A 30-something's lovingly sarcastic journey through all of Sweet Valley High, and then some

Archive for February, 2021

YESSSS: Original Sweet Valley cover model photos, James Mathewuse sketches, and correspondence!

This is officially my favorite review ever, before I even start it. And this post has been a long time coming. (Not least because I really dislike working with the “new”(ish) WordPress block editor thing.)

Are y’all ready for this? You are so not ready for this! (unless you already knew, lol) This is the type of shit I have been hoping to find for EONS!

Thanks to the Double Love Sweet Valley High podcast (which is awesome by the way), I caught wind of a fairly recent discovery – some of the original cover modeling photographs used to design and create the Sweet Valley High cover art! And let me tell you … they are even cooler than I could’ve imagined. Not only do these provide the amazing behind-the-scenes details I crave, but they also testify to just how incredible of an artist original SVH cover artist James Mathewuse is.

Here’s the story of how these came to see the light of day: Buenos Aires-based artist (and fellow Sweet Valley fan) Victoria Colmegna started writing to our beloved James, and they struck up a friendship. James sent Victoria many of his Sweet Valley reference materials, and she incorporated them into her art.

On Double Love’s Instagram, podcast hosts Karyn and Anna are sharing some zoomed-in, close-up detail of some of these photos! I mean, I’m having Christmas in February over here! Are you ready? The following screen grabs are all from Double Love’s Insta. Let’s start off with one of the earliest …

#2 Secrets

The final cover art …
Since model Jonna Leigh Stack is only one person and could not be cloned, these shots had to be set up with a stand-in for the other twin. I am laughing at the droll expression on the Jessica stand-in compared to the final painting. “Yeah hang on Lila, this bitch over my shoulder has a problem or something.” Also, cool jacket and pin! And, please take note of the REAL-LIFE LAVALIER on “Liz”! AAAAH!
Now Jonna plays Jess, while the stand-in, who now looks slightly amused, changes over to playing Liz.
Here are the two images stuck together to make the full cover! It’s magic!

#5 All Night Long

Cover art of Jessica and porn star Scott
Reference photo! Scott looks so different! Not a clue who he is in real life but he looks … oddly familiar. Maybe just ’cause I’m getting a Matthew McConaughey “alright alright alright” vibe. Jonna’s hair is partially pulled back and she’s doing the classic Jessica smirk. Plus, she’s actually wearing the blue shirt that wound up over her shoulder in the final. I’m really intrigued by all that equipment surrounding them. This photo has a serious spontaneous vibe to it.

#6 Dangerous Love

Take a good look at this art, especially the motorcycle …
…because THIS is what Todd’s Yamaha really looks like!

Dude, this is pure GOLD. Look at that freaking “motorcycle”! Oh my god, this is hilarious and creative. Never in a million years would I have guessed this is how the reference photo was put together. I guess this was a lot cheaper and less time-consuming than having to rent an actual motorcycle.

#8 Heart Breaker

Jessica and Bill on the cover
Jonna clearly cracking up at Bill’s HILARIOUSLY misspelled “Sweet Valely Surf Club” shirt!
PS That bikini is totally rad. I want one!

By the way, at least one of my readers thinks this model is a young William Zabka (who played Johnny Lawrence in 1984’s The Karate Kid). I certainly see the resemblance. What do you think?

#18 Head Over Heels / #59 In Love Again

Okay, this one is interesting for a whole other reason. As Double Love noted on their Insta, the following photo appears to be a mash-up of Head Over Heels and In Love Again – with those two titles being years apart. What’s up with that? Take a look, starting with the cover art for each:

Head Over Heels (April 1985) final cover art by Mathewuse. I love the totally 80s graphics that Double Love added! Take special note of Regina’s dress.
Cover art for In Love Again (October 1989). Same dress, different color!
And here’s the reference photo in question … with Todd and Regina (RIP) in the In Love Again pose!

