Thursday, May 28, 2009

Three Books from the Fantod Press IV

Published in 1973 by The Fantod Press, Edward Gorey's last installment of Three Books from Fantod Press once again gives us three individual books published concurrently and issued in a printed envelope. All three titles are limited to 500 unnumbered, unsigned copies and this time they are housed in a printed white envelope. There is also a special signed limited edition of 26 A-Z lettered copies which were issued in a special beige printed envelope. The books I am showing are from the edition of 500 copies and each book has been signed by Mr. Gorey. All three titles from this publication appear in Amphigorey Too.

Miss Squill, the main character in The Disrespectful Summons is accosted by, and dances with the Devil. This exchange changes her life in ways she was not predestined to follow. This is my favorite of the three books presented here, and the volume has some wonderfully evil situations (and laugh out loud illustrations) which arise from Miss Squill's evil tendencies after her encounter with the Devil. Of course, one cannot be taken by the Devil without ending in the Flaming Pit, but at least Miss Squill seems to have enjoyed her wickedness, even if it was thrust upon her.

In The Abandoned Sock, Mr. Gorey once again gives life to an inanimate object. The sock is not so much abandoned, but rather finds that life in the wide world is not all that it had imagined it to be after it makes an unwise decision to remove itself from its mate. I have always felt the title of this volume to be misleading, since the sock itself makes the choice to leave.

The Lost Lions, or, Having Opened the Wrong Envelope is a meandering tale of a hardy young man whose life is thrust in strange directions, beginning when he opens the mail one day and decides to follow the path set forth by the missive found therein. This leads to fame, a mental breakdown, and loss of purpose in his life.

All three books in this set revolve around a life altering choice. In The Disrespectful Summons, the choice is made by an outside force (the Devil). In The Abandoned Sock the sock leaves it mate, and the downward spiral begins. The protagonist of The Lost Lions chooses to follow a proposition set forth in a piece of mail, and from that day forward, finds that his life has lost focus. Being published as a set, these three volumes magnify how choices can adversely affect a whole lifetime.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Curse of the Blue Figurine

After The House with a Clock in Its Walls, the series of books by John Bellairs continued through three more volumes with different illustrators before returning to, and sticking with Edward Gorey as illustrator for the remainder of the series.

Book 2, The Figure in the Shadows, 1975, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, illustrated by Mercer Mayer - This book once again features Lewis Barnavelt, and introduces Rose Rita Pottinger who will become his best friend throughout the series.

Book 3, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, 1976, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, illustrated by Richard Egielski - This story puts Rose Rita front and center. This is the last story to feature these characters until book #16 in the series, published in 1993 after Mr. Belliars' death.

Book 4, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, 1978, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown - This book is the first of the Anthony Monday books. It is interesting that all the juvenile books written by John Bellairs are considered one series, even though there will be three distinct sets of characters and settings. The books have a common style and use of the supernatural throughout, and every title is listed at the beginning of each volume.

In this, the first of the Anthony Monday series, there are no supernatural happenings, but Anthony and his friend, the librarian Miss Eells must unravel a mystery in their town. In 1980, Bantam Books commissioned Edward Gorey to create a cover illustration for the paperback printing of this title.

Book 5, The Curse of the Blue Figurine, 1983, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, illustrated by Edward Gorey - My first edition copy of this title is inscribed by Mr. Bellairs to "Donny", wishing him a "Happy Hanukkah". This is my only volume signed by the author.

This book launches another new set of characters: Jonny Dixon and his friend the crabby, elderly, cake baking, Professor Childermass. This pairing will become the favorite of many fans of the series (including me). Professor Childermass is a character with more of an edge than many of Mr. Bellairs' other, more kindly creations.

In this return by Edward Gorey as illustrator, he begins the format he will employ throughout the remainder of the series. There is a big full color dustjacket painting and (usually) a frontis illustration. Sometimes there are spot illustrations which are dropped into the text, but the books are not fully illustrated. The frontis drawing for this title is a particularly nice.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Collecting Original Gorey Artwork

I have been getting a number of emails asking my thoughts on collecting original illustration artwork by Edward Gorey, so I will share some opinions on the subject.

