Photo © 2014 Peter Coleborn |
Stephen Jones and Les Edwards, Gemmell Awards 2014
WHEN I WAS growing up in London in the late 1960s and early '70s—discovering many of the classic genre novels and
short stories for the first time—I dreamed of one day becoming a member of a group such as "The Lovecraft Circle", based
around H.P. Lovecraft and his Weird Tales colleagues; or New York's famed "Futurians" founded by SF fan (and later editor and
writer) Donald A. Wollheim, or even "The Group", a collection of Southern California writers centered around author Charles Beaumont.
But back then it seemed like an impossible dream. My family had absolutely zero contacts in the literary or artistic world,
and I had no idea at the time that anything even remotely resembling fandom actually existed in the United Kingdom.
But as I delved deeper into the genre, so I discovered such specialist bookstores as Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in London's
Soho, and I soon found myself attending conventions—firstly Comicons, but soon moving on to such book-based gatherings as
Eastercon and Fantasycon.
And, in the way these things happen when you discover fandom, I eventually found myself surrounded by groups of like-minded
friends and colleagues. As my role in the genre grew—initially as an illustrator, but eventually as an editor, writer and
publisher—so the number of people I came into contact with also increased and, before I realized it, I was already part
of a loosely-linked group of creative people who were working within the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres.
We had our authors, and our editors, and even our own publishers, but except for a few black and white illustrators like myself,
we still didn't have a honest-to-goodness artist to hang out with. Where was our equivalent of Virgil Finlay? Or Hannes Bok?
We found him in 1988.
That was the year that Jo Fletcher and myself organized the first World Fantasy Convention outside North America. It was held in
West London and, although I didn't know it at the time, I was about to meet a young artist who was already very well established
in the genre and who would go on to become one of my closest friends and collaborators for the rest of my life.
The 1988 World Fantasy may not have been the first convention for Les and his wife/agent Val (that was the 1979 World Science
Fiction Convention in Brighton, which I also attended), but it was the first time that I actually recall speaking with them
in the Art Show. (It possibly didn't help that Val's first impression of me at that event was, "Who is that awful man?"—a
sentiment that I'm sure still occurs to her now and again today!)
But a connection was made and, as with so many of the contacts I have formed over the years, it was through the auspicious of
the British Fantasy Society that we would meet up again, and a strong and enduring friendship began to develop.
In fact, the first piece of Les's art that I used on one of my books was a reprint of something he'd originally done for a
commercial advertising company, which we reprinted on the cover of Fantasy Tales No.2 in early 1989. And over the next few years
we cemented the relationship, with his work appearing on the covers of Dark Voices, Dark Terrors, Dark of the Night,
Dark Detectives and a few other books of mine that didn't have the word 'Dark' in their title.
Of course, as it turned out, I had already been very aware of Les's work, even if wasn't able to always put a name to the
paintings (in those days, cover artists rarely received a credit anyway). I had already seen—and greatly admired—his
work on books by, amongst others, Ramsey Campbell, Hannes Bok, August Derleth, Jack Finney, Christopher Fowler,
Peter Haining, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Carl Jacobi, Michel Parry, Vincent Price and Guy N. Smith, and posters for such films as
Hawk the Slayer and John Carpenter's The Thing.
The fact that I wasn't equally well acquainted with his gaming work—especially his covers for Fighting Fantasy—was
simply because it was an area of the genre that didn't interest me as much.
Les Edwards was born in September 1949 and raised in East London. He began attending Hornsey Art College in 1968, where he took
a Graphic Design course. Five years later, he was contacted by John Spencer, who was running an illustrator's agency, Young
Artists, out of his home. After supplying a number of samples and gradually refining his craft, Les found that Spencer had
started getting him commissions, and he has basically not stopped working ever since.
He went on to provide cover paintings for such notable paperback series as The Fontana Book of Horror Stories, The Mayflower
Book of Black Magic, Shadows, The Best of Frank Herbert, Weird Tales and even a
number of Conan sequels by various authors.
Les had first met Valerie Paine back in the mid-1970s, and they started going out together in 1977. At that time she was
an office manager for a firm of accountants. After they attended the Brighton World Science Fiction Convention together
in 1979, Young Artists offered Val a job, and she eventually rose to become a partner and director before leaving to
exclusively manage her husband's career.
As you might expect, Les's multifarious influences range from the "classical" art of such "Old Masters" as Francisco Goya,
Sir Anthony van Dyck, William Blake, John Singer Sargent, John William Waterhouse and John Martin, to the writings of Edgar
Allan Poe, 1950s science fiction films (especially Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and the British comic The
Eagle, with its 'Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future' and 'Heros the Spartan' strips drawn by Frank Hampson and
Frank Bellamy, respectively.
As with American artist Virgil Finlay—who we are also honoring at this convention—Les has the ability to
work in any genre and in most techniques. And, like Finlay, he does so brilliantly. But despite his continuing success
over the years, he continues to push at the boundaries of his craft.
Back in the 1990s he began experimenting with computer art while the technology was still in its infancy. And when he
decided that he wanted to branch out into a different look from his super-slick fine-art style, then he simply created
an alter-ego for himself.
The work of "Edward Miller" began appearing on book covers in the late 1990s, making an immediate impression on such China
Miéville titles as Perdido Street Station and The Scar, although the new artist's identity did not remain a secret for long.
