Thursday 22 January 2009

The Ingenious Eugênio Hirsch

Sometimes you start out writing one post, and it turns into something else entirely. This was going to be a quick look at the various covers for Philip José Farmer's Flesh (and it sort of still is--see the end). However, in finding said covers, I came across the work of an Austrian-Brazilian book designer who I just had to write about.

Born in Vienna in 1921, Hirsch and his family wisely got the hell out of Europe in 1938, moving to Argentina. Hirsch himself moved to Brazil in 1957, and was soon hired by the Civilização Brasileira publishing house. It was for them that he produced his first cover, for the local edition of Nabokov's Lolita, which caused as much of a sensation in the design world as the book's contents did in the literary world.

Hirsch produced a number of great covers for Civilização Brasileira, including eye-catchingly fleshy takes on Scott Fitzgerald and D. H. Lawrence, and a deeply sinister Graham Greene.

He also worked for several other South American publishing houses.

In the 1960s he went to the US to work for 'Playboy' magazine, producing some uniquely odd photographs...

..before working in Spain and then returning to Brazil in the 1970s. He died in 2001.

So how did I get onto this? Well, one of Hirsch's covers was for Farmer's Flesh, as noted above.

I was thinking about that book because of a wonderful feature over here: The Box of Paperbacks Book Club. The idea is simple--a man bought a big box of cheapo paperbacks from a second-hand bookshop, and decided to read and post about each one, no matter what they were or how well they were written. The range of titles is as pleasingly eccentric as you might hope: everything from the James Bond novels to Flesh to The Man From Planet X #1: The She-Beast to Avengers spin-off novels.

In rough chronological order, here are some of the many Flesh covers, various (mostly antlery) interpretations of its futuristic pagan/sex/orgy madness (I'm not sure you'd call it a good book, but it's certainly memorable).

And then there's the currently in-print version, as part of this collection published by Baen.

From hideous type treatment to Martian Mills & Boon artwork, that last cover is a mess. It is very representative of Baen's fine tradition of ludicrous, boob-tastic, and typographically woeful cover artwork.

The Cold Equations, of the first cover above, is story where a young girl stowaway must be ejected from a spaceship because the fuel aboard is only enough for the planned pilot to reach safety. It has absolutely nothing to do with women in bikinis roaming the snow with mutant sabre-toothed tigers as company.

Some links:
* More on Eugênio Hirsch, as well as the rest of his mental 'Playboy' photos, at Weird Universe
* A brief thesis on the graphic design of Civilização Brasileira (PDF format) at book designer Ana Sofia Mariz's website
* More on the awfulness of Baen covers at Judge a Book by its Cover


Mitch said...

Book covers from below the Isthmus of Panama are sexy, apparently!

Brazil is the big butt of the (anthropomorphized) Americas, so it makes kinda makes sense.

JRSM said...

As seen on the cover of 'O Amante de Lady Chatterley'!

Ian Koviak said...

everything was great till we got to the last few. I swear, I don't know who started that awful style of art for jackets...

Anonymous said...

A splendid post! Many thanks for linking to WU!

JRSM said...

Thank you! Your blog, books and comics are ace.