My Gorey collecting tastes have always leaned toward Mr. Gorey's "A" Collection books and his original artwork. I certainly collect other areas of Mr. Gorey's work, but because he was so prolific, I have tried to keep things fairly focused. Because of this focus, I have assembled a wide range of original images from all the major periods and styles of Mr. Gorey's long career.

There are several criteria to consider when purchasing original artwork. Image, condition, and price (in that order of importance, for me) must all be taken into account when making the decision to add a piece to my collection.

Image - This is the most important criteria, and also the most ephemeral to explain to anyone who isn't a collector. There are some pieces you see and just have to have. With these pieces, most other collecting criteria (including common sense) are left by the wayside. Of course, one wants everything, but the reality for most of us is that we have to pick and choose what to buy. Collecting Edward Gorey originals can be tricky, in part because there is usually not a wide selection on the market at any one time to choose from. As prolific as Mr. Gorey was, the lion's share of his original work resides with his estate. A limited selection on the market usually means that prices run a little higher, but the reward of finding and obtaining a piece will be exciting.

Condition - This area can "make or break" a sale pretty quickly for me. Edward Gorey used 100% rag stiff illustration card to draw on, so the problems with condition usually start after he completed the artwork and sent it off to the printer/publisher. Even though Mr. Gorey worked on acid-free materials, I have all my original artwork professionally neutralized so that any acids in the inks or present from handling will not become a preservation issue.

Because illustration art is created to be printed and not exhibited, the original artwork was not always treated with respect. Most Gorey originals are in good condition, but there are a fair number of pieces which have been treated poorly over the years. It is not uncommon for the art to have notes written on it, and tape can be particularly evil. Masking tape is the worst because it will leach acids into the illustration board and destroy the paper rather quickly. It is a good idea to build a relationship with a professional paper conservator who can advise when considering the purchase of a piece which is in questionable condition (expect to pay for this professional advice).

The Man with Old Fashioned Car shown above has minor condition issues. You can see a small stain (coffee?) on the left side of the drawing and some slight sunning from where it was matted at one time. This was such an important early work that this was not an issue for me when purchasing the piece.

Price - Bargains are rare, and the good pieces are expensive. Not having a bottomless pocketbook, I have stretched to obtain most of the pieces I own. I have been very fortunate to have had wonderful relationships with many great dealers over the years.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Lavender Leotard

The Lavender Leotard, or Going a Lot to the New York City Ballet is an interesting Gorey title because it is created for a very specific audience. First published in Playbill in the spring of 1970 in a slightly different form, this book can be enjoyed by anyone with casual interest in ballet, but is really a treat for the serious ballet buff.

Published by Gotham Book Mart in 1973 in an edition of 1000 copies in wrappers (not issued signed or numbered), this book is notable for having the cover of each copy hand colored by Mr. Gorey. In the book, it is noted that a dance outfit has a tutu that doesn't quite match the rest of the costume, so Mr. Gorey watercolored the outfit so it would not match. The copy I am showing has been signed by Mr. Gorey and inscribed to me by him.

This title was also published in a slipcased, hardcover, signed, limited edition of 100 numbered and 26 lettered copies. Bound in fuchsia cloth with a pasted-on front and rear cover labels, each copy of this edition also features the hand colored tutu. I am showing copy #H/26.

This book was published as a 50th anniversary tribute to the New York City Ballet, and is one long inside joke about the dances and dancers at the ballet. I have found many references to ballets, costumes and dancers in biographies and movies from the 1940's, 50's and 60's that will remind me of situations referred to in this volume, and when I check, they are always in this book.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Limerick

A Limerick is a small Gorey jewel. Originally published by the Salt Works Press, Dennis, MA in 1973, it was part of a grouping of sixteen photographs, prints and books which were included in Soma-Haoma#3 Trajectories. Bound in either brown or orange wrappers, this short Gorey gem was included in Amphigorey Too and the original art is currently exhibited as part of the show at the Brandywine Museum. My copy in brown wrappers is signed by Mr. Gorey on the cover.

