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SCIENCE FICTION ILLUSTRATION / Timothy F. Mitchell The history of science fiction art begins with Amazing Stories of April 1926, Hugo Gernsback's magazine devoted to "scientifiction." From that point a distinct and unbroken tradition of sf art has developed, marked by the expansion of the magazine field and the appearance of science fiction in paperback and hard-cover books. This essay will trace the path of that development and suggest points of contact with the literature of sf and with the world of art. If Amazing Stories marks the genesis of American science fiction, then Frank R. Paul is the originator of sf art. His numerous covers for early sf pulp magazines established the dominant thematic and stylistic ingredients which would endure through the 1930s. The November 1928 issue of Amazing (Fig. 1) offers a prime example of emerging sf art. With strong color contrasts, simple compositions, and realism, Paul achieves the two prerequisites of a successful pulp cover: to establish immediately the nature of the publication and to attract a buyer. This early cover practically exhausts sf iconography with its spaceship, extraterrestrial landscape and emotionally reacting figures. It only lacks a bug-eyed monster. From the outset the depiction of extraterrestrial settings provided an immediate and effective method for transporting the viewer into the altered world of sf. Paul was aware that the drama of Jupiter hanging in the sky was self-sufficient; just imagining standing in that location was excitement enough. It still is. You might not even question how a moon of Jupiter can so resemble Florida. More commonly the artist would depict grand action. Paul's cover to Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1931 (Fig. 2), is typical. Catastrophe on a large scale is realized through long diagonals and rapid shifts in perspective. As the sf magazines began to multiply, Paul was joined by other artists. The most important were Howard Brown, Leo Morley, Robert Fuqua and Hans Wessolowski (Wesso). Wesso worked primarily for Astounding Stories, which became the principal rival to Amazing. Together, this group created the basic form of sf art. Although there is some stylistic individuality, their drawing techniques, use of colors, and compositions are more alike than not. These early covers and the stories they illustrate share stylistic affinities—simplicity and directness. The stories were constructed of basic plots and uncomplicated characters. Story lines were generally concerned with moving the cast through as many exciting environments The Missouri Review · 122 and events as possible, usually with the maximum use of machinery. In spite of Gernsback's proud claim "Extravagant Fiction Today—Bold Fact Tomorrow," the science in these stories was mostly nonsense. E.E. Smith's Lensmen series, one of the most popular, establishes the point perfectly. This passage from Galactic Patrol (1937) transmits the flavor of those early sf years: . . . they'll go inert and pull her up close as soon as they get a tracer on her. Of course, we can't do it by stopping the spy-ray altogether, and with a spy-screen, but I think I can establish an R7TX7M field outside our regular screens that will interfere with a TX7 just enough—say one-tenth of one percent—to actuate a relay in the field supporting beam. In combination with this delightful bit of pseudo-science are characters equally implausible: Through the air from the top of the cliff there was hurtling downward toward them a veritable dragon; a nightmare's horror of hideously reptilian head, of leathern wings, of viciously fanged jaws, of frightfully taloned feet, of multiple knotty arms, of long sinuous, heavily-scaled serpent's body. In fleeting glimpses through the writhing tentacles of his opponents Kinnison perceived little by little the full picture of that unbelievable monstrosity: and accustomed as he was to the outlandish denizens of worlds scarcely known to man, his very senses reeled. This mind-boggling monster is Worsel, who is coming to their rescue. He/She eventually becomes a lensman too. Like the art, the story builds on variation and extrapolation from the known. Worsel and the R7TX7M field are combinations of recognizable parts, whether serpents or X-rays. At first viewing, Paul's covers seem far removed from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 121-132
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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