Ratzkin, Lawrence

Tagged: Art

(1931-2011) American artist, also credited as Larry Ratzkin. He graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art in 1951, and was soon being employed by major New York publishers officially as a book designer, not a cover artist, though he was credited with some genuinely artistic covers. He worked steadily until the 1990s, eventually retiring to focus on photography before his death in 2011.

Regularly assigned to books by major authors in various fields, Ratzkin by no means specialized in sf, but he was occasionally asked to produce covers for sf hardcovers. These he usually provided with stark but sometimes effective imagery; Robert Silverberg's Planet of Death (1967), for example, was illustrated with a dark wraparound cover depicting a jungle filled with crudely rendered ravenous plants and animals, confronted by a stick-figure astronaut. Other covers featured attractive, brightly-coloured designs, like his 1965 cover for Fred Hoyle's Ossian's Ride (1959), showing an enormous hand flipping open an old-fashioned watch with a man inside, or his cover for Ben Bova's anthology The Many Worlds of Science Fiction (coll 1971), wherein an alien plant seems to be gouging a path through a barren yellow plain.

While such covers seemed to match their contents, others seemingly reflected Ratzkin's unfamiliarity with sf; one must question, for instance, the appropriateness of his cover for Brian W Aldiss's anthology Space Opera: An Anthology of Way-Back-When Futures (anth 1974), which employs an old-fashioned drawing of a seated, Pan-like figure playing a pipe, with nothing resembling a Spaceship or astronaut in sight. (Did Ratzkin imagine that Aldiss's title was referencing some exotic form of Music?) As if reflecting an ongoing uneasiness with the genre, Ratzkin's later sf covers usually limit themselves to stylized typography, as observed on his covers for Terry Carr's Universe 10 (anth 1980), Gene Wolfe's collection Gene Wolfe's Book of Days (coll 1981), Barry N Malzberg's nonfiction collection The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties (coll 1982), and Ken Grimwood's novel Replay (1987). One suspects that Ratzkin was happier illustrating books of a more mundane nature, as with his celebrated cover for Joe McGinniss's The Selling of the President 1968 (1969), showing a photograph of Richard Nixon on a pack of cigarettes. For the uninitiated, figuring out how to sell science fiction books can be a tricky business. [GW]

Lawrence Ratzkin

born 21 February 1931

died New York: 18 May 2011

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