Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2000 A.D.: Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps

2000 A.D.: Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps
by Jacque Sadoul

Jacque Sadoul (1934 – 2013) was a French author of many fiction and nonfiction books. He was also an avid collector of science fiction memorabilia, and in 1973, he published a book on the artwork in the sf pulps, titled Hier, l'an 2000: [i.e. deux mille]; l'illustration de science-fiction des annees 30

In 1975 US publisher Regnery released the book in English (176 pp) as '2000 A.D.: Illustrations from the Golden Age of the Science Fiction Pulps'.

In 1975 the Nostalgia Craze was well underway in the US, which may have explained why a English-language version of the book was published. But it was also significant in that, back in that long-ago era, some publishers were beginning to realize that a critical mass of sf fans was slowly building....... and these people were quite willing to obtain merchandise that fueled their 'fandom'.

'2000 A.D.: Illustrations from the Golden Age of the Science Fiction Pulps' is organized into sections covering Galactic Empires, Robots, Spaceships, Women of the Cosmos, Weapons, Monsters, Machines of the Future, and Cities of the Future.

The book's layout is reader friendly, with some full-page illustrations. There are a handful of color illustrations.

One thing '2000 A.D.' does well is to provide synopses of the story depicted in each of the illustrations. This allows the reader to better understand the context of the illustration, and provides insight into the artist decided to render the scene. I only wish other books on sf and fantasy illustration would adopt this approach.

As far as the artwork is concerned, needless to say, the 'greats' of the pulp era all are represented here: Virgil Finlay, H. W. Wesso, Elliot Dold, Leo Morey, Frank R. Paul, Alexander Leydenfrost, and Earl Bergey.

There are some surprises to be gained by perusing '2000 A.D.'. For me, it was the work of Lawrence Sterne Stevens (1886-1960) whose draftsmanship equaled that of Finlay. 

While there are some magazine covers that are badly underexposed when reproduced in black and white, overall, the quality of the reproductions appearing in '2000 A.D.' is high, particularly for a book published in 1973, when many of the original images were already several decades old, and there was not such thing as scanning originals at a high dpi index. 

One thing that struck me as I looked through the book is the artistic skill of the represented artists. The quality of the draftsmanship of illustrators like Stevens and Finlay is very impressive, employing a variety of stippling and shading techniques that are being forgotten by modern illustrators, as these methods are difficult to reproduce using computer-based drawing software.

The skills of these pulp-era artists are even more impressive when you consider that these illustrations were printed onto the cheapest grades of paper.

More than a few of these illustrations show a meticulous level of detail that - in my mind, at least - qualifies these pulp magazine artists as among the most accomplished artists in 20th century illustration.

While there are quite a few books available on illustration in the sf pulps, '2000 A.D.' is a worthy entry to the field despite its comparatively advanced age. Given that copies can be purchased from your usual online retailers for very reasonable prices, this is one book well worth picking up. 

1 comment:

Guy said...


This morning a friend and I were carefully paging through a couple of my Gernsbeck era pulps from the 1930's a rare treat. He was impressed with the ads and contests while I loved the interior B&W illustrations. Then I saw this post, since I have a copy of this book I pulled it down and began to happily look at it. You are right it is quite a nice resource for anyone interested in early SF illustration. I was also inspired enough to see if I had any of the stories. I am currently reading Campbell's the Last Evolution p. 47.

Thanks for this.