Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Brothers Quay and SF covers


(Cover by the Brothers Quay for the 1977 edition of A Scanner Darkly (1977), Philip K. Dick)

While looking through the cover catalogue to celebrate Octavia E. Butler’s birthday on twitter (@SFRuminations), I found that her first novel Patternmaster (1976) was graced with a cover by Stephen and Timothy Quay—as in, the famous stop-motion (and more recently, live action) film directors know collectively as Brothers Quay!  If you’ve never seen their work, check out The Street of the Crocodiles (1986).

Brothers Quay—along with Guy Maddin, Jan Švankmajer, Wojciech Has, Juraj Herz (for The Cremator, 1969) among others—have long been among my cinematic cornerstones, and to discover that they created SF covers certainly made my day!  I have included a series of stills from their films below—creepy, gorgeous, incredibly well-crafted, (the adjectives could continue for pages).  

That said, their cover for the first edition of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (1977) is far superior to their first edition cover for Butler’s  Patternmaster (1976).  Elements are similar, the architectural forms in the background for example…  But something about it doesn’t quite work.  Looking through the Doubleday covers is almost like perusing an avant-garde art gallery.  The press took the best sort of art risks, and many of their risks paid off: to name a few notable artists, Brothers Quay, Margo Herr, Gary Friedman, Lawrence Ratzkin, the list goes on, and on, and on.


For many many more adventures in SF cover art consult the INDEX


(Cover by The Brothers Quay for the 1976 edition of Patternmaster (1976), Octavia E. Butler)

Film Stills


(Still from The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, 1984)


(Still from Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)


(Still from The Street of the Crocodiles, 1986)

(Still from The Street of the Crocodiles, 1986)


(Still from Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, 1987)

25 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Brothers Quay and SF covers

  1. Oh wow! I really like A Scanner Darkly’s cover – or is it the fonts? (I do really like the fonts!)

    I only just found out about the Quay Brothers a week or two ago, and their influence on Tool’s music videos. There are some shots/techniques from ‘The Street of the Crocodiles’ stolen almost wholesale in the music video to ‘Stinkfist’, and much of ‘Prison Sex’ bears the same style. They are awesome videos and I still love the band, but I’ve never heard Adam Jones who directs the videos mention The Quay Brother which I find a little dishonest.

    • Yes, people often discover the Brothers Quay via Tool. They created so many fascinating short films + movies — check out this music video they made (not a fan of the song) — but the video!

      And their film Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream That One Calls Human Life (1995).

      You really need to rent a DVD of their short films.

      • I really love the Tool videos but it makes me wish they had attempted a bit more originality and at least grown into their own style, rather than being blatantly obvious about the influence. Still it’s nice that The Quay Brothers are getting recognised.

        That song’s vocals make the song more boring than it could be. I can imagine the vocals having more melodic shape bringing a lot more interest (for me, anyway).

        Yeah, I’m definitely going to have to find a DVD of their films. They are really fascinating visually and conceptually.

        • Yeah, I am only interested in that particular music video — not the music.

          Go for it! Let me know what you think. At least they are very clear that they were influenced by the Czech animator Jan Švankmajer — they have a film called The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer (1984).

          If you don’t know Švankmajer, you should! At lot of his short films are on youtube.

  2. I suppose I don’t have to say,that Doubleday were very important to SF history.They published seminal books that the paperback publishers wouldn’t dare get anywhere near.It’s not surprising then,that their cover artists were risque too,although I’m not sure if they were anymore so than the more colourful and famous paperback illustrators.They were more conservative though,judging by the above covers.

    • I don’t think you mean “risqué” (I certainly didn’t in my above comments). If anything, they were less risqué than the DAW for example with its endless mostly naked women + burly manly men. Do you mean “avant-garde” and thus “risky”? “Risqué” SF/F covers is an entirely different issue that I am certainly not touching in this post…

      Also, I would look through their catalogue (for example, on before you compare them to other presses. It’s a fun thing to browse through!

      • Well,I was trying to compare them to the books Doubleday was publishing,meaning that the covers reflected the changes in the genre,and also the “new wave”,much of which,as in “Dangerous Visions”,was risque I think.I think you’re right though in calling them “avant-garde”,which were maverick.

      • Hmm, I don’t think that the covers for Doubleday are reflecting the “sexually suggestive” shift—The Dangerous Visions cover was in no way sexually suggestive (which is how the word is used). But yes, with Margo Herr as the art director of Doubleday they tended to be rather “maverick” for sure (as was her own art which she contributed). So, I am unsure if we can make a connection — but, their contents are certainly not as experimental.

        DAW books were the risqué ones! haha. Also, if you look at early pulp covers they are really really risqué.

        Here’s a prime example from 1978 — the embodiment of the term.

  3. I’ve had that edition of Scanner Darkly for years and didn’t know the cover was by the Quays!

    Check out Svankmajer’s ‘Little Otik’ if you haven’t already seen it.

    • A nice surprise, ehh? Have you seen any Quay films?

      Little Otik is absolutely terrifying. The stuff nightmares are made of!

      His Faust adaptation is also recommended—Lesson Faust (1994). Although, I feel like there is some Czech cultural content that I am not aware of that harms my comprehension of what is happening. There are some fascinating touches with characters are dressed in puppet theater costumes, etc… They spend most of the time in these odd masks.

      Oh oh oh, and this!

      • I’ve seen some of their short films in short film anthologies, “Best Animation of the Year” sorts of films, but I don’t recall the names of which ones were included. I do like their video for ‘Black Soul Choir’ by Sixteen Horsepower, which is pretty tame on the disembodied baby doll parts creepiness scale.

        I saw Faust, but have to admit that I fast forwarded through parts since I really had no idea what was going on!

        His version of ‘Alice’ is also supposed to be good.

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