Monday, January 2, 2012

'The Illustrated Harlan Ellison'
edited by Byron Preiss, Baronet Publishing, 1978

‘The Illustrated Harlan Ellison’ (1978) was one of several trade paperbacks, in a groundbreaking graphic format, released by Baronet Publishers in the late 1970s under the auspices of ‘Byron Preiss Visual Publications’. The other volumes were ‘The Illustrated Roger Zelazny’, 1978; and ‘Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, Volume One: The Graphic Story Adaptation’, 1979.

As indicated on the back cover of the book, ‘Ellison’ featured 8 chapters / sections. Some of these were traditional comics, and some had been excerpted in early issues of Heavy Metal magazine: ‘Croatoan’, ‘The Discarded’, and ‘Shattered Like a Glass Goblin’. Other chapters were text stories with accompanying illustrations: ‘Deeper Than Darkness’, ‘Riding the Dark Train Out’, ‘I’m Looking For Kadak’.

There is a brief portfolio of paintings by Leo and Diane Dillon, Ellison's favorite artists.

The chapter devoted to an illustrated version of ‘“Repent, Harlequin !”, Said the Ticktockman’ is unusual in that Jim Steranko provided 3-D images, which the reader viewed with the aid of a pair of crude spectacles, with red and blue cellophane lenses, which were inserted into the book’s binding much like a detachable subscription renewal card. The 3-D effects genuinely work, and are another example of Steranko’s genius as an artist and designer.

By and large the contents of ‘Ellison’ will appeal to fans of that author’s work. The ‘Croatoan’, ‘Discarded’, and ‘Glass Goblin’ pieces are outstanding, and ‘Dark Train’ also stands out.

The only real dud in this collection is ‘Kadak', which comes across as a too-contrived effort by Ellison to recover his Jewish Roots by working up a humorous fable heavily littered with Yiddish words and phrases.

Unfortunately, the high production costs of books like ‘Ellison’ were difficult to recoup through sales. The result was that Baronet went defunct in 1980. Back in the late 1970s the major retail outlets for books were the shopping mall-centered chain stories like Waldenbooks, and these retailers were just beginning to contemplate devoting precious store space to something as seemingly juvenile as paperback compilations of comics.

Indeed, if Baronet had started its line in the mid 80s, the chances of success would have been much higher. As is stands, they remain one of the early innovators of the graphic novel format that is widely represented in retail sf and fantasy commerce nowadays.


Will Errickson said...

One of the few Ellison books I do not own! Thanks for the review.

Tony Robertson said...

We did a feature on the Steranko illutrated story that can be found here:

francisco said...

a master of science fiction and literature almost unpublished in Spain