So … what’s going on here? Here is my best guess. Book 18 (HoH) came out four and a half years before book 59. I don’t know how far in advance they planned these cover shoots, but it seems doubtful they would already have #59 set in stone at the same time they were putting together the shoots for #18. I think what happened is the model who previously posed as Bruce wasn’t available the day they were doing the shoot for #18. So, they just substituted the model for Todd so Mathewuse would have a figure/pose to reference for his Head Over Heels painting, then Mathewuse just substituted Todd’s face with Bruce’s in his art, using a previous shot of the model for Bruce. When the time came to get the cover done for #59, the models in question had probably long since moved on. So, Mathewuse was likely instructed to design the cover art a certain way and then he referenced older photos he already had to do so. The above photo was probably pretty convenient for creating In Love Again – since he didn’t use this exact pose to create Head Over Heels, all he had to do was paint it with Jonna’s face vs. the Regina model’s, then change the dress color.

This next one has zero mystery around it …

#26 Crash Landing!

The final cover art, featuring Liz and Enid acting all dramatic …
The reference shot! Man, that’s pretty exact! Except for Enid’s hair length.

Super Edition #3 Spring Break

Original cover art … with this blown up like that, Liz and Jessica’s expressions are even funnier!
Fresh from Double Love’s Insta, here’s the zoomed-in reference shot of Jonna as Jess! Notice her hair was still pulled back Liz style.

Are these fantastic or what? BUT WAIT! There’s more! A lot more! Here are links to all of the Colmegna art/collages I could find that feature these and other Sweet Valley goodies. Check them out to see incredible archival photographs (modeling photos), sketches, correspondence and more – from Sweet Valley High as well as the Sweet Valley Twins and The Unicorn Club series! There are also portraits of Colmegna & friends from various stages of her life that she commissioned Mathewuse to paint, which look great. Jimmy has still got it!

Here is a collage on Victoria Colmegna’s website,“Graduazzione”, featuring some Sweet Valley High and Twins reference sketches for the covers by James, complete with a commissioned portrait of Victoria by James. The referenced titles are listed below the photo of the artwork (including the one for her portrait!).
2018 exhibition at Park View, Los Angeles, California: Check out this link to read more about Victoria and her art. There are also four SV collages in the photos at this link, which you can zoom in on and really get a good look. The reference photos include way more Secrets, Crash Landing! and Heart Breaker shots. The Crash Landing! ones include one where I swear to god Jonna is laughing. Also loads of sketches – I’m 100 percent fangirling out over The Carnival Ghost one, from Sweet Valley Twins – AND AND AND! You can spy a letter to Mathewuse from Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc. in one, with instructions on how the art for Bruce’s Story should look! I’ll let you know now that it reminds Mathewuse that Bruce is “the richest, snobbiest boy at Sweet Valley, also one of the most obnoxious.” I’m dying over here, lol. Bonus! Can you find the little photo of Jonna posing as Liz for the cover of Spring Break peeking out in one of the collages, with the guidebook and the uh, curious outfit?
MORE! From a 2019 exhibition in Zurich: Here you’ll see lots more sketches, photos of Jonna posing as Liz for the Malibu Summer cover in the famous striped swimsuit, and a close-up color photo of Jonna as Jessica for Power Play. You’ll also find some typed correspondence around the art for Pretenses featuring Cara and Steven, although they only referred to it as “book #44” at the time.
We’re not done! Check out this article for more on Victoria and scroll to the bottom to see yet another collage! You’ll get a more close-up view of some of the Malibu Summer shots as well as the aforementioned modeling shot of Jonna as Jess for the cover of Spring Break. There’s also correspondence around the cover for #38 (Leaving Home); apparently the original photograph and/or sketch had Liz frowning!
From La Maison de Rendez-vous in Brussels, with a much more recent exhibit (it closed last month), you’ll find some similar images but also some absolute GOLD shots of Jonna posing as a sad Jessica for the cover of Runaway. Until I saw these photos, I didn’t know Jessica was wearing booty shorts when she ran away. There are also more pics from Crash Landing!, All Night Long, and the mysterious Head Over Heels / In Love Again mash-up!
God, it must have been so much fun shooting these and acting out being a Wakefield twin.
For more stuff like this, make sure to follow Double Love’s Instagram and Twitter! Their Insta is amazing; along with cover photographs like the ones above, they routinely post Sweet Valley covers from the editions published outside the U.S. Did you know that Sweet Valley was called “Sun Valley” in France – and that the French version of All Night Long featured Jessica smokin’ a cig on the cover? Hah! And make sure you give their fun & funny podcast a listen too!

Stay tuned because I have some more fun stuff coming up! 🙂 For more cover model discussion, check out my post from May 2020.

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