A couple years ago, as the writer Sarah Elizabeth was working on her book, "The Art of Fantasy" (out September 12th), a particular illustration kept popping into her mind's eye. It was the cover for the 1976 Dell/Laurel Leaf paperback edition of Madeleine L'Engle's classic sci-fi/fantasy novel "A Wrinkle in Time."
She wanted to include the piece in her book, but she didn't know who the artist was. "I thought, 'Oh, pish posh! Surely I'm going to find this in the first page of Google.' No. No, no, no!"
The answer isn't on any page of google, or any page of the physical book itself — not the copyright page where the rest of the credit information is, not the front or back cover, NOWHERE. Sarah posed the question in the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit. "This would be the kind of thing that the folks over at Endless Thread would have a field day over," someone commented.
And, indeed... we did! In this episode, Amory uncovers the artist behind this iconic illustration.
- Sarah Elizabeth's blog post about the mystery
- The Art of Fantasy
- Sarah Elizabeth's post in the Endless Thread subreddit
- Smith College's Madeleine L'Engle archive
- "Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s" by Adam Rowe and his 70s Sci-Fi Art account
- Keeping listening/scrolling for links to the mystery artist's portfolio, bio, and other relevant information... No spoilers up here!
This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Amory Sivertson: It was a dark and stormy night...
Ben Brock Johnson: ...for real? That's how you're kicking this off?
Amory: Yes! It's a MYSTERY. And it's... well, you'll see...
Ben: Whatever you say, Amo.
Amory: You ready? It was a dark and stormy night...
Ben: Pretty sure it was a sunny, spring afternoon, but OK...
Amory: Thank you for doing this.
Sarah Elizabeth: No problem, I'm so excited.
Amory: ...when we met Sarah Elizabeth.
Ben: I feel like I haven't talked to a blogger in a minute.
Sarah: That's because nobody blogs anymore. At least nobody reads blogs anymore, which is really sad.
Amory: Sarah does, indeed, have a blog... called "Unquiet things for kindred glooms," which tells you a litttttle about her, right? And people do read her blog. But there's this one entry Sarah wrote back in May that's gotten a LOT of attention.
Sarah: More hits than I've ever gotten in an entire decade— 20 years of writing!
Ben: And a lot of those hit have come from redditors. Sarah shared this specific blog post in a handful of subreddits recently because... she needed help. She came up against something in the midst of her writing. Her rather niche writing, we should say...
Sarah: My first book was "The Art of the Occult." My second book came out last year. It's "The Art of Darkness." And then in September of this year, um, "The Art of Fantasy" will be published, and that kinda gets into this whole mystery today.
Amory: Sarah was doing research for that latest book, and for a couple of years, this one fantasy book cover kept popping into her mind's eye.
Sarah: It's in these hyper-saturated, really lurid colors.
Ben: Greens and blues of every shade. Seafoam, cerulean...
Sarah: And there's a, like a face. It's this green skinned, really grim. It just wants to suck all the life and joy out of you kind of face.
Amory: The face is a sickly, witchy green, floating body-less in a cloudy blue orb. A vertical crease runs down its forehead, giving it an alien quality, along with its sunken chin and deep-set eyes that glow BRIGHT RED.
Ben: It’s very handsome. It’s a handsome face, is what you’re trying to say.
Sarah: That face just glowering at you. It's kind of terrifying.
Ben: CAN CONFIRM. Hovering above that joy-sucking face...
Sarah: There's a man-pegasus hybrid…
Ben: A winged centaur, if you will…
Amory: Yeah, with a human face that looks cut from marble and a torso like a Greek god attached to an equally chiseled horse's lower half, suspended by these delicate, almost contradictory rainbow, pastel wings.
Ben: That's the thing that pops out to me where I'm like, no, this doesn't work. These are like, um, hummingbird wings on a 700 pound horse body.
Amory: Up until that point, it was all believable to you?
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
Sarah: I find the colors of the cover and the painting so freaky, and I could not tell you why. They just caused this weird, low-level hum that's really just full of dread in my heart.
Amory: But for Sarah, a self-proclaimed "gloom" and "fancier of [...] magics both macabre and melancholy" as her blog proclaims... a painting that can induce a low level hum of DREAD in your heart? That's a pretty exciting thing! Sarah wanted to include this piece in her forthcoming book, "The Art of Fantasy." But...
Sarah: I couldn't even remember what it was from.
