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A Tale of Finlay, Part 2

A Tale of Finlay, Part 2

“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.

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A Dream of Finlay

A Dream of Finlay

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.

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The Shadow Knows A Good Pulp Painting When He Sees It!

The Shadow Knows A Good Pulp Painting When He Sees It!

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.

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The 1940 Chicon Auction, or, “My Kingdom for a Time Machine!”

The 1940 Chicon Auction, or, “My Kingdom for a Time Machine!”

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.

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Revealing the Cover — and an Excerpt — from Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders

Revealing the Cover — and an Excerpt — from Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders

We’re big fans of Robert V. S. Redick here at Black Gate. I’ve lost count of how many of his books our staff has enthusiastically reviewed over the years but… whew, it’s a lot. That’s why we’re so excited at the impending release of Sidewinders, the second volume in The Fire Sacraments series (following Master Assassins, which we covered — you know it! — right here back in 2018).

As if we weren’t excited enough already, Black Gate website editor emeritus C.S.E. Cooney sent us this blurb for the book and I have to tell you, it wound us up pretty good. Have a look.

Sidewinders. I love this book, goddamnit. Robert V. S. Redick gives a fantasy reader everything her fiendish heart craves: plagues, prophets, demonic possessions, a desperate dash through desert dunes, giant spiders, giant cats, creepy children, plenty of vulgarity and sex, and an all-too-brief glimpse of paradise. So sure, if you like that kind of thing, go for it. Read this book. It’s for you. But wait, there’s more. For your not-so-average fantasy reader, your not-so-run-of-the-mill genre-lover, I beg you, look to Sidewinders. For it will give you ambiguity and delicacy. It will not spare you of its irony — and, oh, such irony! Its pages will impart so profound and aching an empathy that it just might leap off the page and follow you into your daily life. There is such courage in Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders — such courage and fury and passion and hope. Truly a breathtaking work.

—C.S.E. Cooney, author of the forthcoming Saint Death’s Daughter, on Sidewinders

Talos Press will be publishing Sidewinders on July 6, 2021. Wunderkind PR were kind enough to send us a high-resolution sneak peek of the cover to share with you — and also a tasty excerpt from Chapter One of the book.

Without further ado — check out the gorgeous cover, featuring artwork by Mack Sztaba!

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My Greatest Antique Fair Find

My Greatest Antique Fair Find

The Master Mind of Mars (A. C. McClurg & Co, 1928).
Cover by J. Allen St. John

Today, I thought I’d share the story of our greatest antique fair find.

Deb and I enjoy going to flea markets and antique shows when the weather is nice. Even if we don’t buy anything, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours walking outside while looking at a wide variety of items for sale. We’ve been lucky enough on several occasions to get some good pulp and paperback buys at these shows.

Our greatest find at one of them happened over 20 years ago, when Deb and I went to an antique fair in Chicago.

The Windy City was a hotbed of pulp activity in the first half of the 20th century, with several publishers based there. As a result, many artists and authors also lived there. Among the pulp artists who called Chicago their home were Margaret Brundage, Harold McCauley, Harold DeLay, Hugh Rankin, Jay Jackson, Curtis Senf, Robert Gibson Jones, Joseph Tillotson (also known as Robert Fuqua), Julian Krupa, Malcolm Smith, James Settles and Rod Ruth.

Perhaps the greatest of all of the pulp artists that lived in Chicago was J. Allen St. John. His name immediately brings to mind the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as he illustrated many of Burroughs’ novels of Tarzan, John Carter and others in pulps, slicks and hardcovers. For many years, St. John had his studio in the Tree Studio Building on Ohio Street in downtown Chicago. (Incidentally, my law firm held an event at Tree Studio a few years ago, and it was very cool to be able to walk around it, though we weren’t able to go into St. John’s old studio.)

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The Art of Things to Come, Part 2: 1958-1960

The Art of Things to Come, Part 2: 1958-1960

The Fantastic Universe Omnibus, featured in the
September-October 1960 issue of Things to Come. Art by Virgil Finlay

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, 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.

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. However, in many cases the art was created solely for the bulletin, and was not used in the book or anywhere else. Nearly all of the art for the first 20 years of Things to Come is exclusive to that bulletin, and as a result 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 this installment covers 1958-1960, presented chronologically.

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The Secret World of Greg Ketter

The Secret World of Greg Ketter

Hit or Myth by Robert Asprin (Starblaze, 1983). Cover by Phil Foglio

Greg Ketter, owner of Dreamhaven Books in Minneapolis, is one of the best booksellers in the business, and he’s sold me many fine volumes over the years. Greg doesn’t talk about it much, but he’s also friends with many of the most famous writers and artists in the field. This being a creative industry, Greg’s friendships reveal themselves in entertaining ways. In fact, Greg has been Tuckerized more than anyone else I know, and in some surprising ways.

