Interview: Irwin Terry
Your Goreyana site ran a series of posts a few years ago on Gorey’s contributions to the Bellairs series - accompanied by a photograph from your dining room, where you have the original artwork used as frontispieces on displayed. Was it through your collecting that you first heard of John’s work?
I definitely found the Bellairs books through my Edward Gorey collecting. My early Gorey collecting was focused primarily on artwork, which was practically non-existent, and books written and illustrated by Mr. Gorey. Because the amount of material to collect is vast, I tried to stay focused. As my book collection began to fill in, I started paying closer attention to books that were illustrated by Mr. Gorey. The cohesive look of the Bellairs books instantly caught my notice. After I picked up a few titles and started reading them, I was hooked and had to own them all.
I have read the series from start to finish several times. I like reading the books in the order they were published. I feel with any writer who creates a series, it is good to go from start to finish because each new book builds on the last...even if they are meant to stand alone. I enjoy the style of writing, characters and stories very much. I am quite fond of The Chessmen of Doom and The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost.
Well, since my focus is on original artwork, my brass ring has been caught - the frontis illustration from The Chessmen of Doom is in my opinion the best frontis illustration from the series. It is a perfect Gorey drawing and fits the story wonderfully...it is creepy and humorous at the same time, has a great bad guy, and it has a sense of impending peril.
Speaking of frontispieces ... any thought as to why The Secret of the Underground Room (1990) doesn’t include one? Oddly enough the cover of an uncorrected proof edition of this book was recently posted to our forum and its solid blue cover notes the "jacket and frontispiece" of the final version were to be created by Gorey.
I feel there are many factors. Mr. Gorey had completed two Bellairs titles in 1989, but was always committing to more than he could handle, which was a constant problem – especially later in his life. He often had more work commitments than he could complete, so it is very likely that he just told Dial that if they wanted the cover, it was ready but the rest was not and they didn't want to wait.
These color pieces were always major paintings for Gorey, and they took up a lot of his time. I do find it interesting that Mr. Gorey often went the extra mile on the Bellairs covers even as his style was getting looser on other projects as he got older. 1990 was sort of the last hurrah before Gorey really started slowing down because he just didn't have the energy he had had, even five years earlier. He only produced one book of his own in 1991, and only two in 1992 – plus, it was around this time that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he had treatments for and fought successfully. He also had heart problems. During this time period, I often heard that he just wasn't feeling very well.
Gorey did create wonderful individual covers for authors other than John Bellairs, but in no other series did he make such wonderful images over such a long period of time. Usually he would alter the style of his illustration for different titles by the same author. With the Bellairs covers, Gorey kept the same basic format and attention to detail consistent from 1983 through 2000.
Mr. Gorey always worked with the same materials: a high quality illustration stock that would hold up to pen and ink as well as watercolor paints. He always drew his parameters in pencil, then did light blocking for composition, followed by pen and ink, and then finishing things up with watercolor (when creating a dust cover design). For the dust jacket covers he often did rough watercolor sketches before working on the final art. With the exception of the piece I own from Revenge, I am not aware of any other preliminary art which still exists from the Bellairs series.
You mentioned in one of your posts that some of the artwork for the dust-jackets, where the illustration was essentially two disjointed images, was cut and sold individually. I cannot fathom why someone would have considered taking scissors to Gorey’s work.
The images for the dust-jackets show two scenes or locations from each story - one on the front, one back – and making the images blend together seamlessly was often achieved, but Mr. Gorey was well aware that he was providing two separate images for the dust jacket. These dust jackets were designed not to have any blurbs or teasers on the back covers, which freed Gorey to create a full second color image for each title.
The cutting of several paintings was a major mistake which did not originate with Edward Gorey. I was told at the time that he had OK’d the idea, but it was more in the manner of, "do whatever you want" than him endorsing it. The practice was very short lived thank goodness and only three covers were cut.