Ben: As in, Sarah didn't know what book this cover belonged to. But THAT… is not the mystery here. A quick internet search reminded her that it was the cover of a 1976 paperback edition of Madeleine L'Engle's young adult sci-fi/fantasy novel "A Wrinkle in Time."
Amory: The opening line of which is...?
Ben: “It was a dark and stormy night,” alright, alright.
Amory: Remember that old classic?
Sarah: Honestly, the only thing I really remember in the book is that someone ate a liverwurst sandwich.
Amory: Alright, Sarah is NO help at all... but the book is about three kids, tessering — or WRINKLING — time and space on a quest to find a father gone mysteriously missing, and to fight an evil force trying to rid the world of originality and autonomy.
Ben: What does that have to do with a glowering red-eyed face and a ripped, rainbow-winged pegasus centaur? It might feel like a mystery for the uninitiated, but it's still not our mystery.
Amory: Nope. The REAL question... the one that would prevent Sarah from being able to include this haunting illustration for "A Wrinkle in Time" in her fantasy art book... is WHO painted it?
Sarah: I thought, "Oh, pish posh. Surely I'm going to find this like in the first, you know, first page of Google!" No. No, no, no.
Amory: The answer isn't on ANY page of google. Or any page of the physical book ITSELF. Not the copyright page where the rest of the credit info is. Not the front cover or back cover. Nowhere.
Ben: Sarah posed the question in the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit and got HUNDREDS of replies. Many of which said, "Hey, that's the cover of the copy I had growing up!"
Amory: Which is cool! But despite how iconic this illustration seemed to be...
Sarah: Nobody knows who the cover artist for this book is.
Ben: But there are two kinds of people in this world. People who hear "Nobody knows" and think, "Huh… I guess nobody knows!"
Amory: And people who think...
Sarah: Uh uh, no way. Uh, uh. I'm gonna find it.
Amory: Or, I'm gonna find someone who can find it. Or, in this case, someone who can help me FIND someone who can find it.
Sarah: And it was subsequent Redditors from that post who said, "Oh, try this subreddit" or "Oh, try this one." And that's how I got to you guys.
Ben: A redditor who goes by Nutellatime replied to Sarah's post with the comment: "This would be the kind of thing that the folks over at Endless Thread would have a field day over."
Amory: Nahhhhh that doesn't sound like us, does it, Ben?
Ben: PISH POSH!
Amory: I responded to Sarah's post, saying, "I have at least one string I'd like to pull on this."
Ben: And that was 8 months ago.
Amory: It was a solid, like, 4 months ago. And little did I know... that string would lead to another... and another... and another... until I was on my own full-blown months-long quest through time and space to find an artist credit gone mysteriously missing, and to understand the forces that have left this cover's artist — AND countless others — unknown for DECADES.
Sarah: These artists deserve recognition and, you know, people need to know their names.
Amory: I'm Amory Sivertson.
Ben: I'm Ben Brock Johnson. And you're listening to Endless Thread.
Amory: We're coming to you from WBUR, Boston's NPR-distributing, mystery-solving, credit-where-it's-due-giving station.
Ben: Today's episode?
Amory: "Artist: Known."
Ben: Sarah Elizabeth had already done a fair amount of digging into this mystery by the time she wrote her various posts about the "Wrinkle in Time" cover. She'd consulted something called the Internet Speculative Fiction Database — an online catalog of works of sci-fi, fantasy and horror that uuuuusually has answers to these kinds of questions... but not this time.
Amory: She'd scrolled through listicles showing the nearly two dozen different covers for "A Wrinkle in Time" since it was first published in 1962. One of them, from the site Book Riot, ranks the covers. The 1976 paperback comes in third and is accompanied by a conversational caption that reads: "Publisher: So did you finish that kid's book cover I told you to illustrate? With the rainbows and the centaur and outer space?"
Ben: "Artist: Sure did. Absolute nightmare fuel, just like you asked."
Ben: Other listicles name the artists behind the different covers. But when you get to this 1976 one, you see... "Artist unknown."
Amory: Sarah also DM'd "A Wrinkle in Time" author Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter on Twitter...
Sarah: All I got back was a shrug emoji, so she doesn't know either, apparently.
Ben: So, Sarah didn't have too much to work with. But also, there was something getting in her way...
Sarah: I'm very shy, and I don't like meeting people or talking to people or interacting with people. So I kind of felt I had a mission, except I'm not so dedicated to my mission that I'll make a phone call. That's where I draw the line (laughs).
Amory: But, as I told Sarah, where she draws the line is where I pick up the line, you know what I'm saying?
