With Further Ado #183: Rocket Time! 5 and a Half Questions With Rian Hughes

It looks like Korero Press has another fantastic book coming out soon: Rayguns and Rocketships is by ace designer Rian Hughes. It’s a celebration of old Sci-Fi book covers from the ’40s and ’50s!   Here’s the official teaser copy:

Rayguns and rockets! Spacesuited heroes caught in the tentacles of evil insectoid aliens! Who could resist such wonders? Science-fiction paperbacks exploded over the 1940s and ’50s literary landscape with the force of an alien gamma bomb.

Titles such as Rodent Mutation, The Human Bat vs The Robot Gangster, Dawn of the Mutants and Mushroom Men from Mars appeared from fly-by-night publishers making the most of the end of post-war paper rationing. They were brash and seductive – for around a shilling the future was yours. The stories were often conceived around a pre-commissioned cover and a title suggested by the publisher, and the writers were paid by the word, and sometimes not paid at all. Titles were knocked out at a key-pounding pace, sometimes over a weekend, by authors now lost to literary history (plus a few professionals who could spot an opportunity) who were forced to write under pseudonyms like Ray Cosmic, Steve Future, Vector Magroon or Vargo Statten.

Despite the tight deadlines and poor pay, the books’ cover artists still managed to produce works of multi-hued, brain-bending brilliance, and collected here is an overview of their output during an unparalleled period of brash optimism and experimentation in publishing.

Rayguns and Rocketships just launched on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter. A signed limited edition, a deluxe hardcover in a slipcase and a regular trade edition discounted from the retail price will all be available to backers. Fans and pop culture lovers can back this on Kickstarter now!

Rian Hughes is an award-winning graphic designer. I like to use his book on logos in my business classes, in fact. I found some time to catch up with him with my 5 ½ questions:

QUESTION 1: I’m so excited you’ve created this book. Why hasn’t this been done before and what’s the story behind it?

RIAN  HUGHES: It began as a cataloguing project. Without really trying, I’ve accumulated something of a collection of vintage SF paperbacks since I found Rodent Mutation at a jumble sale way back when I was on my art foundation. After a few decades of picking these things up, you find you have quite a few shelves worth. I scanned them in and did a prototype book via Blurb (print on demand service) a few years back, mainly for my own amusement. Yak at Korero Press, whom I’d previously collaborated on ‘Logo-a-Gogo’ with saw it, and here we are.

QUESTION 2:  How difficult was it to assemble this amazing collection, Rian?

RH: I have drawn on others’ collections too, as I’m not much of a completist. Various people kindly sent me scans and lent me books I was missing, or identified obscure artists and pseudonyms. I’m sure we’ll still make errors and omissions, but it’s almost inevitable – so many records of this period are lost to publisher bankruptcies, takeovers and the nature of these fly-by-night book publishing practices.

QUESTION 3:  How has your career as a top designer influenced the way you view and appreciate this art?

RH: I think I have an appreciation of the kitsch, the pop, along with the “high” in design. I’m as happy to appreciate a beautifully printed Peter Saville Factory sleeve as I am a bubble-gum wrapper printed out-of-register on crappy waxed paper.

QUESTION 4:  Who is this book best suited for?

RH: The appreciation of lost artists who could still produce works of eye-searing brilliance under tight deadlines and non-existent budgets. It’s a too-familiar story for those of us in the world of ‘art, commercial.’

QUESTION 5:  Do you have any favorite images in this book?

RH: Ron Turner is absolutely first class. His sense of colour, of design – when he was on top of his form, for example on the ‘TitBits SF series’ or the Scion ‘Vargo Statten’ covers, he was unbeatable. We have a few of his original paintings reproduced in the book – it’s interesting to compare them with the actual books. It’s a shame the print technology of the day just didn’t do his work justice. We aim to correct that as best we can.

QUESTION 5 ½: If someone puts this on their coffee table, what goes with it best on the coffee table? Vintage SF books? Wine? Rayguns?

RH: Some vintage BBC Radiophonic Workshop background music and a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

EC: Love it! Thank so much, Rian.

You can check out the current Kickstarter campaign here.