Frank R. Paul
“I get a tremendous kick out of my work. When I run into a story so bizarre that it seems too much… I remind myself that our great-great-grandfathers would have pooh-poohed prophesies of radio, television and aviation… The beauty of fantasy is that there is no place that the characters can’t go… and sometimes when I’m absorbed in working out some author’s idea, I catch myself thinking that maybe it could happen.”
-Frank R. Paul, 1938
Frank R. Paul is considered the “Father of Science Fiction Illustrators” and contributed to the success of the first published magazine devoted entirely to science fiction: Amazing Stories. His cover illustrations were the epitome of 1920s and 1930s pulp magazine art and defined the look of “the future.” Paul imagined and drew satellites and rocket ships before real-life technology caught up with him. According to Paul “…in the future we will have bigger and better science fiction with the accent on the science.”
Originally from Austria, Paul formally studied architecture and art in Austria, Paris and New York. After moving to the U.S., Paul was hired by legendary magazine publisher Hugo Gernsback in 1914 to illustrate Electrical Experimenter magazine, later titled Science and Invention. By 1926, Gernsback created the first magazine devoted completely to science fiction titled Amazing Stories. For the first issue, Gernsback had Paul design the iconic comet-tailed title logo, illustrate the cover, and do all the interior illustrations. Paul continued doing covers and interior illustrations for Amazing Stories and worked from 10 am to midnight, seven days a week. The pace of creating a cover a week did not always make it possible for him to read the stories he was illustrating, much to his frustration. Despite this grueling schedule, he also maintained steady work as a textbook illustrator.
In 1929, Gernsback created three new magazines: Science Wonder, Air Wonder and Wonder Quarterly, again commissioning Paul to do all of the covers and most of the interior artwork. Within a year, Paul added Astounding Stories to his résumé of pulp magazines. During this decade, Paul also found the time to be the architect for the Johnson & Johnson building in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Pulp readers became fans of Paul’s work during the 1930s with its intricate architectural detail, which often included panoramic views of futuristic cities, mammoth machinery, and structures. His covers are known for their bright, garish colors. Paul frequently used red and yellow backgrounds as a result of the limitations of the cheap, three-color printing press typically used to print pulp magazines rather than expensive four-color printing techniques employed by more mainstream “slick” magazines.
Frank R. Paul is no stranger to comic book fans. In 1928, he created the first rendering of Buck Rogers for an Amazing Stories magazine cover and accompanying story “The Skylark of Space”. In 1939, Timely Comics hired Paul to illustrate the cover of the first issue of Marvel Comics No. 1, which is the first depiction of the Human Torch character. He was paid $25 for his work, more than a man’s weekly wage at the time!
Paul’s work continued appearing in science fiction pulp magazines through the early 1960s making his career span nearly fifty years. More than any other artist of the period, Paul visually captured the essence of science fiction during its infancy in pulp magazine publications. Sadly, many of Paul’s works ended up in the dumpster of his publishers but a few managed to be saved by those who felt his work should last beyond that month’s pulp issue.
“To my mind, Paul remains the undisputed king of pulp artists- his covers were colorful, imaginative and intelligent.” – Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey