On a Pencil Through Time Without an Eraser
by Jack Gaughan (June 1971)
This article will be in the form not of a scholarly dissertation but rather of what I can remember sitting here and one-fingeredly rambling. Which is to say it will be formless.
Three subjects were suggested. The first being, "Artwork through the ages in SF magazines." Through the ages. In SF magazines.
Well, now technically the ages began in 1929 with Gernsback's publishing magazines devoted exclusively to what we call science fiction. And though there is a great deal to dig up and talk about from '29 till today, let's not confine ourselves to that relatively short time of some forty plus years.
If you accept certain definitions such as Sturgeon's that literature is Science Fiction... more properly that fiction is science fiction, then the first art was SF art. Cave drawings placed there by the hand of a man supposedly for magical purposes. To insure a good hunt or to call upon the strength of the depicted animal. They were not meant, in all probability, to be paintings or art but rather the pictorial embodiment of more or less wishfull thinking. A kind of extrapolation. I'd say that's science fiction.
So now the area has become much too large to cover in an article or even in all the countless number of books devoted to the history of making pictures.
So let's stick to what comes to mind which we can call either fantasy or science fiction in that the art does not depict various here-and-nows but rather that which is removed from reality.
So grab a Silverberg-Time-Hopper and pass those ages of magic-art, and whiz past Assyria and Egypt and take a passing glance at Greece from where comes most all of our thinking and the wellsprings of our civilization. The art is still magical. Only now the magic is formalized religion. Winged Victory. Depictions of the Gods. An attempt to make the fantastic real. That too is science fiction. Fo further on. Another age and saints and angels are levitated off the Earth into the skies and the questioning of reality becomes the thinking of some of the lights of the Rennaisance.
Leonardo Da Vinci, while not depicting the extremely formalized visions of Christianity, creates in his sketchbooks monsters and chimera and grotesqueries. He goes beyond depiction and into invention. He makes real with light and shade, pen and silverpoint and paints imaginary beasts and in his mind reconstructs vast panoramas of mighty catastrophes as exercises in thinking and drawing. In that order. He describes the "deluge" which no living man had seen and no one had ever proved to have occurred. Science Fiction.
From The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, translated by Edward MaCurdy:
Description Of The Deluge
First of all let there be represented the summit of a rugged mountain with certain of the valleys that surround its base, and on its sides let the surface of the soil be seen slipping down together with the tiny roots of the small shrubs, and leaving bare a great part of the surrounding rocks. Sweeping down in devastation from these precipies, let it pursue its headlong course, striking and laying bare the twisted and gnarled roots of the great trees and overturning them in ruin. And the mountains becoming bare should reveal the deep fissures made in them by ancient earthquakes. And let the bases of the mountains be in great part covered over and clad with the debris of the shrubs which have fallen headlong from the sides of the lofty peaks of the said mountains, and let these be mingled together with mud, roots, branches of trees, with various kinds of leaves thrust in among the mud and earth and stones. And let the fragments of some of the mountains have fallen down into the depths of one of the valleys, and there form a barrier to the swollen waters of its river, which having already burst the barrier, rushes on with immense waves -- the greatest of which are striking and laying ruin the walls of the cities and farms of the valley. And from the ruins of lofty buildings of the aforesaid cities let there rise a great quantity of dust, mounting up in the air with the appearence of smoke or of wreathed clouds that battle against the descending rain.
Now that's science fiction. And since it is instructions on how to draw the flood it is also qualified as SF art.
So with, broadly, the beginnings of science we have also another beginning, of science fiction and SF illustration. The artist is still depicting magical things even as his cave predecessors but now the magic is being transformed into science by the Rennaisance man's prediliction for observing and reasoning and answering the question "why?"
And with the appearance of science almost a s a reaction the visionaries appear (no, not for the first time but in great numbers and producing popular works) creating visions of impossibilities and horrors and dreams. The Inferno. The creation of a world within a world with its laws and orders.
The real Cyrano De Bergerac writes of a fancifull visit to the Moon. Skeletons and beasties stalk across innumerable woodcuts and horrors bedevil the saints painted by Gruenwald and Holbein and Durer and those humorous, earthy peasants of Bosch and Bruegel. The unreal depicted.
Monks sitting in towers by guttering candles create "bestiaries" purporting to describe and depict the beasts of the earth. Evidently being unable to look out a window or walk in the woods, they depict snakes with the heads of dogs, complete with ears and describe basilisks, unicorns, and other fanciful beasts. Science fiction.
With printed books we have the first real book illustrators. The philosophy is still the same as when the monks handwrote and illuminated manuscripts and that is to more or less decorate the page. But then the art of illustration goes beyond decoration and into expounding upon the text or being subserviant to it and illustrating it merely. Durer appears. The great book illustrator and with Durer appears what would, I think, become the tradition of a much later American school of illustration. Durer thought it out and his designs are determined not only by his talent and his vision but by the exigencies of printing. This area here must have a line or a texture of such-and-so weight and dimensions to support the paper on the inked plate so that the inking and printing will be evenly distributed. Magics, religions, buffalo, and Popes, rich clients and mythology all have made their demands upon the artist and formed his work by restricting this and demanding that... Now printing demands, and the artist meets the demand by accomodating his vision to the new medium.
As books spread across the Western world so do readers and as a conseqence writers supplying the demand and taking advantage of the increased opportunity to create their own visions. Illustrators "tag along." Literature expands tremendously and from moral tales and religious tracts some turn to fantastic visions. It seems there is a market for everything.
