"Cover Illustration for The Hardy Boys and the Hunt for the Headless Horseman”
G. B. Cima, aka Giovanni Battista, aka “GBC,”
popularly known as “The Congealed.”
One of the most prolific children’s and young adult book illustrators of the 16th century, Cima was the artist of choice for many of the longest-running series, including Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Nurse Cherry Ames and, of course, the indefatigable Hardy brothers, Francesco and Giuseppe.
As a commercial, rather than a fine artist, Cima’s original art was sadly neglected and many of his best works are known only in reproduction. It wasn’t until the Illustration Renaissance of the 18th century that any attempt was made to seek out and preserve a representative selection of these exquisite, jewel-like paintings, which shimmer with the rich primary colors so attractive to young readers.
In this beautifully preserved cover, we see the brothers setting off on a quest for the horseman whose head had been discovered in an abandoned barn during a search for clues in the previous book of the series, The Puzzle of the Purloined Pony. Cima has taken great pains with the setting, which is believed to represent the brothers’ fictional home town of Bayport. Placid Barmet Bay, scene of so many of the aquatic adventures in the series, can be seen in the center left distance.
Little is known of the painter himself, a recluse who in real life hated children, traveled only after sunset, and was rarely seen at the publishing houses which employed him. His nickname, “The Congealed” is equally a mystery. Some scholars believe it may refer to his heavy use of driers in his paints, made necessary by tight printer’s deadlines. Others claim it is a reference to the scene of his death. Police found him dead of exposure, dehydration and starvation in a bathtub three-quarters full of hardened plaster of Paris. Argument rages to this day as to whether this represented a particularly gruesome form of suicide, a kind of auto-erotic deviation that went on too long, or a failed attempt at creating a full-body mold for a life-sized statue of himself. To be on the safe side he was buried in unhallowed ground with a holly stake through his heart.