Kage Baker was,  in her heart of hearts, an illuminator. Barring the problems of being the wrong nationality, the wrong gender and being born half a millenium too late, she’d have loved the life of a book-making Irish monk.

When she was in her early teens, she hand-made several books.Typed them out, sewed the little packets together (and she was no seamstress) and then bound them in the cardboard backings from yellow legal pads and covered them with gaffers tape; which she then painted, in order to make them more glorious. And all of them were copiously illustrated, in inks and water colours.

They were her own stories, of course, furiously typed with her patented Chico-Marx-playing-the-piano two-fingered staccato style – she never learned to type. She had an old black Royal that Momma got her, and it worked pretty well. Some of the keys were askew, wrenched out of their alignment by the unexpected Superbaby grip of our youngest sister. And the E was worn nearly away on its button, so that Kage had inked it in with a Cro-Quill and Higgins black … but she could go along at a furious rate on the thing.

Since the narrative was typed on onion-skin paper, while the illustrations were done on water colour paper, the books all had an interesting … rippled quality. And the acrylic clung oddly to the metallic gaffers tape, although from arm’s distance it made them look a little as if they were bound in rough leather. Which was cool.

They were labours of love, because Kage loved illustrations and thought that no book was a real book unless it had pictures. So her first ones did.

When her mature books began to sell … well, she desperately wanted pictures. However, grown-up hardcovers don’t get those. And to her vast disappointment, new authors get, like, zero input on what appears on the covers. Kage grew resigned to the problem very quickly – she was pragmatic, she wanted the books published most of all. And so she learned to be amused at what turned up on her book covers, and occasionally delighted by the surprises various cover artists wrought.

The cover of the UK edition of In The Garden of Iden, for example, was a right bodice ripper: some dark-haired wench staring off all mooney-eyed into the distance, dressed like a genteel Gypsy. Kage guessed the Brits figured a Spanish heroine had to be dark. The US paperback, though, had stained glass and a lady in almost-perfect headgear: it was done by the excellent Tom Canty, who was immediately entered into Kage’s list of secular saints. She loved all his covers.

When Tor – bless them! – set out to re-publish the entire Company series, they did all the covers in matching styles. Not a bad style, mind you, but very science-fictional – Iden has a monorail rushing straight at the viewer. The Tor cover for Sky Coyote has an actually grand illustration of the gates of New World One – it’s an enormous improvement over the original from Harcourt Brace, which has a guy in a coyote head hood, evidently projectile vomiting flying saucers … and even that was better than the Israeli version, which has a bipedal German Shepherd in a trench coat.

Tor’s covers went on to showcase an inexplicable portrait of Patrick Stewart on Children of the Company, which cracked Kage up: her personal vision of Labienus, who figures largely in that volume, looks a lot like Sir Patrick, but she never told anyone that but me. Oddly enough, the secondary figure on that cover is an excellent representation of Porfirio, of Mendoza In Hollywood; who isn’t in that book at all.

This uneven quality continued all during her career. Hence the amusement. But often, the covers – while nothing Kage would have done herself – were beautiful and thoughtful, and she loved them. Some  unknown genius did the cover and copious illustrations for the Russian version of Anvil of the World. The pictures were so beautiful that they became Kage’s favourites, and quite offset the fact that the text was apparently printed on toilet paper. Mike Dingenberg did a gorgeous cover for Mother Aegypt. He also did an hysterical interior illo of its wretched hero dressed as the Devil and riding on a giant mutant rooster, and he let her post it on her site. J.K. Potter did a number of utterly exquisite covers, including the lovelies for all 3 Nell Gwynne books: Kage only ever saw the first one, but I can testify that she was thrilled – she’d have loved the new ones, too. And Tom Canty’s work always delighted her.

The only cover on which Kage actually had direct input, though, was The Hotel Under the Sand. The wonderful people at Tachyon listened carefully, and produced exactly the cover that Kage wanted. It was her first (and only) children’s book, and written for our niece Emma in the literal twilight of Kage’s life. So bless you all at Tachyon, for giving her that.

