‹‹But the most watched cover of all was that of issue 265, “The Dream of the Tecnarch” by Robert Silverberg. Apart from the wonder of this arcane word, “Tecnarch”, which fascinated me for its archaic and technological feel, there on that cover was the very image of my contemplation: a man’s face, three-quarter view, with his eyes fixed on an indefinite point, next to him a large oval porthole opens onto the beauties of the starry universe, but the the man is absorbed, lost in his most pure enchantment››.
Michele Mari writes it in his story ‹‹The covers of Urania››. And that cover, like hundreds of others, is by the great Dutch illustrator Carolus Adrianus Maria Thole, known as Karel Thole (1914-2000).
At the end of the 1950s he moved to Milan, soon hired by Mondadori who entrusted him with the covers of Urania, a magazine that still publishes the novels of the big names in world science fiction, and later also horror and mystery novels, especially by Agatha Christie.
In the new auction of originals by the masters of comics and illustration at the Little Nemo Art Gallery in Turin (Via Ozanam 7), there are many of his covers. «Thole was an eclectic illustrator – says Sergio Pignatone of Little Nemo. – He went from pencil to charcoal to tempera and excelled at the so-called scraper board, the difficult technique of scratching away white marks from cardboard previously covered with a black patina.” Over the course of a very long career (the last cover is of a 1998 Urania, «Picatrix», an adventure of the inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich by Valerio Evangelisti) he has been able to shape the fantastic imagination of Italian readers.
«He was a truly international artist – adds Pignatone. – He worked for Italy but also abroad, especially Germany, there have been exhibitions of him all over the world, even in New York.”
Thole’s science fiction was low-tech, almost dreamlike and metaphysical as seen for example in ‹‹The Mask››, among the works at auction.
Given the workload, he could not read the novels for which he did the covers, the editorial team sent him a short synopsis: however, as his readers, we can testify that, in some arcane way (as if he were the technarch of the novel cited by Mari ), always managed to capture the spirit of the work.
Both when he was freer (science fiction and horror) and when he was forced to follow certain limits as in detective stories (the physiognomies of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple or Nero Wolfe had to be recognizable for the reader).
For example, in the cover of a collection of short stories Club dei Dodovi Neri, a crime series by a master of science fiction who is also at ease in mystery like Isaac Asimov, in the foreground there is (or at least the reader recognises) the waiter Henry, real mind of the Club (the only proletarian, the others are established professionals), solver of all the puzzles that are submitted to the Widowers by their guests.
And then there were his women, always sensual, intriguing, whether they were aliens from distant worlds or dark ladies from a detective story. ‹‹I was the black sheep of my family›› he declared in an exceptional appearance on TV in the 1980s together with the then editors of Urania Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini (at the time the three were the personification of Italian science fiction), alluding to the subtle eroticism of his women.
We can see it, for example, in the charming lady who, in a dressing gown, goes towards Hercule Poirot on the cover of ‹‹Poirot a Styles Court››, the first adventure of the infallible Belgian detective and also the first novel of its creator, Agatha Christie.
Or in the wild girl of EC Tubbs’ ‹‹Miss Trevor, I presume?›› from 1980’s Urania issue 833.
One might wonder whether he would have drawn comics, perhaps in book format (so-called graphic novels), if he had been born a few decades later.
Pignatone excludes it. ‹‹ There are excellent comic book artists who have also been good cover artists – he comments. – But the opposite does not happen: Luigi Corteggi, for example, excelled as a cover artist, but he was much less good as a cartoonist ››.
His covers, now highly sought after, were however little considered by his publisher.
‹‹It’s a shame that Mondadori sent most of its covers from the 1960s and 1970s to the pulp mill – concludes Pignatone. – Now the new illustrators, although very good, make the covers (beautiful even if a little cold for me) digitally, so there are no originals that can be sold››.