Amory: I am a professional pain-in-the-ass. And I will pick up the phone and call anyone, and I will call all of their surviving children, and I will try to get to that person!
Amory: Well, with this mystery technically pushing 50, I knew it was gonna take some time to solve. But I took a little inspiration from "A Wrinkle in Time" itself... because, over the course of our conversation with Sarah, more of the plot of the book did start to coming back to her. Specifically, how one "wrinkles" time.
Sarah: They explained it as you're holding a string between your hands, and when you bring the string together, these two points come together. And that's how we travel.
Ben: A string folded in half, bringing point A and point B together, almost instantaneously. That's how you wrinkle time.
Amory: And that's what I was going to have to do if I didn't want another 50 years to go by before this mystery got solved. Wrinkling time in this case meant going straight to the source. Because, despite the MANY steps Sarah had outlined in her very thorough post, she made no mention of the particular source my head first went to when I saw this cover — a source printed on the cover itself. 4 tiny letters running vertically along the binding: D-E-L-L.
Ben: Dell Publishing.
Amory: THAT's the string I wanted to pull when I responded to Sarah's post in the ET subreddit. We needed to reach the right person at Dell! Except... Dell doesn't exist anymore. Not really. Because the publishing world is one of acquisitions. Almost to a comical extent.
Ben: Dell was acquired by Doubleday the same year this paperback edition came out. Doubleday was acquired by Bertelsmann, who formed Bantam Doubleday Dell. Bertelsmann acquired Random House. Then Random House merged with Penguin, making Penguin Random House.
Amory: All of which is to say, reaching someone at the publishing house formerly known as Dell was going to be its own exercise in time travel. Potentially into some dusty old Dell records that had changed hands several times already. I was hopeful this would turn up... SOMETHING. Until, the ONE person within the Penguin Random House machine I was told would know if such records still existed... responded with:
Ben: "We no longer have these extremely old files. Good luck to all who are curious."
Amory: So. When paper records fail, it's time to dig into the HUMAN records. AKA, it's time to message some randos on LinkedIn who have any iteration of Dell Publishing listed on their resumes.
Ben: Mmmm, that sounds like a LOT of fun.
Amory: You know, I DID have a lot of fun on this journey. Especially because THAT led me to someone named Judy Gitenstein: Editor, Writing Coach, Secret Weapon — which is her actual email signature. But it's also true. She was a secret weapon, because Judy pointed me to...
Bruce Hall: Bruce Hall.
Amory: Bruce Hall... is a New Yorker. Clearly. But he was also the art director for Dell at the time this paperback edition of "A Wrinkle in Time” came out. And he remembered the cover!
Bruce: It was a beautiful painting for that title.
Ben: And did he remember who DID that beautiful painting?!
Bruce: I wish I could... you know, this is going to drive me nuts now.
Amory: I know. Welcome to the club!
Ben: To be fair, we are going back almost 50 years here...
Bruce: We're in ancient history now.
Amory: Yes, but Bruce is the guy who would have commissioned this "Wrinkle in Time" cover. Surely I could jog his memory, right? So I started reading off the names of some of the artists that had been left in the comments of Sarah's posts. Names like Maelo Cintron...
Bruce: It's similar, but I don't think it's Maelo.
Amory: Does the name Ray Feybush or Faybush mean anything?
Bruce: No. No, it does not.
Amory: Charles Santore?
Bruce: Yes, I'm familiar with him, but I don't think it was him.
Amory: Or maybe Jean-Leon Huens, who was one of MY guesses after spending hours and hours looking at sci-fi and fantasy art from the 70s...
Bruce: Huens is a more delicate painter than this, you know, so the styles are not comparable at all.
Ben: Yeah Amory, COME ON. The styles aren’t comparable AT ALL.
Amory: Oh pish posh! But my name game maybe wasn't totally hopeless. Because Bruce eventually came up with a name himself for me to look into:
Bruce: Uh, Bober?
Amory: Bober. Richard Bober. I looked him up immediately, of course, and found a site with an image gallery of his work.
Ben: And did you see centaurs and handsome, terrifying, glowering faces in greens and blues galore?
Amory: FAR from it, Ben. FAR from it. I found… studies of nude women, realistic paintings of ladies in these elegant gowns, there were fiery oranges and peachy pink color palettes, pencil sketches. Pirates with rugged faces. Now, as we've established, I'm not the visual art expert here, but I took one spin through Bober's portfolio and was like “Oooooook Bruce. I think you got the wrong guy…”
Amory: Richard Bober died late last year, but there was contact info for his agent on this site, so I told Bruce I'd reach out and let him know what I heard.
