Johnny Mayhem, man of a thousand faces, leaping from body to body, putting right things that had once went…no wait! That’s the television show, Quantum Leap, which ran from 1989 to 1993. Never mind. Decades before Sam Beckett went leaping through time, there was another bodiless adventurer doing much the same thing. His name was Johnny Mayhem.
Weird Tales, January 1945. Cover by Margaret Brundage
This time we’re jumping ahead in our deep read of the Unique Magazine, to the January 1945 issue. The old guard has largely changed. Howard has been dead for almost six years, Lovecraft out-lived him less than a year. C. L. Moore hadn’t published in WT since 1939, Clark Ashton Smith longer. (Reprints not considered,) That doesn’t mean there were no familiar names. Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, and others continued to contribute. New writers, like Ray Bradbury, were coming on. Though the Golden Age was definitely over, that doesn’t mean the magazine didn’t publish quality material.
The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars, by Elliott Dold.
From Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, April-May 1931
I’ve written from time to time about original science fiction art delivered to us by our Friendly Neighborhood Mailman.
Among the various original black and white interior illustrations we own from the science fiction pulps, this is our earliest, appearing 90 years ago. By artist Elliott Dold, it ran as a frontispiece in the April-May 1931 issue of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. It was not for any particular story; instead it was a one page feature showing “An Incident of the Future: The Midnight Mail Takes Off for Mars.”
Dold was the art editor of this short-lived title; the April-May 1931 issue was the first of only two. He appears to have been the editor as well, though some sources state that Dold’s brother, Douglas, was the editor. Both Elliott and Douglas, as well as the publisher of Miracle, Harold Hersey, had worked together previously over at the Clayton pulp chain. Elliott and Douglas each had a story appear in Miracle; Douglas’ in the first issue, Elliott’s in the second, dated June-July 1931. In an interview in the October-November 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine, Elliott discusses how Miracle was his brainchild – he’d talked Hersey into publishing it, and obtained all the stories, as well as doing all the art. He blamed its cessation on an illness which made it impossible for him to work on it. Perhaps coincidentally, during this same period his brother Douglas passed away, on May 6, 1931.
Gandalf and Bilbo
How does the old saying go? “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s often true that the first encounter has an ineradicable effect, whether the meeting is with a person, a work of art, or a world. It’s certainly true in my case; I had my first and, in some ways, most decisive encounter with Middle-earth before I ever read a word of The Lord of the Rings. My first view of that magical place came through the paintings of Tim Kirk, in the 1975 J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar, and that gorgeous, pastel-colored vision of the Shire and its environs is the one that has stayed with me. Almost half a century later, Kirk’s interpretation still lies at the bottom of all my imaginings of Tolkien’s world.
There had been two Tolkien calendars before Kirk’s. The 1973 and 1974 editions used Tolkien’s own illustrations, some of the same ones that Ballantine (which also published the calendars) used on the covers of the “authorized” paperback editions of the novels, the ones that were carried around like books of Holy Writ in high schools and colleges during those years when fantasy felt like a secret and the news of what it was and what it could do had yet to spread very far.
The Coming of Conan (SF 14), Japanese edition (1971). Cover by Takebe Motoichiro
Although everyone’s favorite Cimmerian trod a wide path in his adventures, Conan never sailed to the shores of the ancient equivalent of Japan. Or at least he never did so in the tales penned by Robert E. Howard. I’m not versed enough regarding every pastiche or comic adaptation to know if he might have ventured there in one of those.
However, this didn’t stop Japanese editions of the Conan stories from appearing in the early 1970’s. I’d been unaware of these until late 2017, when I received a set of them from the estate of Glenn Lord. For decades, Lord had been the literary executor of the Howard estate, and some of his collection was going to be auctioned at the 2018 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. I’m one of the folks that runs that convention, and I was in charge of preparing that auction.
Science Fiction Book Club brochure (1961)
As I related in the first two installments of this series (Part One: 1953-1957, and Part Two: 1958-1960), like tens of thousands of science fiction fans before and after me, I was at one time a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (or SFBC for short). I joined just as I entered my teen years, in the fall of 1976, shortly after I’d discovered their ads in the SF digests.
The bulletin of the SFBC, Things to Come – which announced the featured selections available and alternates – sometimes just reproduced the dust jacket art for the books in question. During the first couple of decades of Things to Come, however, those occasions were rare. In most cases during that period, the art was created solely for the bulletin, and was not used in the book or anywhere else.
Since nearly all of the art for the first 20 years of Things to Come is exclusive to that bulletin, it hasn’t been seen by many SF fans. In this series, I’ll reproduce some of that art, chosen by virtue of the art, the story that it illustrates or the author of the story. The first installment featured art from 1957 and earlier, while the second installment covered 1958-1960. In this third installment I’ll look at the years 1961-1963, presented chronologically.
