Doctor Who novelization covers at the Cartoon Museum

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As might be expected at a Doctor Who-related exhibition, Menace lurked in a corner.

Considering that until recently I worked almost round the corner from the Cartoon Museum for nearly two years, it was a pity that I’d not visited it since the museum hosted an exhibition of Doctor Who comic strip art in 2013. This trip was occasioned by another Doctor Who-related project, a smaller but still informative and I hope influential exhibition of Doctor Who book covers, all commissioned for the range of novelizations published under the Target imprint in the 1970s or 1980s or in the case of three new covers for the BBC Books reissues in the current decade. Accompanied by my old comrade-in-Who Paul Dumont, we explored the current main exhibition, The Great British Graphic Novel, beforehand. As I wrote in the visitors’ book afterwards, perhaps reachingly, the museum displayed the work of Masters – Hogarth and Cruikshank and Achilleos and Cummins – alongside the Mistress, Marie Duval of Ally Sloper (a character about whom I first learned from an article on comics in the Look-In Television Annual published for Christmas 1976) but there were other masters and mistresses too, many of whom I’d not heard of before such as Carol Swain or Asia Alfasi, or those of whom I was dimly aware like Kate Charlesworth.

The Doctor Who covers were striking in their original forms, revealing a mixture of formats, materials and working practices. Several artists at times composed their covers on square boards rather than in dimensions which corresponded to those of the paperback cover, knowing that the logo and title and author straplines could be placed on a plain background above them. Some artists suffered from the editing of their work: Roy Knipe’s cover for Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy had his signature trimmed off with the small but in the original welcoming detail of the button on the fourth Doctor’s coat cuff. On Doctor Who and the Android Invasion, we lost Styggron’s fingers. Knipe had a tendency to change the colours of the aliens, whether deliberately or because he lacked colour reference I don’t know, but Styggron is a memorable green rather than grey-brown as he was on television, where the Nucleus of the Swarm was a sort of mottled pale pink rather than the deep-cooked lobster red of and the Invisible Enemy‘s illustration. Others might undergo decluttering, such as David McAllister’s generic TARDIS-in-space used for Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus. Paul particularly noticed Jeff Cummins’s original artwork for Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen, published in 1978, where the background was a more vivid blue and the light patterns across the glass of the tomb door a richer gold than any reproduction has managed. Indeed, the standard of reproduction on the Target covers varied over the years and some suffered from generations of copying as the books migrated from one printer to another and new reproduction methods evolved. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, as Paul has also said, was a particular sufferer with the subtle beige-yellow of the Wirrn’s eyes in Achilleos’s original being reproduced as an intense and bright yellow-orange. Reproduction on the new impressions might be better, but Chris Achilleos’s new cover for Vengeance on Varos was altogether stronger with a noose around Colin Baker’s neck as was originally intended.

The collection encourages respect for craft. The ebb and flow of the ink on what appears as a solid purple border on Achilleos’s Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars is visible, as is the technique of his inking of the cosmic objects fizzing around the Doctor and his antagonists on his first three covers, Doctor Who and the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Zarbi and Doctor Who and the Crusaders. More impenetrable are the smooth washes of his early multi-coloured Daleks (very much based on the work of the last of the TV 21 Dalek artists, Ron Turner) and the methods by which he painted incredibly smoothly the features of Tom Baker on Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Ark in Space.

The exhibition draws attention to the lost art of the book cover, but there was room for it to have made more of the links between the book covers and comic strip art. Chris Achilleos’s covers were initially intended as patterned after the style of Frank Bellamy, too expensive a comics artist for budget-conscious publishers Universal-Tandem to employ. Achilleos borrowed not only from Turner for his Daleks but famously from a Marvel Comics Fantastic Four Jack Kirby image when composing his cover for Doctor Who – The Three Doctors . Absent from the exhibition were the four mould-breaking but format-setting covers by Peter Brookes, which all appeared in 1975. At a time when the BBC Books reprint programme is associating the Target series exclusively with Chris Achilleos, the exhibition was a reminder that there were many other artists with the ‘family friendly’ image BBC Books have cited as their reason for using the Achilleos covers. I think a case exists for a Peter Brookes set of reprints, as well as a  Jeff Cummins set and a Roy Knipe set. The use of light and indeed suggestion of reflections on smooth surfaces in the work of Cummins and Knipe wasn’t flattered by the reproduction of the covers during their original lifespan, but their imagery is surely something in which the current paperback market might have some confidence.

Though limited to one part of the upper gallery at the Cartoon Museum, and lacking some of the apparatus which other exhibits had, Doctor Who: The Target Book Artwork is more than welcome. Edward Russell, best known as a long-serving brand manager for latterday Doctor Who, deserves thanks for his effort in curating this exhibition, including sourcing the original artwork from several collectors, some well-known among fans veteran or otherwise, some not.

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Posted on 7 May 2016, in doctor who reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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