We have our own idea of what modern English and American creatures like Dracula, Frankenstein's Creature, and the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft look like based on countless adaptations and re-adaptations. But what did these monsters look like when they were first introduced?
In some cases, the original illustration of a monster holds through the decades—for example, John Tenniel's Jabberwock, from the Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky, remains the definitive version of that monster. In other cases, the earliest versions of these monsters have been replaced by more recent, but iconic versions that are radically different from their early incarnations.
We tried to find the very earliest published illustrations of each of these creatures and villains, although in some cases, we had to settle for the earliest known ones—or the earliest we could find. And because we had to stick to fairly modern monsters—no Grendel, for example. In some cases, we weren't able to find the names of the artists; if you know who they are, please let us know!
While we tend to associate Count Dracula with Bela Lugosi because of his classic performance in the 1931 film (and his numerous portrayals of the vampire on stage). But Lugosi's clean-shaven count doesn't look much like the mustached monster described in Bram Stoker's original novel. In 1901, the first paperback edition of Dracula was released, featuring a cover illustration that Stoker himself approved. That edition, published by A. Constable, shows Dracula scaling down his castle wall outfitted in a grand bat-cape.
A year later, Doubleday released the second American edition of Dracula, with a more dramatic cover illustration of the count, wild-eyed and accompanied by a bat and a wolf, the children of the night.
The earliest illustration of the Creature from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was much more Rocky Horror than Herman Munster. The frontplate engraving for the book's 1831 edition, done by Theodor von Holst, is supposedly much closer to what Shelley had in mind for the Creature than the flat-topped, stitched-up monsters that now loom so large in out Frankenstein-related imagination.
We weren't able to find the original issues of Pearson's Weekly where H.G. Wells' tale of a scientist who turns himself invisible was first serialized in 1897. However, that same year, C. Arthur Pearson came out with a hardcover edition of the entire novel, with a picture of Griffin on the frontboard. There he is, in his fez, robe, and slippers—and, of course, no visible face.
Another H.G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds first appeared as a serialized story in Pearson's Magazine in 1897 (and actually, it was serialized at the same time in the US in Cosmopolitan). The original text of the story was accompanied by dramatic illustrations by famed artist Warwick Goble, adding to the otherworldly nature of the creatures humanity encounters and their strange technology.
John Guy Collick has posted a number of Goble's illustrations from The War of the Worlds, and you can check them out on his blog.
So, let me get this out of the way: that is not the very first illustration of H.P. Lovecraft's most famous creation. Lovecraft's story "The Call of Cthulhu" first appeared in Weird Tales in February, 1928, and sadly, we were not able to get our hands on a copy, digital or otherwise. (By the way, if anyone happens to have the images from that issue, we would be grateful if you sent them our way.)
Hugh Rankin was an illustrator for Weird Tales, and as such, he illustrated many a Lovecraft story:
However, that image up top does give us an idea of how Lovecraft himself envisioned Cthulhu, because, supposedly, Lovecraft actually drew it. The drawing, dated May 11, 1934, includes a message to R. H. Barlow, Lovecraft's friend and collaborator, who eventually became Lovecraft's literary executor after his death.
Another classic Lovecraft tale is "At the Mountains of Madness," which first appeared in Astounding Stories in February 1936. In that issue, two different artists tackled Lovecraft's creatures. On the cover, Howard V. Brown took on the many-eyed Shoggoth. Oddly, artist behind the interior illustrations of the monstrous Elder Things and Shoggoth was not credited in three issues that the story spanned.
Because Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was adapted as a stage play a year after publication, some of our earliest images of the titular dual character come from the stage. (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is hardly unique in this respect; Bram Stoker, for example, actually staged a dramatic reading of Dracula in 1897.) And one of the earliest visual depictions we have of Jekyll and Hyde is not an illustration, but a photograph. Henry Van der Weyde photographed Richard Mansfield, who famously portrayed the double role, in 1887, putting both personalities in a single frame.
The US Library of Congress dates this theatrical poster, printed by National Prtg. & Engr. Co., at a similarly early time period, sometime in the 1880s.
Getting into more beautiful monsters, we have the ageless villain from Oscar Wilde's 1891 novel A Picture of Dorian Gray. The book received an illustrated edition in 1910, with six engravings by Eugène Dété and Paul Thiriat. Sadly, the set above doesn't show us just how monstrous the portrait becomes.
There have, of course, been endless visual interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middel Earth and its myriad inhabitants, which Tolkien himself had varying feelings about. But Tolkien was himself a rather talented illustrator, even if he didn't think much about his own artwork. When Tolkien drew the Ringwraiths, also known as the Nazgûl, for the dust jacket of The Two Towers, he did so with a representation of their flying steeds, an ominous black shadow in the sky.
It was artist John Howe's illustrations of the Ringwraiths that would provide the inspiration for the mighty foes in Peter Jackson's movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.