Included in the collection of illustrations which grace our dining room walls is Little Zooks, of whom no one was fond. The infants trajectory is graphically illustrated on the wall flying over the window in our alcove. Our "illustrated" walls were hand painted by my partner and feature characters and illustrations of our favorite artists. Little Zooks was a natural fit for the space.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Before I get started on this post, I wanted to be sure to mention that everyone should check out for all things John Bellairs. It is a great site with lots of information on this popular author and his writing.

Published in 1973 by The Dial Press, New York, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is the first book in the long running series started by John Bellairs. It is also the first author/illustrator collaboration between Edward Gorey and Mr. Bellairs. Bound in purple cloth, the hardback book has a graphic wrap-around dust jacket design in purple, grey, black and white. This book launches what will become a very popular series of ghost stories for children (and adults who have not gotten too old for fun ghost stories).

Set in 1948, The House with a Clock in Its Walls introduces us to 10 year old Lewis Barnavelt, his eccentric uncle Jonathon, and their equally unusual neighbor Florence Zimmerman. Recently orphaned, Lewis has been put in the care of his uncle, a man who lives in a large old house on the edge of New Zebedee, Michigan. An ominous ticking is heard inside the walls of the house, and even though Uncle Jonathon is a real, practicing wizard (and Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch), he is not the cause for the dark magic that begins to surround them all.

For this first collaboration, Mr. Gorey has illustrated the story in much the same style as a number of other projects he had worked on. The wrap-around design of the dust jacket has images from the story sprinkled across the front and back covers, and the book is fully illustrated throughout the text with wonderful full page drawings and spot illustrations. Mr. Gorey was not commissioned to do books 2, 3 and 4, but would return on book #5 with a new look/approach to the dust wrapper that would continue through the rest of the series.

At one time, Gotham Book Mart offered me the original pen and ink artwork for the dust wrapper design, but I did not purchase it. At the time, there were a number of original Gorey pieces available, and I felt that this piece was less desirable than some other artwork being offered. It sold before I could "get back to it". Unfortunately, none of the interior illustrations for this title were made available, and I do not know if they had been sold previously or if they are still in the Gorey estate archives.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

John Bellairs

In 1973, Edward Gorey began providing dust jacket designs and interior illustrations for a book series begun by John Bellairs. This series partnership would last beyond Mr. Bellairs' death in 1991, and continue through unfinished stories completed by Brad Strickland. Mr. Strickland then would go on to continue the series and write his own stories using characters created by JB. Mr. Gorey's contributions to the series ended with death in April 2000. The first book in the series is The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973), and the final Gorey-adorned title was The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge, published in Fall 2000.

Edward Gorey did multiple book cover designs and illustrations for a host of authors including Joan Aiken, Sarah Caudwell, John Ciardi, Mary Rodgers, and the horror anthologies of Marvin Kaye, and Manley & Lewis. This series by John Bellairs, however, was the longest running series by an author(s) that Mr. Gorey was associated with. Over 27 years Mr. Gorey provided artwork for 22 of the 24 books in the series (Note: I realize that Mr. Gorey did not provide a dust jacket design for the hardcover versions of books 2, 3 & 4 from the series. He did provide a cover illustration for the paperback version of book #4, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, so I include it in my count).

I came to the Bellairs stories through my interest in Edward Gorey, but I have heard that there are many Gorey fans who were first exposed to his artwork because of these books. I am going to take a leisurely approach showing the books/art in the series because there are many great images to be shown and discussed. In my next posting I will start at the beginning of the series and proceed from there.

In 1994, Edward Gorey found that his home needed extensive repairs which could be put off no longer. To this end, EG decided to sell many of the original illustrations he had been commissioned to create for various projects and authors over the years ("A" Collection artwork was not sold). Gotham Book Mart offered the original art, which included many of the Bellairs illustrations. By this point in my Gorey collecting, I had "found" Mr. Bellairs and was collecting books from this series. When the artwork became available, I bought as many of the pieces as my budget would allow (and sometimes more than my budget could sustain!). Artwork from the Bellairs series forms a large part of my collection of Gorey originals. The top banner of my blog shows a piece of art created for the series, and the photo above shows a small sampling of my Gorey/Bellairs pieces which will be shown in later postings.