“Rainstorm, Brainstorm, Faces in the Maelstrom”

It’s Ditquotation time! In 1974, the ever-ingenious lads of legendary English art design studio Hipgnosis threw in a subtle Steve Ditko / Doctor Strange appearance in their (re)design (for the US release) of the cover of Al Stewart‘s Past, Present & Future LP in 1974. The image it quotes hails from Strange Tales no. 137‘s When Meet the Mystic Minds! (October, 1965), where the Master of the Mystic Arts seeks a doorway to Eternity. And finds it.


« I’m going nowhere with nowhere to go* »

However, according to the designers, it first leads him to the front yard of a castle depicted on Al Stewart’s following LP, Modern Times (1975). Now you guys are messing with our poor, befuddled minds.

« The blonde woman on the album cover is Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s first wife, Ginger. The Cord automobile Stewart is sitting in belonged to Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. » And yes, there are other versions of this album cover, some of them far more familiar.

While Hipgnosis consisted primarily of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell and (later) Throbbing Gristle member Peter Christopherson, the main creative force on Past, Present & Future‘s artwork was one of the studio’s regular freelancers, Richard Manning. For those of us who love this sort of shop talk, here’s Mr. Manning’s recollection of the methods involved, in those halcyon pre-Photoshop days:

« If my memory serves me correctly, this was the first sleeve I worked on for Hipgnosis. Although, in the book ‘Walk Away Rene’ my good friend and mentor at that time,Terry Day (sadly no longer with us) is credited with working on it. A black and white montage. The figure was cut out physically and the back edges thinned and sanded and stuck in position with Columbia Cement. A Best Possible copy print was made, so now I have a flat print to work on, mounted on double weight mount board. Working to an elliptical guide on tracing paper, I carefully bleached to white the shape. Once washed and dried I then redrew some of the background with Photo Dye with a Sable brush, where the print had bleached a bit too far in the lighter areas. Finally, Permanent White was sprayed to make a sweet, soft edged shape. »

It wasn’t the first Dr. Strange reference Hipgnosis had inserted into an album cover: Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets (the studio’s first LP cover, actually) borrows an image from the not-exactly-outstanding Roy Thomas/Marie Severin entry, The Sands of Time, from Strange Tales no. 158. Frankly, few characters have been as lost without their creator as the poor doctor has been, especially on the visual front.

Ditko’s final Dr. Strange panel (Strange Tales no. 146, The End — at Last!, July 1966) was no symbolic accident: both creator and creation were leaving the stage.

On the plus side, Al Stewart, seemingly impervious to the passage of time, remains a terrific performer and an inspired, if less prolific, songwriter. If he’s in town…

– RG

*Al Stewart, Soho (Needless to Say)

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