Les was simply looking for another style to express himself in, although Edward's somewhat looser and more organic technique
has won him a whole new following of fans and led to a parallel career that has almost eclipsed that of its creator on occasions.
Following our initial meeting, Val and Les soon became part of a loosely-connected group of London-based friends—comprising
Kim Newman, Michael Marshall Smith, Paul McAuley, Christopher Fowler and others, including myself. We would meet up in pubs,
and restaurants, or each other's homes, and talk about all that creative stuff that interests us. (Egotistically, I always like
to think of these gatherings as "The Jones Gang", but I'm certain that the other participants probably have a much different
and more balanced perspective of what they should be known as!)
In 2005, under the auspices of incisive editor (and mutual friend) Jo Fletcher, Les and I teamed up—as artist and editor,
respectively—to create The Complete Chronicles of Conan, which collected all of Robert E. Howard's memorable stories
about his Hyborian hero in a single attractive and affordable volume. Since then, the three of us have collaborated on a
further illustrated Howard collection, Conan's Brethren; Necronomicon: The Best Weird Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and its
companion volume Eldritch Tales, and Curious Warnings: The Great Ghost Stories of M.R. James. I can honestly say that not only
have I had some of the most rewarding experiences of my career working on these books with Les and Jo, but I am probably more
proud of these titles than almost anything else I have done in the genre.
Another of the great things about being friends with Val and Les is that every year you receive one of their bespoke Christmas
cards, usually illustrated by Edward Miller and depicting a lighter side of his work—such as his tubby Santa re-entering
the Earth's atmosphere in a spacesuit, being carried aloft by a winged harpy, blasting upwards from a futuristic city or, my
favorite so far, making a midnight delivery to a graveyard full of zombies.
One of my most memorable visits to their home in Ilford, East London (not counting Val's cordon bleu dinner parties), was a
day we spent going through stacks and stacks of old artwork that they hadn't looked at in years—sometimes having to
prise apart boards where Les's early experiments with varnishing techniques had gone disastrously wrong. Although there were
a number of images that we regrettably could not salvage, it was a privilege to help them re-discover and identify so much
of this seminal work from the 1970s and '80s.
A few years ago, Val and Les relocated out of London and down to Brighton on Britain's South-East coast. As anybody who
attended last year's World Fantasy Convention in that seaside city will attest, it is a vibrant and beautiful place to live
and work, and we still meet up regularly, with them either coming up to London for social events or me going down to visit
and sometimes stay over a weekend with them.
The conversation—almost certainly over copious glasses of alcohol and plates of fine food—invariably turns
to books and art and publishing and collecting and movies, and I am right back there in the gang again. And that's just
the way I like it.
However, although he has illustrated a number of art books—including Alien Landscapes and Tour of the Universe by Malcolm
Edwards and Robert Holdstock, Echoes of Terror edited by Mike Jarvis and John Spencer, and Victorian Ghost Stories by Mike
Stocks—the only volume specifically devoted to Les's own work was Blood & Iron, published way back in 1989 by Games
Workshop with an Introduction by Kim Newman. With so many lesser artists having their paintings showcased between deluxe
book covers these days, it is frankly a scandal that for twenty-five years no enterprising publisher has collected together
a selection of his impressive output!
But if you want to see what Les is capable of, then I suggest that you visit his website (and that of Edward Miller as well),
where there are not only impressive galleries devoted to many different genres, but also the opportunity to buy some of his
originals—ranging from preliminary sketches to finished paintings—at very reasonable prices. In fact, I have a
number of his paintings and illustrations in my home, not least his iconic image of the 'Croglin Vampire', which has not
only appeared on the cover of the first volume of my Best New Horror series and elsewhere, but also undoubtedly influenced a
memorable episode of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Les has won numerous awards for his art. He has been an Artist Guest of Honor at World Science Fiction Convention, World Horror
Convention, British FantasyCon and, now, World Fantasy Convention. So, if you haven't had the opportunity to see a selection
his work before, do not pass up a visit to the Art Show this weekend. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
And don't be put off by his sometimes dour demeanor. Les has one of the driest sense of humor of anyone I know. If he just
doesn't like to show it all that often, that is only because he prefers to allow his emotions to be expressed through his
work. No matter what the subject matter or which technique he is using, Les has always put everything he has into whichever
project he is currently working on.
But if you get him talking about old Universal monster movies, or the various designs of the Nautilus, or Sidney
Jordan's 'Jeff Hawke' newspaper strip in the Daily Express, then you'll have him jabbering away in your ear for hours.
So buy him a bottle of lager or a glass of white wine if you have the opportunity, and meet one of our genre's greatest
all-round artists and someone who I am proud to call my friend (although whether he is in my group or I am in his is a
moot point these days).
And if you really want to impress him, then he also apparently quite likes ice cream . . .
STEPHEN JONES lives in London, England. A Hugo Award nominee, he is the winner of three World Fantasy Awards,
three International Horror Guild Awards, four Bram Stoker Awards, twenty-one British Fantasy Awards and a Lifetime
Achievement Award from the World Horror Association. One of Britain's most acclaimed horror and dark fantasy writers
and editors, he has more than 130 books to his credit. You can visit his web site at: www.stephenjoneseditor.com
Copyright © Stephen Jones 2014. All rights reserved.