There have been a lot of editions of Philip José Farmer’s A Feast Unknown novel through the years since it was first published over fifty years ago. Because of the intensely visceral quality of the story, it offers a wide range of approaches for publishers to take in presenting it, from restrained to lurid.
Prior to our joining together to create Doc Talos, Iason Bellerophon had slowly been preparing a wordless graphic novel version of Feast, for which he designed this cover:
It would, essentially unchanged, ultimately become the wraparound cover for the first volume of the Talos saga, Abyss.
In 1969, the first edition paperback of the novel from Essex House, which billed itself as a “quality pornographic” publisher, featured two nude figures — Doc Caliban and Lord Grandrith — grappling with one another in a somewhat classical pose.
That basic design proved very popular, and has been essentially repeated over and over by many other publishers.
The Playboy Press edition added a sexy woman to the mix (not an unexpected development from that particular publisher), but made the bizarre error on the back cover text blurb of naming the setting for the story as the wrong African country.
One of the most accurate depictions of an actual scene from the book is this painting by Peter Elston, which shows Caliban and Grandrith grappling on the narrow stone causeway of the Nine Sanctuary.
By contrast, the most recent edition, from Titan, chooses inexplicably to show the same scene as taking place on a rope bridge, with so much verbiage that the artwork is crammed tightly into the upper part of the design.
The 1975 Fokker edition pioneered a wraparound, minimal-text approach, with a painting by legendary underground artist Richard Corben.
And there is the strange design of the Rhinoceros edition (another “prestige eros” press), which shows a woman’s face displaying an intense feral gaze, but not representing any character from the novel I can recognize.
French editions of the book have been interesting, quirky, and provocative. One very odd one shows the benign face of a female ape (and it gets even odder…the full image is of the same ape dressed as if for a wedding).
Swinging to the other end of the scale, another references the homoerotic tone within the narrative, using a striking body-image of a powerful man.
Then there are French editions that use intense blood-scenes and violent poses to depict the often over-the-top violence of the narrative.
The French presentation of the book’s title is interesting in and of itself, translating to “The Naked Jungle”.
The variety and often fevered intensity of the cover history for Feast is quite unique for a book that has, for much of the half century-plus since it first appeared, possessed an underground, outlaw edge.