Bruce: You've got some interesting roads to go down anyway. I have to give you credit for being dogged with this. Boy, you're really a...
Ben: A... professional pain in the ass?
Amory: You know, he never finished that sentence. But I sorta had to be, you know? The paper publishing record of who this artist is was apparently gone, so Bruce felt like my best shot. If he couldn't think of the artist, who could?
Bruce: I'll wake up tonight and, you know, it'll come to me, I think—
A: Hey, if it comes to you in the middle of the night, you call me, okay? You call me 'cause there's a good chance that I'm lying awake too, thinking, "All right, WHO is it? Who is it?!"
Bruce: Haha, that's a promise.
Amory: Meanwhile... I officially gave up on wrinkling time. I was casting as wide a net as possible — making calls and sending dozens of emails a day to places like The Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists, the Society of Illustrators, the Children's Book Council, and so many more. Artists, archivists, auctioners, collectors. No lead left behind.
Amory: Hello. Is this Marietta?
Fred: Hi, this is Fred.
Amory: Hi, is this Jeff?
Fred: I was thinking of this guy whose name is John Palencar.
Marietta: I have a feeling Gerry would be the ultimate person.
Amory: This mystery was resurrecting something for people: names they hadn't heard or thought about in a long time, colleagues they hadn't spoken to in decades.
Fred: He's one of those people who I remember from 40 years ago.
Amory: More ideas and artist names, more people talking to each other about this, and sharing the mystery further and wider. A well-known sci-fi artist named Michael Whelan tweeted it out to his nearly 20,000 followers, generating hundreds of retweets and comments and new leads. It got picked up by the popular science fiction site Tor.com. People seemed really energized, but... I wasn't getting ANSWERS.
Jeff: I don't know who it is.
Marietta: Good luck to you.
Fred: It would be a long shot.
Amory: Although I did get a response from Jane Frank, the agent of Richard Bober, the artist Bruce Hall thought might have painted the cover.
Ben: "Who knew that sleuthing for one cover could reach such epic proportions?," she wrote.
Amory: Followed by...
Ben: "It's definitely not Bober."
Amory: (Sigh) I'd emailed Bober's previous agent, too — Jill Bauman. "It's not Richard Bober," Jill agreed. I felt simultaneously validated in my assessment of Bober's work... and deflated. But I called Bruce back...
Amory: Okay, can you still hear me?
Amory: This time from a road trip over Memorial Day weekend. I gave him the bad news about Bober, but I also had a new list of artist names to run by him.
Amory: Maybe that could help us shake something loose in the old memory bank here...
Amory: Eventually… it did.
Bruce: I think the artist agent was a guy named Darwin Bahm.
Amory: Sorry, whose agent in particular?
Bruce: The artist who did that cover that we're looking for.
Amory: Bruce told me, as the art director at Dell, he was mostly working with the AGENTS, not the artists themselves. He and Darwin went wayyyyy back.
Amory: Do we think he is... still alive or likely no?
Bruce: I doubt it. I doubt it very much.
Amory: But like I told Sarah I would, I left messages for Darwin, his wife, and any and all children and relatives I could find for Darwin Bahm online.
Amory (leaving voicemail): I'm trying to reach Donald Mahoney, um, the Donald Mahoney, who is connected to Sarah Anne Mahoney, and the Sarah Anne Mahoney who is related to Darwin Bahm.
Amory: It got a little nuts...
Amory: But if Bruce is right that Darwin represented the artist who painted the mystery cover of "A Wrinkle in Time," and if he's still alive, this cover might not be a mystery for much longer.
Ben: More in a minute.
Amory: Great news, Ben.
Darwin Bahm: Yeah, this is Darwin Bahm. Uh, I was recommended to, uh, Amory by, uh, Bruce Hall.
Ben: He's aliiiiiiive!
Amory: Yesssssss. Darwin, the guy Bruce Hall thinks represented the mystery "A Wrinkle in Time" artist, is alive and 94 years young. Bad news... he doesn't recognize our mystery cover, and therefore doesn't think it was one of his artists who painted it. Bruce was befuddled.
Bruce: I remember using this guy frequently, Darwin's top artist, and for the life of me, I thought that was Bober. But, you know, maybe not.
Amory: My HUMAN records... were failing me. So I went back to paper records. Really, we did…
Ben & Amory: Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.
