John Bellairs was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid. His first successful book was intended to be for adults, but his publisher thought it would be better as a young adult story, launching Bellairs into the YA horror fiction genre before it even existed. That may be why I liked his books so much – there was an element of maturity to them that other YA books didn’t have.
Edward Gorey drew for Bellairs from the beginning, in 1973, with the award-winning The House with the Clock in Its Walls, and continued contributing art for books published after Bellairs died in 1991, up until his own death in 2000.
Gorey’s illustrations became an essential part of the books for me, and when a book had pictures by another artist, it just wasn’t the same. The two are inseparable.
Gorey hand-lettered the titles. It’s easy to see by comparing each S on the cover below. Hand-lettering is an art unto itself and Gorey did it all the time, lending even more character to his works. You’ll also notice that he fit objects into the letters, like the skull that rests in the U.
The hatching gives a nervous energy to these covers:
How can this book by Bellairs be published four years after his death? Good question. When he died at the relatively young age of 53, Bellairs had been working on two books and also had two more books in mind that he’d plotted out, but not started. The Bellairs estate brought in Brad Strickland to finish the four novels, and since then, he’s written several books himself in the Bellairs universe. You know which ones are Strickland’s because the titles say, for example, John Bellairs’s Lewis Barnavelt in The Tower at the End of the World.
Next week there will be even more creepiness as I discuss Gorey’s contributions to Dracula, both the novel and stage adaptation.
Other parts in the Edward Gorey artist profile series