Frank R. Paul did more than almost any other artist to shape the images that light up our collective dreams. He provided the bright, eye-popping imagery for Hugo Gernsback's vision of science fiction, and his art from the 1920s still feels fresher than a lot of the stuff being created today.
A brand new book from IDW Publishing, Frank R. Paul: The Dean of Science Fiction Illustration, illuminates Paul's life story and shows us his fantastic legacy. We've got some art from the book — including stuff we're betting you've never seen before — plus an exclusive excerpt from the chapter on Paul's work with Gernsback's Amazing Stories.
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Frank R. Paul: The Amazing Years
By Roger Hill
Science Fiction historian Sam Moskowitz once wrote, "The most important event in the entire history of science fiction was undoubtedly the appearance of Amazing Stories on the newsstands of America on April 5, 1926." Many people usually identify this date as the start of modern science fiction and an important publishing event, not realizing that an orderly evolution had taken place in the preceding years. Hugo Gernsback, who had started out publishing radio catalogs in 1905, took his first step into a new direction of science fiction literature in 1911 when he wrote the first chapter of his "Ralph 124C 41+" story, and began installments in each issue of Modern Electrics. Eleven installments later he finished it. As a story of the future, it contained a number of predictions that over the years have come to pass. Later on, other noted authors such as H. G. Wells, Ray Cummings and A. Merritt were introduced through the pages of Gernsback's Science and Invention magazine. These stories, labeled "scientific fiction" at the time, aroused a lot of interest from loyal Science and Invention readers who wrote letters of encouragement to the editor. The overwhelming response almost convinced Gernsback that perhaps an all-scientific-fiction magazine would do well with the public. This interest eventually led to Gernsback's August 1923 issue of Science and Invention which devoted six stories to scientific fiction and became the special "Scientific Fiction Number."This issue sported a beautiful painted cover by Howard V. Brown featuring a space-suited figure from the serial "The Man From the Atom," written by G. Peyton Wertenbaker. Besides Science and Invention, there were only two other magazine sources of science fiction available in those days: Argosy and Weird Tales.
In 1925, after sending out thousands of flyers to his Science and Invention subscribers, announcing the intended launch of a new magazine to be titled Scientifiction, devoted solely to the worlds of tomorrow,interplanetary space travel and scientific invention in the tradition of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, the response was less than anticipated. Believing the title Scientifiction may not have been the right choice, Gernsback mulled the idea over for a year, then changed the title to Amazing Stories and released the twenty-five-cent publication to the newsstands of America. Naturally, the cover and interior illustrations for this issue were supplied by Frank R. Paul, who had been in Gernsback's employment since around 1914. The new magazine had a distinct look about it, containing ninety-six pages and printed on heavy paper with even heavier cover stock. The whole magazine weighed in at half a pound, measured over a half-inch thick, and contained stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, among others. In his first editorial Gernsback explained what the term "scientifiction" meant and stated,"Many great science stories destined to be of an historical interest are still being written and Amazing Stories will be the medium through which such stories will come to you. Posterity will point to them as having blazed a new trail, not only in literature and fiction, but in progress as well."This was the type of literary quality Gernsback promoted during the coming years and with Frank R. Paul at his side, rendering the visual elements of these stories, the magazine went on to great success, quickly climbing to a circulation of 100,000.
As managing editor, Gernsback wrote all the editorials and made the final selection of the stories that made it into print. He also assembled a staff of people to support him with story selections and editing. He hired Dr. T. O'Connor Sloane, a distinguished seventy-five-year-old scholar, inventor, science writer and former professor, to be his associate editor. Sloane's main job was checking stories for accuracy of the "science" elements. He also handled copy paste-up work on the production end of things and coordinated with the printer.Another assistant editor who helped edit stories was Wilbur C. Whitehead. Possibly the most important person on Gernsback's staff was a man named C. A. Brandt, a German-born chemist who, in the opinion of many, was one of the world's most respected authorities on science fiction and had an incredible library of American and foreign science fiction and fantasy literature to back it up. His advice and recommendations to Gernsback on stories for Amazing Stories were imperative to the success of the magazine.
Gernsback of course had the final word on all manuscripts and even wrote the blurbs and selected which scenes would be utilized for the interiors and covers illustrated by Paul. Paul's role in the success of Amazing Stories cannot be overstated. From his bold comet-tailed logo design to the beautiful color covers and detailed, imaginative pen- and-ink illustrations, Paul captured the reader's imaginations and enhanced their sense of wonder, making Amazing Stories one of their most unforgettable visual encounters.