“The Conditioned Captain” illustration by Virgil Finlay
(from Startling Stories, May 1953)
In last week’s Finlay post, I told the tale of how, back in the last week of March 2005, I’d acquired 15 Virgil Finlay originals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was an incredible purchase, but within six weeks it led to my acquisition of five more Finlay originals. Needless to say, that six week period was the greatest Finlay run of my collecting career.
I’d bought the Midsummer Night’s illos from California bookseller Peter Howard of Serendipity Books. At the time I bought them, he told me that his consignor on these had a few other Finlay originals which he thought he’d be handling for him. A week later, on April Fools’ Day, I received an email from Howard offering three more Finlay originals.
Virgil Finlay art from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
To sleep, perchance to dream.
And if you’re lucky, perhaps that dream will come true.
If that dream is to buy fifteen Virgil Finlay originals in one fell swoop, then mine came true on the first day of spring sixteen years ago. Thereby hangs a tale. Though with apologies to the Bard, ‘twas neither Hamlet nor The Taming of the Shrew, but another play that figures therein.
Almost from the moment his work first appeared in Weird Tales – debuting in the December 1935 issue – Finlay was the greatest interior illustrator in the pulps. Enamored of his work, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright immediately engaged Finlay’s services for a side project, even as that issue of Weird Tales was hitting the newsstands.
Wright wanted to bring out an eight volume set of William Shakespeare’s plays in inexpensive editions (under the banner “Wright’s Shakespeare Library”), profusely illustrated. In Finlay, he felt he’d found the perfect partner for his project. He commissioned the then 21-year old Finlay to draw a total of 25 illustrations for the first volume, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finlay completed this work in the last two months of 1935, and the volume saw print at the end of that year.
Detective Story Magazine, December 2, 1919. Art by John Coughlin
I thought that today I’d tell the tale of a painting by the talented and prolific John Coughlin, which was used as a pulp cover not once but twice.
Its first appearance was over a century ago, as it graced the cover of the December 2, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. At that time, it illustrated “Eyes of Blue” by Arthur P. Hankins. But its more famous appearance came a dozen years later.
Street & Smith created the character of The Shadow to narrate “The Detective Story Magazine Hour” on radio. That weekly program was launched on July 31, 1930 to promote Detective Story Magazine, and dramatized a story from the current issue. The character of The Shadow was a huge hit, and listeners began asking their news dealers for copies of that Shadow magazine. Sadly for Street & Smith and their prospective customers, there was no such magazine.
Not surprisingly, they soon decided to rectify this and publish a Shadow pulp to cash in on this interest, but uncertain of its prospects, they made it a quarterly. They also didn’t want to incur the expense of buying new cover art for the first issue, dated April 1931. So they decided to recycle a painting in their inventory that featured a Chinese man – Modest Stein’s cover for the October 1, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s The Thrill Book. Author Walter Gibson was then told to set part of the first Shadow story (“The Living Shadow”) in Chinatown, and they used Stein’s old cover, adding a shadow to the cover in production.
Virgil Finlay painting for George Allen England’s “Darkness and Dawn” (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, 1940)
For decades, beginning with the very first Worldcon in 1939, held in New York City, science fiction magazine publishers sent art to the convention, to be auctioned off to fans to help raise money for the con. Particularly in those early years, so much art was sometimes sent that the con didn’t have time to auction it all, and at the end of the auction original interior illustrations from the likes of Virgil Finlay, Edd Cartier and Frank R. Paul would be tossed into the audience for free.
Sadly, no one has ever thrown a free Finlay at me.
The tradition that was started at Nycon 1 continued in 1940 at the second Worldcon, held in Chicago from September 1-2, 1940 – Chicon 1. One of the attendees, and a man who was actively involved in organizing that Chicon, was legendary fan and SF author Wilson “Bob “ Tucker. At the time of the con, Tucker was in the midst of publishing his classic fanzine, Le Zombie, and in issue #40 (July 1941), he posted the results of the Chicon auction. In his list, Tucker identifies (where he knows) the artist, the piece, the fan who bought it and the selling price. I include that list below; I think it’s a fascinating glimpse at the earliest days of SF art collecting.
Not every item was a piece of original art; some books, magazines, fanzines and ephemera were auctioned also, but the vast majority of it was art. Tucker notes that his list is missing some info, as the auction moved so fast and he was rapidly taking notes as each piece was being auctioned. He also notes that the list is only for the Sunday night auction (September 1, 1940), but he did not make the same sort of notes for the continuation of the auction the next night.