Ben: ...to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, "A Wrinkle in Time" author Madeleine L'Engle's alma mater and the keeper of boxes and boxes of her papers and letters in a very nice, hermetically-sealed top floor of a beautiful library.
Ben: This folder is professional correspondence of the 1970s. Requests and appreciation from publishers.
Ben: We were TEARING through these boxes…
Amory: … as much as one can in a pin-drop-quiet, studious archival library …
Ben: ...thinking maybe somewhere in them there was a mention of the artist who illustrated the 1976 paperback edition? Mayyyyybe?
Amory: Who are these people?
Ben: I think they're just, like, contacts.
Ben: It's like a contact list.
Amory: But we had a very small window of time to work with and some appropriately strict rules to follow.
Ben: You can't take anything out of that right now.
Amory: Why not?
Ben: Because you can only take one thing out at a time and we have a folder out already.
Amory: I… was STRESSIN’. Ben was…
Ben: You can look, but no touchy.
Amory: He was being Ben.
Ben: There's a lot of Bill correspondence, too. And there's some very confusing correspondence from Bill to Bill.
Amory: All right. What I would like to do...
Ben: ...is keep going. Just keep going. You're doing great.
Amory: The idea of the, you know, the "needle in a haystack" expression is that, you know that the needle is in there, you just have to be patient enough to go through the whole haystack. But this is like a needle in some haystack. But we might not be anywhere near the actual haystack.
Ben: All right. Let's go get some vegan pizza.
Amory: Yes, please. It's the only thing that has made me not totally lose my will to live in this very moment. (Laughs)
Ben: (Laughs) Sorry.
Amory: Ben, with every mystery we've ever worked on, there comes a time when we ask ourselves a VERY important question:
Ben: IS THIS ACTUALLY SOLVABLE?
Amory: Right. Will we ever know for SURE who illustrated this cover?
Adam Rowe: My guess is that we will not.
Amory: This is Adam Rowe. And that… is obviously NOT what I wanted to hear. Adam is the guy behind the hugely popular Twitter account "70s Sci-Fi Art" and author of the hot-off-the-press "Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s." And he told me WHY we may never know who did this cover. Or many others, for that matter.
Adam: The illustrations are seen as the marketing, commercial selling point of the book. And, much like a lot of advertisers weren't credited, they wouldn't credit the cover artists either.
Ben: Think about the last time you saw a movie poster you loved. Or an album cover. Or a logo. These kinds of artist-for-hire jobs often mean that someone's work goes admired, but not attributed.
Amory: That's just business, you might say. But in this case, the artists' names could so easily have been printed somewhere, ANYWHERE, on the books their illustrations adorned.
Adam: Certainly the people that I speak to today pretty uniformly are upset about lack of credit in the cases where they weren't given any.
Amory: And something to be even more upset about? Some of the artists that weren't credited for their illustrations also never got their original paintings back.
Adam: At the time, the industry practice was kind of to just buy the art outright rather than to buy the rights to the art. So [the publishers] would just own the art, but they didn't want it around. So they would just take it out to the alley and burn it all.
Ben: Publishers burning paintings?! That sounds… dramatic.
Amory: I know! But Adam wasn't the only person to tell me about artists not getting their originals back. And if the original for the cover of this edition of "A Wrinkle in Time" was among the ones that were destroyed or just ditched, that'll certainly make it a LOT harder to confirm its origin.
Adam: The industry did shift to just buying the rights. And if you only buy the rights, you should be returning the artwork. And sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't.
Amory: "Despair settled like a stone in the pit of [my] stomach."
Ben: That ALSO sounds dramatic.
Amory: Just quoting from "A Wrinkle in Time” again. But yeah, this was a low moment. Because one of the really special things about making art of any kind — at least to me — is that it OUTLIVES you. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that this artist would want a whole song and dance about them, but the fact that I can pick up a copy of this edition of the book — which I did, by the way — and stare into those red eyes and not know who painted them is, frankly, pretty sad. And wanting to fix something and not knowing if you actually can is also... pretty sad.
But my conversation with Adam Rowe wasn’t ALL dark and stormy vibes...
Ben: Ok PHEW, this was bumming me out. I was gonna have to go for pizza round two.
Amory: Adam had a theory of his own about who might have done the mystery cover. An artist he had really zero'd in on. And, since he's an aficionado of 70s sci-fi art, I was like YESSSS ADAM, BRING IT.
Adam: I will say, Richard Bober sure does look like a really good candidate.
