29 May 2012

[art] Leo Dillon Is No Longer With Us

2833.If you had to name, as a member of the reading hoi polloi, you (nothing personal), who had a great influence on the way SF and speculative fiction was looked at through the 60s and 70s, in terms of the gestalt … not only what was written on the page but also what contributed to the general perception, stance, expectation, the indefinable aura about the literature that not only informed the reader opening the usually-thoughtfully, sometimes-phantasmagorically decorated covers off the day but also opened the reader up to the changed environment of the story within. … I don't know who's name you, dear reader would come up with. But I wonder if you'd come up with The Dillons?

The Dillons - Leo and Diane - became one of the most famous illustrative artists of the speculative fiction field, beloved of by more than one author. I met their work through the books of my favorite author, Harlan Ellison; the cover of a copy of Approaching Oblivion, a collection I got through one of those 'get-10-books-for-a-penny' book clubs, was done by then.

If you read paperback SF through the 70s and you got an Ellison book you probably was introduced to The Dillons through the Pyramid Harlan Ellison Uniform series, a line with identically-designed covers different only by the color scheme and the cover art. The books are easy to identify: the name HARLAN ELLISON fills the upper third, designed in a typeface that seems of-the-times, with the counter in the O replaced by the number-in-series of the book itself. After the boldfaced book title and a short tagline takes up the remainder of that upper half, the lower half is reserved for the cover art.

When I'd heard that Leo Dillon had passed away, it gave me cause to think about the effect great cover art has on the reader. A book without cover art or design is fine enough - you're going in for the meat anyway, and some books comport themselves by reputation alone. A book with bad or mismatched cover art is irritating; you feel like you're told a lie just to get you to open a book. But cover art that speaks intimately to the subject matter inside - or at least respect it - makes you ready for the material within. It softens you up in the good way. If you opened Ellison's No Doors, No Windows with any other sort of cover art, I don't know if you'd be as receptive to the contents within. And each one had an easter-egg; somewhere in the cover art was a depiction of Harlan. Some were easier to find (see right) than others. I own six of them: No Doors, No Windows; Gentleman Junkie; Partners in Wonder; Spider Kiss; The Other Glass Teat; Memos From Purgatory.

Leo and Diane Dillon had a real understanding of where Harlan was trying to get to with his strange and wonderful stories. They must have. How else would they come up with cover art that so intimately suits the material? And how else would they get the intense and sincere favor of Ellison, if he didn't think they picked up what he furiously put down?

The Dillons illustrated a lot of speculative fiction works over the years, and their work has won plaudits: at least one Hugo, two Caldecotts, Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame; the list goes on (and is provided by some Wikipedian for your convenience). I feel lessened that such a man is gone.

I've never met them, but I feel for Diane, in as much as I have a lifelong romance with a spouse, as well, and I can't even begin to imagine what life would be like without her.

Leo Dillon, 1933-2012.

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