Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Moring Covers

Compared to their counterparts in the Gaywood series, the Morings remain relatively overlooked. This undoubtedly is due to one single factor: the absence of a signature that might otherwise confirm the cover artwork to be that of Reginald Heade. This, combined with a lack of any other corroborating evidence, leaves collectors with a choice. They may choose to reject the possibility that any covers were by Heade, maintaining instead that an artist was employed by Alexander Moring to work in the style of Heade. They may take the opposite stance and argue that all the covers were by Heade, but that he was simply no longer fully engaged in his work. Or they may attempt to identify covers that approximate closely to Heade's style, leaving attribution of the remainder open to question.

The first position gains strength from the argument that Heade tended as a matter of course to sign his work, and asks furthermore why he would produce what are, in many cases, clearly inferior reproductions of his earlier illustrations. While it is however true that for the most part he did sign his work, Chibnall (1991) notes that around the time the Morings were being produced Heade failed also to sign work for other publishers. This lapse may therefore be a consequence of the rash of prosecutions that were plaguing publishers and distributors at the time, and a resulting wish for anonymity. As to the inferior quality of the work, the incorporation of the red and yellow Moring title banner and increased price of 2/6d would have meant Heade would have had to rework any covers he had originally used for the Gaywoods. There might be any number of explanations as to why this work was not up to earlier standards; the fact alone that it was not does not however seem ample reason to dismiss it as the hand of another artist.

The second position (that all the covers were by Heade) gains currency through the incidence of well-executed illustrations (e.g. Sinister Rapture) that are interspersed with those of poorer quality, the argument being that, towards the tail-end of the Morings, Heade simply had more off-days than not. The problem with this is that elsewhere Heade was producing some of his best work, so why should the Morings alone be singled out for neglect? It is also too speculative, the argument being premised on nothing more than continuity in the case of inferior covers. We choose therefore to follow Chibnall (1991) in claiming that some, but not all, of the Moring covers bear sufficient similarity to Heade's earlier work to be - tentatively - attributed to him. Indeed, in the case of Framed this is more than tentative: the illustration is a direct lift from the cover of the Gaywood Deadly Mission. Steve Chibnall also attributes other titles to Heade, and these are accordingly highlighted in bold below. In fact we would go further and include every cover up to and including Sweet Fury. The Civil Guard in Contraband may appear forced and wooden but, as Chibnall notes, Heade's ability to portray female models far exceeded that when dealing with males - more significant is the use of light and colour in the mountainous backdrop. Elsewhere Strange Destiny and Bewitched are certainly strong Heade contenders, while even the simplicity of The Big Lie should not necessarily be taken as an indication of an artist unable to deal adequately with facial expressions (Heade often chose not to depict models' faces, e.g. It's Always Eve That Weeps). The two weakest contenders for the Heade mantle in these early Morings are probably Bring Me Sorrow and They Die Alone. Like Contraband, however, the key to Bring Me Sorrow lies not in the model, whose face is unexceptionally rendered, but in the detail of the background, specifically the silk of the sheet and headboard covering. Likewise with They Die Alone, while the face is awkward and coarsely drawn, the carefully contrasted transparency evidenced in the folds respectively of the camisole and gown are pure Heade.

Of the rest, Sinister Rapture is probably the most evocative of Heade's work (the model lit by moonlight), while the others offer as many arguments against as they do for. When all is said and done, however, that fact remains that without the all-important signature attribution of all but one of the 50 illustrations remains speculative. This is unfortunate, as there is strong evidence to suggest Heade continued to produce covers for Jansons well into the Moring period. The absence of that signature means however that those covers tend to attract considerably less attention than, judged on merit alone, they deserve.

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