Ben: Bober! The guy Bruce the art director thinks did it!
Amory: Yes, but also the guy whose agent, Jane Frank, told me it "definitely" was NOT. And Adam knows Jane, and he says he trusts her on this…
Adam: That is definitely a pretty serious blow against the theory, but...
Amory: BUT, like Bruce Hall, I couldn't get Adam off of it. He reminded me of a Twitter thread I'd seen from a guy named Wallace Polsom also suggesting Bober. A thread I'd set aside after Jane said no, honestly. But it pointed out the similarities between the "Wrinkle in Time" cover and some Dell covers Richard Bober had done in the '70s for a number of Alfred Hitchcock books. Including one for "Stories Not for the Nervous." Which uses a lot of the same shades of blues and greens as the "Wrinkle" cover. And all the way to the right, there's a green alien-like figure, with a feature that instantly stood out to Adam and me.
Adam: Red eyes on that one guy.
Amory: Red eyes! You know what else is the kind of on that same character that has red eyes in both of these? The head has, like, I don't know how else to put this... but like, the head kind of has a butt crack.
Adam: Oh, sure.
Amory: Do you know what I mean? Where the heads both have a, like, center part but no hair.
Adam: That is... a really interesting feature for them to both share.
Amory: My artistic eye... not so bad after all, huh Ben?
Ben: You can spot butt crack heads a mile away!
Adam: It really looks like what you'd expect to see from an illustrator who's doing a bunch of horror-influence covers, has sort of a set of ideas and tools that they're returning to. Did Jane or Jill—
Amory: Bober's agents, present and past.
Adam: —give you more information other than just saying it was not Bober?
Amory (re-reading an email from Jane Frank): "It's definitely not Bober. Verified with Jill Bauman." No, that's all that she said.
Adam: Why do they both seem confident about that?
Ben: That... is an EXCELLENT question.
Amory: I AGREE. Although I was a little nervous to reach back out to Jane and Jill to basically question their judgment. But with a little Adam angel on my shoulder...
Adam: Keep pulling the Richard Bober thread. That's my recommendation.
Amory: I sent them both an email with the subject line... "Are you SURE it's not Bober?" Two days later, I got a response. And then... a call.
Amory: Hi Jane. Can you hear me okay?
Jane Frank: Yes, I can.
Amory: Jane Frank, Bober's agent and manager of his artistic estate, had BIG news for me. Or, at least, big if true. Her email read, in all caps: "I CAN CONFIRM IT IS THE WORK OF RICHARD BOBER."
Ben: Oh man, Jane!
Amory: Turns out, not only was Jane not sure the Wrinkle artist WASN'T Bober, she had apparently already started considering the possibility that it WAS.
Jane: I'm sort of like you, in a way. I'm a sleuth, okay? And so I said, "Wait a minute... why not go back to the source?"
Amory: Now again, Richard Bober died last December. But his brother, Leon, is still alive, and Leon's two sons, Leon Bober III and Matthew Bober, are apparently pretty familiar with their uncle's work. Leon III especially.
Jane: Every single thing his uncle had ever done! Who knew!
Amory: So Richard Bober’s family supposedly KNEW the 1976 Dell paperback cover of "A Wrinkle in Time" was his work. But... they didn't say HOW they know. And that, I told Jane, wasn't gonna cut it for this sleuth.
Jane: I'm on your side. I'm just as curious as you are.
Matthew Bober: I think it was like, you know, the first book that I had read that he did the cover to. So I remember having it in school and talking about how my uncle did the cover.
Amory: This is Matthew Bober, one of Richard Bober's nephews. And Matthew says he’s seen this painting with his own two eyes at his Uncle Richard's house!
Matthew: He had a pool table in the basement, and we would always be down there playing and, all around the pool table, leaning against the wall were paintings.
Amory: The "Wrinkle in Time" cover was painted on masonite, Matthew says. It's like a thick, super compressed cardboard.
Matthew: Maybe 15” by 22” or 23” or whatever, somewhere around there. Just kind of a normal illustration size.
Amory: Matthew thinks the first time he saw the "Wrinkle" painting in his uncle's basement in Pennsylvania when he was about 10 or 11 years old. So, in the late 80s. Which means, Ben, that Dell did return the original painting to Richard Bober. It wasn't burned or destroyed. At least, not by the publisher...
Ben: Uh oh...
Amory: And not on purpose...
Ben: UH OH.
Amory: Yeah, in case the whole "paintings leaning against the basement wall" bit hadn't already tipped you off...
