100 Years Of Science Fiction Illustration by Anthony Frewin (book review),

January 4, 2019 | By | Reply More

‘100 Years Of Science Fiction Illustration’ by Anthony Frewin is, as far as I can tell, one of the earliest illustrated looks at SF art. From looking at different covers shown, it looks like it has been reprinted a couple times. The first two chapters cover two artists that I hadn’t come across before. I did a scan of any books using their art and even this book didn’t appear. French artist Isidore Grandville’s (1803-1847) work is more fantasy-based and the samples shown here are of a lot of chimeras as well as some planetary ideas.

However, French artist Albert Robida (1848-1926) work is more in line with SF themes, often using Jules Verne and HG Wells as the basis for his illustrations. Of course, work from so far back is going to be in black and white and clearly done with the ability of the printing presses of that time but they do show the developing levels of graphic depiction.

Looking at the dates now determines just how long 100 years is and proven right, as this book finishes around World War Two, so don’t expect anything too modern. Frewin captions all the art and I think the biggest thing that did surprise me was how few of the SF writers names I even recognised. Occasionally, Jack Williamson, Eando Binder and in the British section, John Beynon (aka John Wyndham) would appear but so many were just unknown. Fame is fleeting.

Since this book is more about the illustrators, let’s focus on that. Frewin quite rightly points out that we own an enormous debt to Frank R. Paul’s covers for defining SF, simply because he had nothing but his own imagination when it came to designing spaceships, alien landscapes, aliens and pretty much everything really because he was the first American to do them. Considering that Grandville and Robida were French and nearly a century before, I doubt if he would have seen their work, let alone heard of them. Paul worked mostly for Hugo Gernsbeck and later for the likes of John Campbell Jr. A lot of the works in this book aren’t always in colour and some are in a garish purple, including the covers, however there are sufficiently as they were on the newsstand to see how they stood out and entice people to buy them. Apart from Paul, we also get a chance to see the works of Fuqua, Morey and Wessolowski which allowed some diversity. There’s even a picture of Marc DuQuesne from EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s ‘Skylark’ books if you ever wondered if he was interpreted.

As this is also a British book, it would have been remiss from Frewin to neglect any British product but there really wasn’t much there until pre-WW2 before the paper shortage put pay to that. Even so, it is more obvious that there was an American impact on the format and covers.

Bear in mind that if you locate a copy of this book, which isn’t that difficult until all of you chase them down, that ‘100 Years Of Science Fiction Illustration’ itself is, as Brian Aldiss on the back cover states, a ‘pioneer book’. I doubt if the publishers themselves thought it would sell. Yet here we are, nearly 40 years later, showing that Science Fiction has survived and doing well. Seeing its pulp begins graphically will make you think but also be grateful how these early artists and writers gave life to our genre.

GF Willmetts

May 2018

(pub: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon/Panther, 1975. 128 page illustrated large softcover. Price: literally for pennies (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 246-10912-2)

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Category: Books, Illustration, Scifi

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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