If you want to take a closer look at the history of science fiction in America, then a good place to start is with the dynamic duo of Hugo Gernsback and Frank R. Paul.
Hugo Gernsback was born in Luxembourg and studied electronics in Germany, but after immigrating to America he found himself a frustrated inventor and scientist. He had better luck in the world of publishing, where he published a number of science magazines (including Modern Electrics, The Electrical Experimenter and Science and Invention). Gernsback discovered the illustrations of Frank R. Paul, a European immigrant like himself who couldn’t find work in his chosen field of architecture. Paul would go on to create over 150 illustrations for Gernsback.
Gernsback’s biggest claims to fame, and why he is often called “The Father of Science Fiction” is his publication Amazing Stories. Published in 1926, this pulp magazine was the fist publication devoted completely to science fiction (or, as Gernsback called it at the time, “scientifiction”). The stories he published celebrated science and aimed to prophesize the future.
For his numerous sci-fi illustrations, Frank R. Paul is likewise called “The Father of Modern Science Fiction Illustration”. Though his figure drawing was stiff and his color choice garish (even for the time) there is something charming and special about his work. I think it was summed up best in this quote, from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
“FRP’s style shows his architectural training; his cities and technology are lovingly detailed, his aliens well thought out and plausible, but his human figures stiff and simplistic…. It seems odd to associate primitive art with SF, but FRP was in his technological way, just as much a primitive as Grandma Moses (1860-1961) and, like her, had an authentic naive poetry to his work.”
For more art by Frank R. Paul, visit the Frank R. Paul Gallery.
To learn more about these creators, I suggest reading The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines by Peter Haining. My own personal copy will be on loan for the next week. The Schulz Library currently does not own a copy of this excellent book – do you have one you’d like to donate?
– Robyn Chapman