I’ve been enjoying Greg’s tales of Tuckerization on Facebook. What is “Tuckerization?” Here, I’ll let Greg explain it.

Wilson “Bob” Tucker was an early SF fan who also went pro, writing mystery and science fiction stories alike. His first book, mystery novel The Chinese Doll, contained the names of many of his friends as characters. Thus you had been “Tuckerized.” The practice continues today sometimes with people paying great sums of money (usually for charities) to be included as characters in books. The most popular seems to be getting killed off in whatever silly/gruesome/disgusting/crazy way the author can dream up.

Greg’s namesake has appeared in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Nick Pollata’s Satellite Night Fever, Joe Domenici’s Bringing Back the Dead, and many more. But my favorite story is the time he appeared on the cover of Hit or Myth, the fourth book in Robert Asprin’s popular and long running Myth Adventures series:

I was staying with Phil Foglio for a while when he said he needed a model for the new Robert Asprin Myth book. Sure, why not. So, I became a demon for Hit or Myth. Notice those ripped abs (actually, back then I was a bit closer to that than I am now. Everything has dropped down a ways since then). I helped with some of the atrocious puns scattered about the cover and Phil named the place “K’tier Abu’s Djin Mill” as a nod to his old buddy.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to spot all those visual puns Greg mentions. Just about every one of my friends in Ottawa back in the day read Asprin’s Myth Adventures series, and the books were scattered around our house when I was in University. It’s quite the kick to discover that’s I’ve secretly known the cover model for the demon Aahz all these years. Small world.

Adventures in Art Collecting: Windycon XXX

Adventures in Art Collecting: Windycon XXX

Art from the Gordon R Dickson collection: Cover to Sleepwalker’s World
(DAW, 1972) and The Pritcher Mass (DAW, 1973). Art by Kelly Freas

When folks ask me for advice on how to collect original science fiction and fantasy art, I pass along some tips I’ve learned, but I also tell them that sometimes, you just have to get lucky. Case in point…

Classicon is a one day pulp and paperback show near Lansing, MI, generally held twice per year (at least when things are normal!). It’s organized by a friend of ours, Ray Walsh, who owns Curious Book Shop. Back in 2003, the fall edition of Classicon was to be held on November 9, and Deb and I planned on attending.

That same weekend, the Chicago area’s largest science fiction convention, Windycon, was taking place (Windycon XXX, which ran November 7-9, 2003). We weren’t able to go to Windycon that Friday due to work, but decided to make a short detour to it as we drove to Michigan on Saturday. We planned to just spend an hour or so there, to drop off fliers for the 2004 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, take a quick tour through the dealer room and art show and say hi to some friends.

All was going to plan until we made the last of our stops and entered the art show. As we walked in, we spotted two of our friends, Bob Weinberg and Alex Eisenstein, in close conversation. Walking over to them, they didn’t seem quite as excited to see us as we were to see them. They kindly remarked, quite insistently, that there was nothing to see here, and that our time would be better spent anywhere else other than at the art show. Not surprisingly, their helpful advice immediately raised our suspicions, and they soon came clean.

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The Art of Things to Come, Part 1: 1953-1957

The Art of Things to Come, Part 1: 1953-1957

TTC 1957 03-04 Isaac Asimov The Naked Sun-small

The Science Fiction Book Club’s Things to Come bulletin, March-April 1957

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 discovered the wonder of science fiction digests.

I remember the bulletin of the SFBC, Things to Come, arriving in our mailbox every month, and eagerly perusing the offerings to see if I wanted grab any of the featured selections or alternates, or something from the backlist. The SFBC purchase I most vividly recall reading was the Isaac Asimov edited anthology, Before the Golden Age, which was filled with great stories as well as fascinating biographical material by Asimov on his early days as a fan. Other favorite volumes include Leigh Brackett’s The Book of Skaith, Damon Knight’s Science Fiction of the Thirties and The Futurians, Frederik Pohl’s The Early Pohl, Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books, among many others. I remained a member through college before finally letting my membership lapse.

One of the benefits of being a member of the SFBC was receiving their bulletin, Things to Come. While the art inside sometimes just reproduced the dust jacket art, in many cases the art was created solely for the bulletin, and was not used in the book or anywhere else. Because one can never collect enough things, I gradually started collecting back issues of Things to Come for the art, particularly for the art of Virgil Finlay which began appearing in the bulletin in 1959. In 2005, I gathered those Finlay illos from the bulletins that I’d collected and published a small press booklet, Virgil Finlay: The Art of Things to Come.

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