gotham Book Mart. At that time, Mr. Gorey decided that he could no longer put off major repairs to his home, and to finance the work, he authorized GBM to offer the original pieces of art from the Bellairs series (as well as many other illustrations from his archives). I should note that not all the art from this series was found in the archive at this time. There were several titles from which the artwork could not be located. In one example of this, I was told I would receive the artwork for the hand lettered title of the book as part of the sale price, but it was never found.

You may have noticed in the above statements that I said I have the cover portion of the dust jacket artwork. I do not own the back half of the dust jacket artwork because the art was cut in half at GBM. Why? Here is the story...

The director of the Gotham Book Mart gallery, P. Matthew Monahan had died rather unexpectedly and in late 1994 GBM was still reeling from the effects of this unfortunate happening. It should be noted that everything (record keeping, sales slips, cataloging) at GBM was done completely by hand and even more so by memory - a huge reason why the loss of Mr. Monahan was so devastating to the store.

After a short search for a suitable replacement for Mr. Monahan, Andreas Brown hired Gina Guy. Ms. Guy was fast becoming the "go to girl for all things Gorey" at GBM, but there were still several people involved with sales of Gorey items as Gina was became more familiar with the stock (and the collectors).

Now to the art: Because each piece of Bellairs dust jacket artwork was significantly larger and more expensive than the other pieces of art being offered, someone at GBM asked Mr. Gorey if he wanted the DJ art sold as intact single pieces or cut and sold as front and back cover illustrations. According to Gina, Mr. Gorey responded that he really didn't care if the art was cut if someone wanted a portion rather than the entire piece.

Therefore, when Gina offered the cover art to me from The Mummy, The Will, and the Crypt, it was presented as:
1) Front & Back Dust Jacket Art
2) Front Cover Art Only
3) Rear Cover Art Only

Because of how it was offered to me over the phone, I was under the impression that the art was created in two pieces, so I ordered just the front cover art. After I received the art and realized that it had been trimmed (I could tell by the unpainted margins on the paper), I called Gina and was told that they cut the back half off and sold me the front portion.

To my knowledge, three Bellairs titles were cut and sold in pieces: The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt; The Mansion in the Mist; and The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb. Fortunately, the practice of cutting the art up was quickly ended, and future sales were for the full dust jacket design only.


pursuit agent said...

That book was my first exposure to Edward Gorey as a kid. I still have my beat up paperback copies of the Bellairs books, but I've been trying to find the hardback versions to add to my collection. They seem harder to find in good condition because usually they're beat-up used library editions...

ampootozote said...

I agree...for some reason, all of the earlier Bellairs' titles in hardcover are difficult to find unless they are used ex-library copies (which can occasionally be found rather inexpensively at libraries when they sell things off!).

I started out with as many editions I could still find in bookstores, bought new titles as they came out, and filled in with ex-library copies. Eventually, I was able to put together a collection of first printings that were not ex-library, but it took some time.

Keep your eyes open because they do turn up, but be prepared to pay a premium for decent copies from this series.

bellairsia said...

Agreed...compleating a first edition, non-ex-library collection is possible but it will involve money and time. My collection is about as good as it will ever get – it’s not perfect but I don’t frequent seller sites like I used to – but I am still surprised at the number of good-to-very good first edition copies of John’s work that still surface and continue to surface. Happy hunting, pursuit agent.

An interesting story, indeed, Irwin, but do you know what ever happened to the back half? And what of the frontispiece or – the rare Goreyana treat – maps?

ampootozote said...

The art from the back cover was sold by GBM in 1994, and re-surfaced on eBay in July 2000. It was one of several pieces of original Gorey art that were being sold by a collector. I placed the winning bid on one of the other pieces at that time. I do not know where the painting went.

The Frontis art from this title was not available, so I presume it is still in the archives or went missing. Frequently, original artwork was not returned to Mr. Gorey or his agents after a work was used. Mr. Gorey also gave away pieces of art to friends over the years.

As I mentioned in the posting, not all the art from this series was found in 1994. I am consulting my notes from that time and will call out pieces of art that were available. The previously mentioned Curse of the Blue Figurine had the frontis art available, but the dust jacket art was not. The dust jacket art for The House with a Clock in Its Walls was found and sold, but none of the interior art turned up (I asked specifically!). The cover watercolor from the paperback edition of The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborne is out there somewhere too.