Sunday, February 20, 2011

Frank R. Paul: Bad Art That Spawned a Genre

Yes, there existed what might be called science-fiction art before Frank R. Paul (1884-1963) appeared on the pulp magazine scene, but many believe Paul is the guy who counts as the effective inventor of the genre. And that "many" includes illustrator Frank Wu who posted this strong endorsement of Paul that includes a gallery of his magazine covers. So if the examples shown below aren't enough Paul, be sure to explore the link to Wu.

Paul was born in Vienna, trained as an architect, studied in Paris and migrated to the United States before the Great War. He came to the attention of Hugo Gernsback, who published science-hobbyist magazines. Science-related fiction was part of the content, and by the 1920s Gernsback had spun off a new magazine -- Amazing Stories -- that dealt with what we now call science-fiction. Frank Paul did the cover art.

Paul's strength was his imagination. He conjured up space ships, space suits, flying saucers and other items central to visualizing ultra-high-tech futures.

Paul's weakness, in my opinion, was that he was at best a journeyman artist. His magazine cover paintings strike me as being little more than elaborated cartoons. While I'm happy to give him his proper due as a pioneer, I also cannot deny that I almost wince whenever I see almost any example of his work.

Here are a few of Paul's magazine covers. As usual, try clicking on the images for larger, crisper views.


Amazing Stories - April, 1926

Amazing Stories - July, 1926

Amazing Stories - November, 1926

Science Wonder Stories - October, 1929

Amazing Stories - August, 1930

Wonder Stories - December, 1935

Science Fiction - no date


kev ferrara said...

A bad artist, but one of the greatest imaginations ever. I find his work completely entertaining.

Jim Miller said...

While you are on the topic of SF magazine covers, you might like this bit, which I found in an introduction to a Poul Anderson story, "The Critique of Impure reason".

Anderson says that "in the old pulp days" artists would sometimes sell a cover to a magazine -- which would then find a writer to construct a story to fit the cover, with varying results, though Anderson adds that his first Hugo was awarded for such a story.

(The connection to the story? Needing inspiration one day, Anderson asked his wife to describe a cover to him: "She thought for a moment and replied, 'A man is sitting at a desk, worked to death, while a robot lounges beside him smelling a rose.' Ah, ha!"

You can find the story in his collection, "Kinship with the Stars".)

Anonymous said...

Hey Donald! Thanks for the post about Paul (and thanks for the shout out linking to my Paul website).

I do have to point out, however, that the Amazing Stories Aug. 1930 cover is not by Paul. Sorry to be persnickety!