Pulp… no, wait… it should be written like this: PULP!
What I am referring to is not what you find in your orange juice. It refers to a type of low grade paper that was used to print magazines in the early part of the twentieth century. There were the “slicks” — upscale magazines like The Saturday Evening Post or Harpers Bazaar — so called because of the glossy paper on which they were printed. But the difference was more than just the paper.
The pulps were the low-brow (and in many cases low grade) entertainment for the masses. A mere dime would get you an magazine chock full of stories in a multitude of genres; Sports stories, War stories, Adventure stories, Romance, Spicy, Spooky and, of course, Science Fiction.
Now, with all these pulp magazines vying for people’s hard-earned coin, it didn’t take long for publishers to realize that the cover art needed to attract the prospective buyer’s attention. This led to some of the most lurid, titillating, and horrific covers the public had ever seen. This also led to the Pulps’ bad reputation, a reputation that has lasted for many years. But that is changing.
Because although a lot of the artwork provided for the pulps was dreadful, there were some very competent, even masterful artists who had to put food on the table and had no choice but to paint for them. Their artistry is being recognized today and some of the original artwork painted for pulp covers are even fetching respectable sums at art auctions.
A few of these artists stand out from the rest.
Alan Anderson was born in 1908 in Minneapolis. He studied art by correspondence and became a staff artist for Fawcett Publications in Minnesota before moving to New York. Some of his best work was seen on the cover of Western Pulps but he also painted covers for the Science Fiction pulps. Here is his cover for the May 1952 issue of Planet Stories Magazine illustrating Paul Anderson’s novella War-Maid of Mars.
The piece is an oil painting on a 20” X 14” board and it is an amazing piece of art. Anderson’s mastery of anatomy is evident in the female form, if not in the alien that appears below her, and the decidedly prosaic-looking revolver that she has strapped to her hip. Nevertheless, Anderson’s mastery of color, form and composition shines through.
This piece originally belonged to science fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas before being purchased by Jane and Howard Frank. It was part of their collection for years but in 2008 it was sold at auction for over thirty-eight thousand dollars.
Norman Saunders was born in 1907 and he was a prolific artist who painted for pulpo magazines, paperback covers, men’s magazines, comic books and trading cards. Saunders is easily one of the greatest of the pulp artists and his work was seen on the covers of Western pulps, Horror pulps, Movie pulps, Spicy pulps and more. Some of his best work was done for the Detective Pulps for titles like Thrilling Detective and Black Mask.
Here is a cover that he did for the August 1950 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. It’s not one of his best pieces but it showcases one of the reasons that he was a great pulp illustrator – the action. His composition is clear and his anatomical rendering is sound (although the poses look a bit forced) but it is the action, the motion and the emotion that he puts into the piece that make it stand out. The rendering of the odd mechanical contraption juxtaposed with the backwards numbers floating in the air clearly suggest that we are witnessing the struggle of a time traveler – a concept not so easily conveyed, yet Saunders does it brilliantly. The intense expression on the protagonists faces are also Saunders hallmarks. Even the tiny creatures on the attack are rendered convincingly despite their bulbous yellow eyes.
I could fill this post with example after example of Saunders’ work, particularly as he moved past the pulps and into paperbacks and trading cards, but I have to move on, because there are a few other pulp artists that I want to showcase and I will do so next week when I continue this topic. Among others I will highlight the work of Walter Baumhoffer and Rafael DeSoto and give some more of my thoughts about the art of the pulp magazine cover.
Until then, give me your thoughts. Tall me what you think of these artists or of pulp art in general.