Mervyn Peake was one of the more imaginative and original artists to emerge in the 1930s. Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor was his first picturebook and was initially developed while Peake was still in his twenties. It was published in 1939 by Country Life shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The initial response of critics to the less than cozy and somewhat decadent world of pirates and alien creatures was lukewarm. Punch Magazine declared it to be “quite unsuitable for sensitive children.” Soon there were remaindered copies for sale at 2 shillings and 6 pence. But then the whole stock was destroyed by fire when the warehouse in which the books were stored was bombed by the Luftwaffe. A rare 1939 first edition is now one of the most collectible and expensive of childrens’ books. Captain Slaughterboard was reprinted at the end of the war in 1945 and published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, this time with colored tints added by Peake. The paper was of typically poor postwar quality so surviving copies of this edition are also much sought after. The poetry of Mervyn Peake’s creation and the subtle interplay of word and image on the page make this a key picturebook that was way ahead of its time.
–from Childrens Picturebooks, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles
Peake was an extraordinary artist in that he was not only one of Britain’s great 20th century visual artists, but one of its greatest writers. His work had enormous influence on the brilliant Michael Moorcock, . Here’s Moorcock’s take on the third book of Peake’s magnificent Gormneghast trilogy, Titus Alone.
A wonderful shot of Peake looking over one of his 39 Gormenghast sketchbooks:
Mervyn Peake website:
“Mervyn Peake is a finer poet than Edgar Allan Poe, and he is therefore able to maintain his world of fantasy brilliantly through three novels. [The Gormenghast trilogy] is a very, very great work…a classic of our age.” — Robertson Davies
“He is always exact… (Gormenghast) remains essentially a work of the closed imagination, in which a world parallel to our own is presented in almost paranoic denseness of detail. But the madness is illusory, and control never falters. It is, if you like, a rich wine of fancy chilled by the intellect to just the right temperature. There is no really close relative to it in all our prose literature. It is uniquely brilliant.” — Anthony Burgess