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Link -- Article by M. Christian of "Meine Kleine Fabrik" and Avi Abrams

A Loudly Lurid Universe of Sci-Fi Pulp Illustration

The polished humanism of Star Trek; the grungy mythology of Star Wars; the uncomplicated flesh versus machine of Battlestar Galactica, the Terminator flicks, and the Matrix movies –- the future is all around us. Bitter, sweet, dark, light: You just have to pick your flavor for what you want tomorrow to be.

Norman Saunders for "Super Science Stories", March 1950

But step back just a few decades and recall how looking at tomorrow was solely for newsstands and tawdry bookstores, which presented a loudly lurid universe of glistening glass tubes, gleaming chrome starships, and frantically faced diabolical scientists of the very-mad and very-bad variety.

Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Planet Stories, and the rest of their pulpy kin were secret sins, magazines smuggled home to be read under the covers by the dying batteries of a Boy Scout flashlight.

At the time, the artists working for the pulps weren’t considered anything but cheap creatives providing cheap entertainment for cheap minds. But now we know what they were: visions of wonder, amazing vistas of the imagination, daring dreams of possibility, magnificent views of What Could Be -- but most of all we look back at what they did and recognize it for being truly magnificent art.

Unfortunately there isn’t enough time or space to touch on all of the artists who worked for the pulps that were printed between (roughly) 1920 (something) and 1950 (something), but here’s a quick guide to some of my own personal favorites, the artists who created a world of tomorrow when today was the only thing people could see.

Frank R. Paul - a bravery of scope

You have no choice but to be amazed by Frank R. Paul’s Amazing Stories covers. While the world was coughing and spitting behind the wooden wheels of Model T Fords or barely getting off the ground in biplanes, Paul created wonderful scientific dreams for a wonderful array of magazines.

His visions might have been built from the stuff of those early days –- tubes, wires, electrodes, sprawling cities –- but Paul had a bravery of scope: steamships flew through the sky, tidal waves cracked skyscrapers in half, dozens of alien vistas sparked the imagination, and scientists peered into the vastness of space with telescopes the size of mountains.

But whatever the size of his scope, Paul also filled his images with incredible detail, giving each one a reality that made his work like a functional blueprint for the future and not just an enticement to drop a nickel for an afternoon’s amusement.

(art copyright Frank R. Paul)

See the huge gallery of his art here.

Virgil Finlay - beauty, subtlety, and sensuality

Although he’s also legendary for his covers, praise for Virgil Finlay has mostly been –- rightfully -- given out for his black and white interior work. Sure he also had scope, drama, crazy dreams, and pulp outrageousness... but to see a Finlay illustration is to be hushed into silence by its beauty, subtlety, and sensuality.

It's easy to picture his images from Weird Tales hanging in the great galleries of the world. The fact that much of his early work was for neglected and belittled pulps like Weird Tales is nothing short of infuriating.

(art copyright Virgil Finlay)

Hannes Bok - a playful madness

Hannes Bok has to be on this stage of artistic magnificence as well. Like Finlay, his style is refined and elegant, so much more than the pulps he worked for. But he also brought a playful madness to his illustrations: a twisted kind of beauty to his figures and environments. Looking at a Bok cover, you didn’t know whether what you were looking at was a dream or a nightmare, but you always felt that it was rich, glowing with passion, perfectly composed, and absolutely brilliant.

(art copyright Hannes Bok)

Wally Wood - a winking sense of whimsy

Another inspired illustrator, one that jumped from the pulps to pretty much every kind of illustration, is was the legendary Wally Wood. It would take a book, hardly a short article, to just begin to touch on Wally’s scope: Weird Science comics, romance comics, Tales From The Crypt, trading cards, Mad Magazine and even some hilarious smut, including the legendary Disney orgy poster. Wood wasn’t just prolific or insanely flexible: whatever he did, and he did a lot, he brought with him a precise touch, a winking sense of whimsy, but also a carefully balanced sense of drama. You always knew you were looking at something Wood had done, and you were always amazed by it.

(art copyright Wally Wood)

Here is a nice article about Wally Wood - link.

Frank Kelly Freas - always compelling

When you mention Frank Kelly Freas many people immediately think of his iconic cover for Astounding Science Fiction, the one that Freas also did for Queen’s album.

But when I think of Freas I prefer to think of the delightfully winking cover he did, also for Astounding, for Fredric Brown’s "Martians, Go Home". That, for me, is Freas: there is perfect technique, marvelous color, ideal drama and composition, but there’s also his marvelous sense of whimsy, a kind of bright and sparkling joy you can see in whatever Freas did, and what makes his work always compelling.

