Frank R. Paul: The Dean Of Science Fiction Illustration by Jerry Weist (book review).

It is always said that Hugo Gernsback was one of the earliest key figures in 20th century Science Fiction. That being so, artist Frank R. Paul was his chief architect, contributing colour covers to all of his magazine and managed to squeeze in many black and white illustrations inside them as well. This magnificent book, ‘Frank R. Paul: The Dean Of Science Fiction Illustration’ by Jerry Weist (who died of cancer shortly before completing it and Glynn Crain and Roger Hill completed the task for him) shows all his work in art jaw-dropping pages. There are also several contributing articles that also fill in detail about Gernsback as well completing the picture of what was going on.

Frank R. Paul: The Dean Of Science Fiction Illustration by Jerry Weist (book review).
Frank R. Paul: The Dean Of Science Fiction Illustration by Jerry Weist (book review).

Lest you think Paul was only involved with Gernsback, there is also a selection of his other work, including the cover of the very first ‘Marvel Comic’ and the original android Human Torch. For Gernsback, Paul did do one comicstrip for called ‘Mitey Powers Battles The Martians On The Moon’ which is extremely rare but shown in its entirety. Not brilliant but still an insight into both of them.

Frank Paul’s illustrations were often used to make a point, like after World War One and the US Senate banning amateur radio operators, which was a thorn in Gernsback’s side because he published a magazine for the enthusiasts and had it over-turned after a fight. I can see some parallels to prohibition. I mean, once the cat’s out the bag, it’s a bit difficult to close it again.

There is so much information in these pages as well. Like the August 1928 issue of ‘Amazing Adventures’ being thought to be of Buck Rogers, also in this issue, but actually to represent Doc Smith’s ‘Skylark Of Space’.

Paul’s designs of flying saucer spacecraft is also thought to have contributed to the continuing image in people’s eyes when visualising UFOs. Mind you, it does make me wonder where the cigar shaped UFOs came from. When you look at the pictures, it’s easy to see why although many UFO observers could hardly have been thought of as SF fans of that era.

Over his career, it is estimated that Paul painted 300-350 covers (329 are shown here) and in excess of 1,000 black and white illustrations. Although they can’t all be possibly here, this book currently holds the claim for having the most of these in its pages. Indeed, the magazine covers get a big section all to itself. I did wonder at the finest of his colour backgrounds and yes, he did have access to an airbrush and would apply it to his work. He also used s flicked toothbrush to give a speckled effect.

Subjectively, Frank Paul’s strengths and is most remembered for his buildings and transportation but he would draw organics as needed as well. This book is a piece of history, folks. If you have the slightest interest in Science Fiction’s origins, then you really must own this book. I can’t put it in plainer words that that. This is a superb book and Jerry Weist would have been proud of his achievement.

GF Willmetts

October 2014

(pub: IDW Publishing. 160 page illustrated large hardback. Price: $29.99 (US), £19.24 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61377-277-5)

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