Big leap. Books and book culture grow and spread. The art of printing and it's attendant, illustration, rises and falls and waxes and wanes. William Morris appears and seeks out the origin of the art which has become so complex and gone off in so many directions as to be formless. He seeks to make order out of chaos. He re-designs book, type, and illustration and in doing so creates out of chivalry-revisited, what we now call the "swaord and sorcery novel. So-called pre-Raphaelite art and Morris work hand-in-hand and with the beginning of what we still enjoy as a form of fantasy, is the beginning of that influence that is still seen in our present day fantasy and SF illustration.
In America, almost simultaneously, Howard Pyle sets up the first school for illustrators in this country and while influenced, I'm sure, by Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, he goes back to Durer for his disciplines in drawing and designing. A whole school -with us to this day- grows out of the influence of Pyle (who was disliked by Cabellians for his Quaker objections to old James B.) and N.C. Wyeth, Norman Price, Maxfield Parrish (who danded on his influence to Hannes Bok), Harvey Dunn (who himself later taught such influential Americans as John Stuart Curry) spread their works and influences across the land. The Wyeths are with us today in Andrew and Jaimie and through them virtually a direct line to Pyle and from there, as I say, straight back to Durer.
So, though the forms have changed and magazines appear, slicks and pulps -each with its own demands upon the artist- the influences are, I think, clear ones and old ones. No matter how printing on pulp may change the nature of the illustrator's drawn line the influences have been -until recently- unescapable. Durer to Morris and Pyle to us.
The economy of the early SF mags governed the styles of illustration. After Gernsback, in the late thirties up through the forties, these were a large but not too lucrative market for magazine illustrators. One could not, therefore, afford to spend a month or even a week on a drawing for which he was being paid the princely sum of two, three or five dollars. So another, newer breed of artist appeared. The pulp illustrator. Fast, facile and imaginative. And in the forties those fastest of the facile fast -the comic illustrator- was doing only slightly changed comic-book drawings for Startling and Thrilling Wonder and Planet Stories. Murphy Anderson, Astarita, John Giunta, Napoli, and a slew of others until today some of the best SF illustrators are comic artists; Morrow, Frazetta, Jones, et al.
And then there were the exceptions. Freaks, so to speak, who did not belong in the big commercial mainstream but were into fantasy for the love of fantasy. For "fantasy" read also "science fiction." Virgil Finlay, whose painstaking drawings (almost always done the same size as they were printed) made real for us the Ship of Ishtar and Daemons and Ghoulies. L. Sterne Stevens as Lawrence filled in for Finlay while Finlay was in the army. Finlay went for visions and stylized dreams while Lawrence sat four-square and looked a monster right in the eye. In a Finlay, the beasties gibbered and howled right outside your fragile window while Lawrence's beasts opened the window and came right in to slaver on your rug. Neither was superior to the other as they were so many miles apart in their approach that no camparison save on a technical basis (pen stroke by pen stroke) is possible.
People came and went as illustrators. Leydenfrost in FFM --Famous Fantastic Mysteries (and who did some murals of the Moon for, I believe, the Hayden Planetarium.) Paul Calle, who designed the astronaut stamp you just licked, began in FFM. Hannes Bok made fanstasy his own.
Frank R. Paul, in the style of the times, had in the twenties and thirties made real the most improbable devices and first drew Buck Rogers.
Richard Powers, to my mind still the best of the paperback log, was discovered by W.I. Van Der Poel for Galaxy publications. And Powers introduced us to a sort of Yves Tanquy surrealism coupled with his superb skills as a bookcover designer.
And here we are in the present -- having skipped over much and being ignorant of much more, I have got you to 1971. The old traditions are with us and some new influences are evident, but in my heart I feel the reader prefers his tradition-rooted SF and fantasy art to some our attempts at contemporary-izing it. And I don't altogether disagree. The magazines are undergoing a nationwide depression and the art lanquishes for a time while publishers seek out a "new image" (which happens every six months to a year) only to find that the old traditions are strong ones and any "new image" had better incorporate a lot of the old ones. And old disciplines which have survived for hundreds of years must have done so for a reason. I think we must revitalize (yech) SF art but we must not lose sight of our beginnings. We must build from past experience and not just start off from the ground up. The latter is impossible anyway as without referring to the past, an utterly new art would be utterly incomprehensible.
So, from Jack Schoenherr, Mr. Powers, Frazetta, Jones, The Dillons, Eddie Jones, Kirk Gilbert (!), Rotsler, Symes and Austin and Canfield, Derek Carter and all the others I've unhappily overlooked, (and me too!) welcome to 1971.
Editor's note: I published this in my final issue of Exit (a fanzine) in the Summer of 1971. I hold the original copyright but I'm sure it has expired long ago and anyway I would certainly want the surviving family to now have all rights.
Now I am known to be a stickler for grammer, spelling, and clarity. But in this case... Well anyway, I scanned in the typed pages Jack sent me and made only minor corrections to typos and such. I decided NOT to make wholesale editing changes because Jack Gaughan was a great artist and illustrator, not a writer (indeed, he did so only rarely although he did write two published stories.) And I'd rather you read it as he wrote it. I might add that Jack was very, very generous to fanzine editors with his artwork. He was a true SF fan and an all around good guy. Heck, he took the time to write this for a young teenager like me, publishing a fanzine in Junior High with a print run of maybe 100. Jack won numerous awards including the Hugo award for best fan artist in 1967, and Hugo's for best professional SF artist in 1967, 1968, and 1969. He was art director for Galaxy and If magazines during the seventies. His work has graced the cover of every major SF magazine in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Jack Gaughan passed away in 1985.