(art copyright Frank Kelly Freas)

Chesley Bonestell - the father of modern space illustration

There are too many fantastic artists who worked in the pulps to touch on them all on this little space, but I can’t go without at least mentioning Chesley Bonestell. Even though you can’t really call Bonestell a ‘pulp’ artist, he deserves a bit of space for what he did for … well, ‘space.’ Considered by many to be the father of modern space illustration, Bonestell was the man who realized the scientific projections of Willey Ley and Wernher von Braun and the motion picture dreams of George Pal. His paintings –- elegant, quiet, and magnificent -- were, for many people, not what the future could be, but what the future would be: a world of rockets and starships and men looking back at the earth from the distant moon.

(art copyright Chesley Bonestell)

Can't get enough of the glorious pulp art...

Of course, there were plenty of "damsel in distress" illustrations in the vintage pulps - but these have a certain charm, too:

Check out the cover art on the right: this time it's the hero who is in trouble, being (saved?) by futuristic ladies:

International pulp art was quite spectacular, too. Covers from Italian magazine "Urania" -

Glamorous ladies in dire futuristic situations:

French sci-fi paperbacks from the 1950s:

That’s all for now but if there’s a lesson to be learned it’s that even though we might live in a world right next door to the future, there’s still a lot the past can teach us. Like, that real treasures and fantastic art can be found in places we might stupidly dismiss as simple, cheap, or pulpish.

Modern example of pulp space adventure art - by Donald Newton
Images via, and courtesy of, the Collector's Showcase.

Also Read: Babes in Space, Ladies and Robots

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Category: Art,Vintage, Futurism


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Blogger Niko said...

too bad there's no chtulhu comic :(

Anonymous scifi boy said...

Hi fist of all love your blog I've checking it for years. Second thing, my wife makes notepads and stationary with lots of these prints you can see them at http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5858020 keep up the great posts

Anonymous Gabriele said...

Thanks for the very interesting selection. Speaking of italian sci-fi covers... be sure to check out the work of Karel Thole! His eerie covers got me interested in sci-fi literature when I was a little boy!


Blogger Uncle Staple said...

Wow, gorgeous, amazing stuff. Artist buddy of mine, Jason Chalker, does a lot of pulp inspired paintings - well worth checking out http://www.manlyart.com/

Anonymous Nimble J. said...

Man, I need to go to space, that's where all the lusty, well-endowed woman have been hiding themselves all these years!

Blogger Wallop (aka Sloto) said...

the typo is on the cover too

OpenID gruponexus said...

WOW, incredible stuff!!

THX & best wishes

Blogger Theophylact said...

What, no Ed Emshwiller? No Edd Cartier? No Jack Gaughan?

Anonymous s1do said...

Son geniales las ilustraciones de las revistas de ciencia ficción futurista, sobretodo las que continenen tentáculos y robots.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great art & artist...

But... no Richard M. Powers!


Anonymous wildman said...

Have you guys heard about Alex Ross? Check this link:


Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Richard Powers... Ed Emshwiller... Edd Cartier... Jack Gaughan - wow, we definitely need part two!
Mind you most of these artists were famous for their paperback covers.
Wildman, thank you, Alex Ross is one the best artists for comic heroes.

Blogger badger42 said...

Absolutely impressive precis of a long neglected field of art.
Would be rendered more perfecter if only the awful neologism 'scifi' was replaced by the true shorthand phrase, SF or if you prefer sf.
Scifi is a ghastly term.
SF is soooooooooooooooooooooo much more sophisticated

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Badger42 - I would agree with you, but there is a very respectable site Sci-Fi.com, so the tide of using this word is turning...

Anonymous Miguel said...

Really very nice space..on day i have to show you my vision's of future... huts, and confratulations for the work!!

Do you know Mas Yendo? Search for it, you will be happy

Blogger silverghost1951 said...

I believe that there is only one golden age of every art form. Perhaps visit me sometime at:


Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Silverghost, this link has made my day... what a treasure trove of cool pulp art, fantastic.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone else catch this press release? Very gruesome and very real. FORMER BOND GIRL DEVOURED BY MASSIVE SHARK
see exclusive video: http://www.stevealten.com/bond_girl_eaten.htm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello sci-fi buffs I would like to say if anyone is interested in buying an original sighned hand sketch by Frank R Paul let me know.
contact me at cycle750@sbcglobal.net


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