Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Covers

When I think of Space Opera, I think of this cover by Bob Charrette, because it's the cover I remember seeing back in the early 80s when I first encountered the game:

There's a lot to be said about this cover, not the least being that I tend to forget that Bob Charrette, much like Paul Jaquays, frequently did illustrations as well as writing and design. There's also the fact that this cover likely represents the first and only time anyone has ever ripped off Battle Beyond the Stars in SF RPG art, as you can see if you compare the alien next to "Chewbacca" with the ones in this image from that Roger Corman film:

Despite that -- or maybe because of it -- I have a great fondness for this cover. It's an unashamedly gleeful cover that amply demonstrates Space Opera's "kitchen sink" approach to sci-fi gaming. It's the polar opposite of the way Traveller portrayed itself and the way many of its most vocal proponents (including myself) presented it to others.

Anyway, looking more carefully at the cover, I noticed something that had somehow eluded me all these years. Charrette's signature on the illustration reads "©82 Charrette after Gene Day." Now, Space Opera was first published in 1980 and lots of the interior artwork of its two rulebooks, not to mention those of its early supplements is by Gene Day (and Jeff Dee). But the only cover I'd ever seen was Bob Charrette's.

Or was it? As it turns out, I probably had seen Gene Day's original 1980 cover before, but hadn't been paying close enough attention to notice. Here's what it looks like:

As is obvious -- except to me, apparently -- the two covers are not identical and quite obviously so. The space girl in Day's original is much less conservatively dressed than Charrette's and her hair color is different (as is her pose). Day's bug alien is replaced with a T-Rex with a blaster and his robot companion and the Boris Karloff lookalike in the bottom left is replaced with a Kzinti wearing more or less the same getup. There are lots of other differences too, if you look carefully, which, as I said, I didn't.

I did some quick digging to find out just why the cover image was changed and I found a link to an interview with Charrette, where he explains the change:
It was a technical issue as I recall. There needed to be a new printing and the original artwork was unavailable, so a new painting needed to be made. Scott liked Gene's piece and I wanted to follow it closely as an homage.
Though Charrette doesn't say so, it's possible that the unavailability of Day's original had to do with the artist's unexpected death in 1982 from a heart attack.


  1. I had never seen that original Day version, thanks for posting this!

  2. Interesting bit of trivia. Looking at the illustrations of the woman, the original seems more clearly in the Pulp style in its sexualization, but also reminds me a lot of how "Bond women" were illustrated for the 007 movies. In fact, while I can't find a photo that matches the illustration, I'd bet she was based on the character "Tiffany Case" from 1971's "Diamonds are Forever," played by Jill St. John.

  3. Thanks for pointing that out, I never noticed that before, either. But I'm thinking that perhaps I never saw the original cover. Gene Day (his name and/or his signature) rings a bell though, wasn't he responsible for the cover of the 1st edition of Call Of Cthulhu box set?
    ...I just checked Wikipedia, and yes he was. Along with being a successful comic book artist, with Marvel's Star Wars series among his credits. Wikipedia doesn't mention Space Opera, though.

  4. Battle Beyond the Stars! One of my all-time favorite movies. We spent many an afternoon building those spaceships out of legos...

  5. I remember the older guys I gamed with when I was a callow stripling comparing the 2 covers and particularly the clothing of the woman. They couldn't figure out why the whole thing had to be repainted just to give her a nice conservative neckline.

  6. Fascinating comparison.

    In general I like the Day cover better (the guy shooting in the foreground is way more natural & dynamic.... also, thumbs-up for boobies). However, the googly-eyed, lipsticked insect-thing in the lower right is distractingly cartoony, and I can also see what Charrette was going for with the "V" of laser beams he added to left & right (although I think Day's blaster-with-no-beam is a lot more interesting).

  7. Reminds me a lot of the cover of Marvel's Star Wars #1, with the layout of characters and weapons, spaceships in the background etc...

    And I'll second the love for Battle Beyond the Stars...one of Corman's finest. Who doesn't enjoy "The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven" in space? With aliens. And "Hannibal" from A-Team.

  8. I had the box with the original Gene Day cover (while I still have the books, sadly the box itself is long gone).

    Horrox: Day's real masterpiece is (IMO) his run on Master of Kung Fu (which sadly will probably not be reprinted anytime soon). He died way too young (32) under conditions that could best be described as 'sad'. It says something that Marvel had to put out a press release that effectively said "Marvel Comics did not kill Gene Day".

  9. I wish I still had my copy of that game. I wonder if it's still available though FGU's web site.

  10. I wish I still had my copy of that game. I wonder if it's still available though FGU's web site.

    It is, and the PDF's are available through DriveThruRPG.

  11. Wow. Thank you for showing that. I not only had the original version at one point but I was a huge fan of Mr. Day and didn't learn of his passing until a few years after it occured. I was young and artists entered and left the field all the time.

    At present I own only the later version.

    Thanks again James, that really put a nostalgic smile on my face.

  12. I have a boxed set of this game and it has blue/yellow/green cover art. It dates from 1980. I can't find any information on where it sits in the game's printing history.

  13. I had a copy of the boxed set with the Day cover way "back when" but no longer own the game. I didn't even realize that there were two covers!

    Most of FGU's games seemed better to me in concept than in application.

  14. I had the first printing, back before it fell to pieces from too many moves and too many re-readings. (I have the PDF and the perfect bound printing now.) I'd noticed the two covers before but never knew the reasons for them. Thanks!

    A fair amount of the interior art was from a story Gene Day did for one of the Warren comics, or perhaps a very early Heavy Metal. Does anyone remember where this story was printed? I remember it was about two feuding races, fighting over some trinkets.

  15. That cover (either version) really doesn't go with that system. Actually I only have experience with the character creation, but that was enough.

  16. That city silhouette over ray gun boy's right shoulder looks darn familiar. I thought it might have been the Carcosa Colophon but no.

    Anyone recognize?

  17. The city kind of reminds me of the city silhouettes for the country of Shucassam in Divine Right. Of course I'm sure that was stolen from somewhere else.

  18. Nice post. I had no idea there were two separate covers for Space Opera.

    I'm not sure the alien is actually ripped off from Battle Beyond the Stars, though. Battle Beyond the Stars wasn't released until September 1980. If Space Opera really was released in 1980, that would be some impressively rapid ripping.

  19. Waaay back on December 22, Robert J. Edwards said...

    "A fair amount of the interior art was from a story Gene Day did for one of the Warren comics, or perhaps a very early Heavy Metal. Does anyone remember where this story was printed? I remember it was about two feuding races, fighting over some trinkets."

    The story is called "War Games," and can be found, along with a whole slew of other examples of Gene Day's genius, in the book FUTURE DAY (Flying Buttress Publications, 1979.)

    (space opera and comics a specialty)