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Paul, Frank R

Entry updated 16 December 2023. Tagged: Artist.

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(1884-1963) American artist, born in Austria. He studied art in Vienna and Paris before moving to London to obtain additional training in architecture, which later became one of his professions, as he designed several buildings in New York City while also earning money by illustrating textbooks. After emigrating to New York in 1906, Paul initially drew political cartoons for a newspaper before meeting fellow immigrant Hugo Gernsback, who hired him to do artwork for his magazine The Electrical Experimenter, soon retitled Science and Invention. As Gernsback increasingly featured sf stories in this and his other science magazines, Paul received some early assignments in sf art, such as an interior illustration in the November 1923 issue of Science and Invention, for Clement Fezandié's "What Hackensaw Found on the Moon", showing spacesuited explorers examining the Moon's exotic flora and fauna; he also did the cover for the first edition of Gernsback's Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660 (1925), a rather uninspired image of the heroic scientist speaking via picturephone to his beloved Alice which demonstrated that portraiture was not this artist's strong suit.

In 1926, when Gernsback launched the first sf magazine, Amazing Stories, Paul simultaneously became the first professional sf artist, as he proceeded to paint all of its covers during Gernsback's three years of editing the magazine, as well as most of its interior illustrations. He also did covers and interior illustrations for its sister magazines Amazing Stories Annual and Amazing Stories Quarterly, and after Gernsback lost control of his publishing empire in 1929, Paul followed him to his new company and became the regular artist for his new family of sf magazines: Science Wonder Stories, Air Wonder Stories (which were combined to form Wonder Stories), Science Wonder Quarterly, later Wonder Stories Quarterly and Scientific Detective Monthly (later Amazing Detective Tales). When Gernsback withdrew from the field in 1936, Paul did covers and illustrations for other sf magazines, including Comet, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and Science Fiction, as well as some work for Comic books, such as the cover of the first issue of Marvel Comics (October-November 1939) featuring the first appearance of the Human Torch (though Paul's rendering of the flaming character bore little resemblance to the way the superhero was otherwise drawn). Always remaining loyal to Gernsback, Paul also provided art for all of his later sf projects: the covers and some interior illustrations for the short-lived Superworld Comics (1940); illustrations for Forecast, his annual, self-published "Christmas cards"; and covers and interiors for the magazine Science-Fiction Plus (1953).

Reflecting his architectural training, Paul provided his covers with futuristic Cities and Technology that were lovingly detailed, and his bizarre Aliens were well thought out and plausible; in the context of such strengths, the fact that his human figures could seem, as Robert Weinberg notes, "stiff and simplistic" seemed unimportant. He also attracted readers with bright, almost garish colours, showing a particular predilection for using reds and yellows as backgrounds (though such choices could be partially attributed to Gernsback's parsimony in using three- rather than four-colour printing). It seems odd to associate primitive art with sf, but Paul was – in his technological way – just as much a primitive as Grandma Moses (1860-1961) and, like her, brought an authentic, naive sort of poetry to his work. Amidst many striking efforts for various magazines, one might single out his cover for the August 1927 issue of Amazing Stories, illustrating H G Wells's The War of the Worlds (April-December 1897 Idler: 1898) with stunning, intricate portrayals of Martian war machines starting destructive fires with their heat rays against a blue background; his painting of a flying man on the cover of the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, illustrating E E "Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Space (August-October Amazing Stories; 1946), which has been frequently republished; an unusual Space Station for the cover of the August 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories, illustrating Hermann von Noordung's nonfictional The Problems of Space Flying (1928); his flying city hovering above the Earth against a pink sky for the November 1929 issue of Air Wonder Stories, illustrating Edmond Hamilton's "Cities in the Air" (November-December 1929 Air Wonder Stories); his portrayal of the Moon approaching and flooding New York City for the February 1933 issue of Wonder Stories, illustrating Nathaniel Salisbury, William Lichtenstein, Wesley P Baird, and Clinton Earle Fiske's "The Moon Doom" (February-June 1932 Wonder Stories); and his portrait of a confrontation between two oddly shaped robots for the December 1953 issue of Science-Fiction Plus, illustrating Michael Fischer's "Misfit." Paul also produced a series of memorable paintings of life on other planets for the back covers of Ray Palmer's Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures in the late 1930s and 1940s; perhaps the best of these, "City on Venus" for the January 1941 issue of Amazing Stories, offered colourful images of bizarre plants and creatures resembling pterodactyls and plesiosaurs surrounding a Venusian lake. Much later, Paul painted a final instalment in the series, for the back cover of the April 1961 issue of Amazing Stories (its twenty-fifth anniversary issue), his last official work in the genre.

It is difficult to overstate Paul's key role in the history of sf, since he is the man who effectively created sf art, developing a set of tropes and conventions that all later artists would be compelled to either follow or rebel against. With all due respect to Chesley Bonestell, the annual Chesley Awards for outstanding sf art should really bear the name of Paul, not Bonestell. (The Frank R Paul Award for outstanding achievement in sf illustration was presented for many years at the US Convention Kubla-Khan [Nashville, Tennessee, 1973-2002], but failed to achieve wider recognition.) Paul's powerful depictions of strange structures and creatures in outer space and on other planets also played a role in steering sf literature away from near-future dramas of cloistered inventors into more adventurous territory, inspiring authors to produce stories that could truly match Paul's enormous imaginative energies. It is a sign of his overwhelming importance to the field that it was Paul, not a writer or editor, who was chosen to be the Guest of Honour at the very first Worldcon in 1939. While he was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009, Paul also can still be considered an active contributor to the field, since his paintings have appeared on the covers of dozens of recent books. [JG/PN/GW]

see also: Spaceships.

Frank Rudolph Paul

born Vienna, Austria: 18 April 1884

died Teaneck, New Jersey: 29 June 1963



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