Matthew: My uncle was not the best archive keeper.
Jane: Of the work that was in his possession, 15% was destroyed by his cats and a moldy basement filled with water.
Amory: Oh, no.
Jane: Oh, yes. A lot was destroyed that way. And 5% is gone totally. I have no idea where it is. "Wrinkle in Time" is one of those.
Ben: 15% of EVERYTHING is destroyed by cats, Amory. That's a law of the universe!
Amory: And at least 17% is destroyed by rabbits. Anyway… Matthew and the rest of the Bober family, don't know where the "Wrinkle" painting is either anymore. The last time Matthew saw the painting, it was in an even smaller form than the paperback cover. It was a 4-by-5-inch slide.
Matthew: I would call it an informal archiving. You know, taking the painting outside with the 35 millimeter and slide film and shooting it — that's what he would do. Boxes of slides.
Amory: At some point, the nephews helped Richard digitize those slides by, basically, just taking a digital photo of each one. A picture of a picture. So when I asked the Bobers initially if they had any proof that Richard had done the Wrinkle painting, Matthew's dad sent me THIS:
Ben (reacting to a picture of slides): Oooo. So I see 4 paintings here and they're VERY cool. There's like a shark swallowing a person and the person's feet are sticking out. There's a painting of two hands holding up a television with a super creepy image on it. And... there's the painting! There it is! In all its glory! And it totally fits stylistically with the others. Like, this is clearly the work of one artist. And one really talented, kinda spooky, artist. It's really cool.
Amory: It's REALLY cool. And getting the picture of these slides… that to me was like, YES. You know, like, THIS IS IT. This is in his collection of all of his works — his digitized works. And, you know, I asked Matthew what he thinks his uncle would make of all this if he were alive. Thousands of people on the internet wanting an answer, weighing in with their theories, having their own paperback version of Richard's work without knowing who to thank for it; dozens of artists and publishing industry professionals connecting for the first time in YEARS over this mystery, and a professional pain-in-the-ass in Boston talking to his nephew about this long lost, uncredited, iconic piece of nightmare fuel.
Matthew: He would probably find it funny. He probably wouldn't have talked to you, but he would've let it be known that it was his painting. 'Cause, you know, he knew the value of what he did and wasn't humble about that. So he definitely would be, like, "YEAH, that's my painting!" you know? (Laughs)
Amory: There's obviously a sadness to the fact that Richard doesn't get to see this long-overdue credit be given to his work. But if we were alive today, his agent Jane Frank told me that, left to his own devices, he never would have known about this online quest for an answer!
Jane: He had no cell phone, no computer, he had no long distance service. The only way I could contact him was to call him. He couldn't call me.
Amory: A recluse, Jane calls him. In nearly 30 years of representing him, she only met him once.
Jane: I was accepting awards for him at various conventions and saying that he was not a figment of my imagination. No one in the field had ever met him.
Amory: But you know who’d spent a LOT of time with Richard Bober? His nephew Matthew, who’s an artist himself now. Not of book covers. He does these hyper-realistic, sort of eery still-life paintings that you would SWEAR are photographs, but they're not. And even though Matthew’s style is different from Richard’s, you can hear the impact his uncle had on him, even from a young age.
Matthew: He would always let me sit there and watch him paint. So, many, many, many, many nights, I got to sit there and just watch him work on a cover or whatever he was working on. So I learned an incredible lot from that — to see the profession, what it meant to be a professional, you know, and just watch that. It's... I can't even describe what that meant to me.
Amory: Like any artist, Richard Bober's style and subjects evolved over time as he shifted from dread-inducing sci-fi and horror commercial work to more... personal? Romantic? Fantastical? It's honestly hard to say.
Jane: His work was memorable for being so anachronistic at a time when most artists were working to be as slick as they could be. He was like a throwback. He could play on people's emotions and their emotional reaction to art.
Amory: But it makes sense why someone like Jane, who became more acquainted with Bober's work in the second half of his career, would initially rule him out for the "Wrinkle in Time" cover. AND why someone like Bruce Hall, the art director who really only knew Bober as a sci-fi artist, would be so certain that the Wrinkle cover was done by him.
Ben: So we've got to go back to Sarah Elizabeth, our blogger and author and mystery-giver. What does she think?
Sarah: Freaking incredible. When I first wrote that blog post, it's because I had given up. I knew there was someone out there who knew someone, but I just didn't know if it would get to their eyeballs.
Amory: The ironic thing, Ben, is that Sarah actually was familiar with Richard Bober before this. Really just with ONE piece of his.
