When science fiction jumped from pulp magazines to full books during the mass-market paperback revolution of the 1950s, publisher Ace Books used an innovative new format known as Tête-bêche. It packaged two novels back to back, so readers could finish one, flip the book over, and start the next. A number of prominent science fiction novelists launched their careers on the backs of these little books, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, and Philip K. Dick.
Over half a century later, high-end publisher Folio Society is reviving the format, releasing a gorgeous Tête-bêche book that pairs Dick’s classic novels Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly. As with their other books, Folio Society has included some fantastic artwork. Instead of a single person, it commissioned two artists with very different styles: Australian artist Andrew Archer illustrated A Scanner Darkly, while UK-based artist Chris Skinner tackled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Archer’s work on A Scanner Darkly is minimalist, composed of black-and-white line drawings. Before he started his work, he says, he read the novel and watched its 2006 animated adaptation. “Both were surprisingly similar but gave me quite different ideas.” He marked down over 60 scenes that would make a strong visual impression, before narrowing them down to a more manageable number.
Archer says his style “emphasizes the anatomy and raw emotions of substance D,” the psychoactive drug at the center of the the novel. They’re also abstract, and Archer says that as with much of his work, they allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. “I feel like it works perfectly With Philip K. Dick’s writing style. It’s important to stylistically match the mood and tone of his writing, and I was constantly thinking and conscious of this while creating the illustrations.”
Skinner’s work is far more vibrant, loaded with color and dynamic scenes Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He says he was already familiar with the novel and the film based on it, Blade Runner, but wanted to avoid copying of Ridley Scott’s distinctive style, which has had an enormous impact on the aesthetics of science fiction. “This project was a good opportunity to try something different,” he says, “so I didn’t really reference anything directly from the film.” Instead, he sought a middle ground that captured both Dick’s writing and Scott’s visuals. The end result is more noir than straight-up cyberpunk.
“I really like film noir and art deco styles, which influenced my illustration style for this particular project,” he says. One example is an illustration of the replicant Rachel, where the influence can be seen in her clothes and the pattern behind her.
Both artists note that their work is complementary, despite the difference in style. “One thing I particularly liked about [Skinner’s] work was the sense of it being set in the future, and in the world that we did not completely know, but yet it felt familiar,” Archer says. Skinner was likewise impressed. “In [Archer’s] work, I see surrealism, experimentation and mind-bending.” Both styles help to illustrate the vibrant nature of Dick’s stories — where surrealism often encroaches into reality, and vice versa.
Photography by Andrew Liptak / The Verge