And now Tachyon is about to publish In The Company of Thieves. Obviously, I am leaping about in delight at this, since it will include my very first effort at a Company story. I am so, so, giddily happy that it is from Tachyon .. being me, and not really thinking about covers, I had never even asked what they had in mind. But when they sent me the cover today – thank you, Jill! – I was stunned.

And here it is:

Company Canty CoverIt’s by Tom Canty, which is only appropriate. I think it’s wonderful. And the strangest thing is – if you look at the hair, the chin and jaw, the narrow, long-fingered hand – it looks a lot like Kage. Around age 17 or so; and in the last few days of her life, when the cancer had pared her down to a glowing memory of youth.

She’d have loved the goggles.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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14 Responses to Graphics

  1. Marc Bailey says:

    I can hardly wait!


  2. kathy allen says:

    Only she isn’t wearing her trademark wooly scarf.


  3. Kate says:

    Oh my gosh, Kathy, you are one of the few people in the world who probably remember that scarf! And the blue velvet smoking jacket she wore in lieu of a school sweater (and in defiance of the uniform regulations). Kage used to tie that tartan scarf around her upper arm when the hall monitors questioned her, and tell them it was a statement of solidarity with the Scots Independence Movement – and as it was the hairy politcal 1960’s, she always got away with it!


  4. athene says:

    The hand, definitely. Where she got those aristo hands I don’t know, but she would have been guillotined for them, while those of us with peasanty mitts marched on. The cover is truly wonderful.


  5. Kate says:

    Yeah, she had aristo hands, all right. And double jointed fingers, which she could twist into truly ghastly conformations. She could – and did – bend her thumbs almost all the way backward to her wrists! I’ve got stiff square little Corgi paws …


  6. Becky says:

    oh oh oh! When can we order it?!? I love the goggles, too. Actually I love the clothes, the hair, the fact that you finished the book, that we get to read more adventures…


  7. maggiros says:

    OMG What an amazing cover!


  8. Medrith says:

    I love this! As a painter I’m very very VERY critical of covers and illustrations, cool finding out how the author feels about them. Yay new book! Also- 3 Nell Gwynne books??!? Is the 3rd not out yet, or have I somehow missed it?


  9. That’s a gorgeous cover. I LOVE the font. I can’t wait!


  10. Pingback: Lookin’ Good: In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker | Far Beyond Reality

  11. Well, let’s not forget the covers for Kage’s two Golden Gryphon Press books. On Black Projects, White Knights she requested artist Don Maitz, but I knew that was not going to happen; so I suggested J. K. Potter. As I wrote in my blog post of January 27, 2010: “Kage was a bit skeptical, having checked out JK’s work on the web, the majority of it macabre in nature, but she had faith. Once JK agreed to do the cover art, I sent him a selection of stories, along with a copy of [Kage’s] introduction. Kage, in turn, provided me with some images that I could pass on to JK, images such as ‘passport photos’ and ‘a clock face, the old-fashioned kind with Roman numerals, but without any hands.'” On May 7, 2002, when I sent Kage a graphic of the full cover art, she emailed back: “This is the first time even I have seen the full wrap-around dust jacket. Ohhhhh, this is so exquisite, so grand, even I didn’t expect it to look so wonderful…. This is UNBELIEVABLY spiff. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands so I can pore over all the little details. God bless JK Potter.” And when we later did the limited edition chapbook The Angel in the Darkness, Kage insisted on a cover by J. K. Potter. And, I believe, this is why JK continued working on Kage’s books published by Subterranean Press.


    • Kate says:

      Yes, she loved his work. Did I not mention that? Alas, I couldn’t list every cover and her reaction – although, now that I think of it, that might make an interesting blog … thank you, Marty!


  12. Tom B. says:

    This is so very beautiful . . . wonderful!


  13. Thomas Canty says:

    Dear Kathleen,

    Could you please get in touch with me at:
    I’ve been tasked with providing you with an accurate (color and tone) version of the cover image for “In The Company of Thieves.” The one that you’ve posted is strikingly too green and Tachyon would rather that you have a corrected version. If you contact me with your email info I can attach the image to a return email for you.

    Thanks a TON ! ! Take good care! WONDERFUL blog ! ! ! ! ! ! !



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