Sarah: I never would've connected it to the eerie, lurid cover that we are talking about. The art that I had seen is the most beautiful vampire lady painting I have ever seen in my life. She looks like a vampire mean girl, and I love her so much. So when I found out that Richard Bober was the artist, I was so thrilled because I'm like, yes, I do know this guy!
Amory: Yeah, it's almost like parts of yourself that have come together: your love for this cover and your love for that vampire lady, now they get to come together because it's the same artist!
Ben: Sarah's new book, "The Art of Fantasy," comes out in a couple weeks... which means she obviously couldn't include Richard Bober's "A Wrinkle in Time" illustration.
Sarah: So it kills me, but the book's already printed.
Amory: You know what? Second edition of "The Art of Fantasy."
Sarah: That's very true.
Amory: And if Sarah's book does get a second edition, there is a chance — albeit, a small one — that she'll be able use the Richard Bober "Wrinkle in Time" original. Like, the ORIGINAL original.
Ben: We’ve got more than a slide?!
Amory: We don’t know yet, but Matthew Bober and his family are in the process of cleaning out Richard's house. And the Wrinkle painting may very well be lost to the cats and the basement flooding, but it also might not be...
Amory: I'm saying a little prayer that that painting is in your uncle's basement and that you're going to find it.
Matthew: (Laughs) If it pops up, I will definitely let you know.
Amory: In the meantime, if you are one of the many, many people who commented, tweeted, or told me first hand that this 1976 paperback edition of "A Wrinkle in Time" is the one YOU have on your bookshelf, do me a favor, right now: Get your copy. Grab a pen. Go to the inside cover or the copyright page and write: "Illustration by Richard Bober." Let's make sure Richard Bober's work isn't a mystery anymore.
Ben: Hell yeah.
More credit where it's due...
This episode is dedicated to Sarah Elizabeth's dad, James "Jim" Stanley Walker, who was an artist himself, and who died unexpectedly between when she brought the mystery to us, and when it got solved. Sarah told Amory, "This would have been like the first thing I would've filled him in on. Not, 'Hey dad, I've written three books!' or whatever. I would tell him about this!"
Endless thanks to a long list of people who responded to Amory's emails, answered her calls, and joined her to some extent on this mission. How many people does it take to solve a mystery like this? THIS many:
Sarah Elizabeth, Judy Gitenstein, Tim Coman, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, Charles Lilly, Eliott Lilly, Toni Taylor, Chris Heim from Books of Wonder in NYC, Larry Solomon, Amy Goldschlager, Kalyani Saxena, Amanda Diehl, Allison Janice, Leonard Marcus, Jill Bauman, Fred Taraba, Bruce Hall, Ron & Olivia Buehl, Lucas Shields, Kathy Gerwig, Jeanette McClain, Molly Ellis from Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Sara Leonard, Jenna Smith, Michael Harney, Josh Redlich and Beverly Horowitz from Penguin Random House and Random House Children's Books, Raymond Garcia from the American Library Association, Steve Compton from the Society of Illustrators, Greg Manchess and Irene Gallo, Anne Sparkman and Ann Sandhorst from Scholastic, Tim O'Brien, Maelo Cintron, Mike Jackson and Michael Whelan, Carl Lennertz from The Children's Book Council, Rebecca Gomez Farrell and Terry LeMay from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, Sara Felix of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists, Cathy Folgate from ArtCenter College of Design, Robert Hunt, Gerry Counihan, Marietta Anastassatos, Bridgid Moore from ADC and The One Club, Jeff Canja, Jon Cooke, Danielle Nista from the NYU Special Collections, Bena Williams from Smith College Special Collections, Linda Petrucci (yes THAT Linda Petrucci — if you know, you know! If you don’t, listen to our Geedis episode), Wendy McCurdy from the Kensington Publishing Corporation, Lou Malcangi, Vincent Di Fate, PulpLibrarian, Joshua Porter from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Rich Michelson, Laura Rossi, Jacqueline Rider, John Knott, the Special Collections librarians at the University of Southern Mississippi, Dr. Phoenix Alexander at UC Riverside, Meagen McMillan and Robert Wilonsky from Heritage Auctions, MLex, Simón Rios, Greg Punchatz, Wallace Polsom, Darwin Bahm and his daughter Rebecca, Adam Rowe, u/RobbyRamone1, u/nutellatime, Jane Frank, Leon Bober and Leon Bober III, and Matthew Bober.
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