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Thursday, June 05, 2008

John Richards

John Richards at his desk at Corgi Books

John Richards was a prolific SF artist who worked for Hamilton & Co. and Corgi Books. I know nothing about Richards' life beyond his artwork and nothing has appeared on the internet so I'm hoping that this little tribute might prompt someone to step forward and shed a little light on the man himself.

Richards' first cover appeared on Authentic no. 30 (Feb 1953). Almost all of his early paintings were credited under the pen-name Davis and it was as Davis that he began painting a series of covers to illustrate the feature 'From Earth to the Stars!', which was a guide to mankind's conquest of space, travelling first to his nearest neighbours and then into interstellar space. The series was described as "Accurate, scientific, exciting!" which also describes the artwork—Richards' was clearly inspired by space artists like Chesley Bonestell but also on then-current thoughts about design. The satellite seen on no.38 (Oct 1953, pictured below), for instance, was based on designs conceived by R. A. Smith (who illustrated Arthur C. Clarke's The Exploration of the Moon and The Young Traveller in Space) and H. E. Ross of the British Interplanetary Society.

The series proved popular enough to encourage editor H. J. Campbell—who was probably also the author of the series—to produce The Authentic Book of Space (1954) which reprinted a number of the covers without the lettering.

Once mankind had reached an alien world with issue 48, Richards (as Davis) then took Authentic's readers on a trip around the solar system. Throughout this whole period (1953-54), Richards was the art editor of Authentic before handing over to J. E. Mortimer.

I'm not sure quite when Richards became art director of Corgi but it would probably have been 1954 or 1955 and it likely that he remained there for many years. While at Corgi he continued to produce covers for many of their SF titles and, around the end of the Sixties, was also producing dust jacket illustrations for hardback publishers.

Authentic 42, Feb 1954.

Authentic 43, Mar 1954.

Authentic 45, May 1954.

Authentic 50, Oct 1954.

Authentic 54, Feb 1955.

Corgi 1282, 1955.

Corgi G184, 1956.

Corgi S520, 1958.

Corgi S614, 1958.

Corgi SS873, 1960.

Corgi S971, 1961.

Looking at the artwork above, hopefully you can see why I rate John Richards so highly. If I find any more of his covers lying around, I'll see if I can add to this little gallery. Richards produced a handful of covers for Vargo Statten SF Magazine in 1954, which I'll cover in another gallery in the near future.

5 comments:

Ken Davidson said...

Did John ever paint Western (cowboy) covers? With that style, he should've done ;)

Top stuff, I love the way his planets glow from a second strong light source. The more technically-critical (astronomical art does tend to attract them) would have none of this, but it's a perfect example of an illustrator bending the rules to make the picture work.

Norman Boyd said...

Brain Aldiss once recommended 'Earth Abides' in an article for a free magazine at W.H.Smith (where of course he wanted to be buried in his autobiography of 1990). I have found it to be one of the best s-f books I've read. Great story and thinking person's stuff. But I may be biased as I love those post-apocalyptic disaster/survival books.

Now THAT would be a great article to pull together oh, wise one!

Anonymous said...

Some really nice covers. I've saved several for use (or at least for inspiration) if I ever get round to a series of tabletop role playing games set in a retro-SF universe... I always liked Mars better with canals.
I prefer to remain anomalous...

Norman Boyd said...

Hi Steve
I should have known someone got there before us... have a look at this good jumping off point for an article on Post-Apocalyptic fiction
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_apocalyptic)

Anonymous said...

John Richards is my grandfather! Anyone who knows more about him or has more information about his life, please get in touch: henry.spare@gmail.com