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Donnell, A J

Entry updated 7 August 2023. Tagged: Artist.

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(1905-1991) US jazz drummer, advertising manager and illustrator who served in the US Army during World War Two; while there are reports that he did some uncredited interior illustrations for Startling Stories during the late 1930s and 1940s, Donnell is otherwise known exclusively as the one of the four founders of the small press Fantasy Press. For three years, he worked as the company's art director, providing covers and interior art for the first publications of books by a number of luminaries, including Robert A Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon (April-May 1942 Astounding as Anson MacDonald; 1948 as Heinlein), Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier (March 1939 Unknown; 1943; rev 1948), E E "Doc" Smith's Spacehounds of IPC: A Tale of the Inter-Planetary Corporation (Reading, Pennsylvania: Fantasy Press, 1947), A E van Vogt's The Book of Ptath (October 1943 Unknown; 1947), and Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think (December 1940 Unknown; exp 1948). A signed edition of Williamson's The Cometeers (coll 1950), evidently a gift to Donnell, has an inscription indicating that this author was both a friend and an admirer of the artist.

Donnell's covers tended to emphasize simply drawn designs, but these often seemed perfectly appropriate for the material; his stark, sometimes monochromatic renderings of spacecraft for the covers for Smith's Space Operas, for example, capture the unpolished energy of this work much better than later, more sophisticated artwork. Also, although Robert Weinberg reports that Donnell had little attachment to sf, he apparently read the books he illustrated with unusual care, as indicated by his cover for Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon (April-May 1942 Astounding as Anson MacDonald; 1948 as Heinlein), since its image of a boy playing with sand inside an hourglass perfectly captures the novel's central theme, a long effort to craft a superior human being through generations of careful breeding (see Eugenics). Similarly, his arresting cover for Stanley G Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey and Others (coll 1949), showing a masked Egyptian bowing toward a birdlike Martian, cleverly illustrates Donnell's awareness of the theory expressed in Weinbaum's "Valley of Dreams" (November 1934 Wonder Stories) that Martians like his Tweel had visited Ancient Egypt to be received as gods (see Gods and Demons).

Donnell worked for Fantasy Press until 1950, when Lloyd Arthur Eshbach became its sole owner and Donnell vanished from sight. His reputation seems likely to endure, if only because several of the books he illustrated are now valuable collector's items. [GW/DRL]

Andrew Julian Donnell

born Kansas City, Missouri: 9 November 1905

died Pennsylvania: 26 October 1991


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