Sunday, October 28, 2012

Jack L. Thurston (1919-2017)

Artist, Illustrator, Sculptor, Movie Poster Artist
Born August 5 or 15, 1919, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada
Died April 27, 2017, New York State

The last issue of Sam Moskowitz's four-issue revival of Weird Tales bears an unsigned cover illustration from an uncredited artist. Jaffery and Cook, in their index of Weird Tales, list the cover artist as "unknown." Earlier today, I posted the image with the same credit: "unknown." Now the mystery is solved and the artist is known. We can thank John at Monster Magazine World for that. Thanks, John!

As John points out in his comment, the cover illustration for Weird Tales, Volume 47, Number 4 (Summer 1974), is a reworked and flipped version of the cover of Satan's Disciples by Robert Goldston from 1962. As an artist, I can see that there's something wrong in the reproduction of the Weird Tales cover. Now I know why. Here's the cover:

Now here's the original:

Now here they are side by side:

As you can see, the whole image has been darkened and recolored, and the background and the other figures have been removed. In addition, the rocks have been replaced with a table, a cup, a skull, and a couple of standing braziers, suggesting a scene of human sacrifice or a black mass. I wonder if another artist or even the engraver reworked the original image somehow. The illustration seems too poor in quality to have been a reworked version of the original art, suggesting that Mr. Thurston was not responsible. It looks to me like a swipe. In any case, the artist's signature is clearly legible in the lower right corner of the cover of Satan's Disciples. It reads "Thurston" and thereby reveals the rest of the mystery.

Jack LeRoy Thurston was born on August 5 or 15, 1919, in St. Catherines, Ontario. (I think August 15 is the correct date.) He's a hard man to track in public records. Although there is record of his crossing over into the United States as early as 1923, I haven't found Mr. Thurston in the 1920, 1930, or 1940 census. The earliest mention of him I have found is in an article on men in the service from The Niagara Falls Gazette, December 26, 1944, page nine. That article mentions his mother (Mrs. Harry L. Thurston of that city), his wife (Mrs. Barbara Fisher Thurston, also of Niagara Falls), his rank in the U.S. Navy (petty officer, third class), and the places where he was stationed (Naval Training Center, Sampson, New York; and Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia). The article also includes a photograph of the artist. Jack Thurston enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and earned his citizenship in January 1946.

In the article, Mr. Thurston was described as a former employee in the art department of Gilman Fanfold Corporation. From what I can gather, Gilman Fanfold manufactured office supplies or forms and had a facility in Niagara Falls. According to AskArt, Mr. Thurston "served during World War II as a sculptor to scale of enemy terrain." His schooling came at the Buffalo Art Institute, Jepson's Fine Arts School, and the Art Center of Design in Hollywood. He was the author and illustrator of The Adventures of Skoot Skeeter from 1948. I don't know when he began illustrating book covers and movie posters, but I suspect it was in the 1950s and no later than the early 1960s. Unfortunately, Mr. Thurston is not included in Walt Reed's otherwise very fine editions of The Illustrator in America or in Vincent Di Fate's Infinite Worlds.

I don't know whether Mr. Thurston is still living. If so, he would be ninety-three years old. I would like to think he's still out there somewhere, drawing and painting, for he created some truly beautiful works of art.

Update: Two commenters below, one anonymous, the other named Christy Kalan, have alerted us that Jack L. Thurston, a longtime resident of New Rochelle, New York, passed away on April 27, 2017, at age ninety-seven. Ms. Kalan urges readers to pass on to Mr. Thurston's colleagues word of his death. On behalf of the world of science fiction, fantasy, and other genre fiction and art, I would like to offer to the Thurston family our condolences.

Above: A gallery of book covers by Jack L. Thurston. An accomplished draftsman, a fine colorist, and a painterly artist who was good with the human figure, Mr. Thurston was comfortable in every genre. By the way, the last two authors--Edison Marshall and Day Keene--were also tellers of weird tales.

Second Update (Dec. 7, 2018): I have found a few newspaper articles on Jack Thurston and more of his illustrations. First, Thurston lived and worked in Rochester, New York, for many years. He was, in addition to being an illustrator, a writer, advertising artist, and teacher of drawing and oil painting at East Evening High School in Rochester. He was also a member of the Rochester Art Association and exhibited his work in the Rochester area. He illustrated his own children's book, The Adventures of Skoot Skeeter (1948), as well as two books by Karl H. Bratton, Tales of the Magic Mirror (1949) and Tales of Once Upon a Time (1960). (See the comment below.) Thurston's work for these books is charming, maybe a little old fashioned. Then, sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Thurston began creating paperback book covers and movie posters and his style changed, becoming dramatic, forceful, energetic. A good example of this style is shown in his poster for One Million Years B.C., from 1966, that high point of pop culture in America. Finally, I have found that Jack Thurston did two back covers for Mad, from October 1971 and March 1972.

The Adventures of Skoot Skeeter by Jack Thurston (1948).

Tales of the Magic Mirror by Karl H. Bratton, illustrated by Jack Thurston (1949).

Movie poster for One Million Years B.C. (1966) by Jack L. Thurston.

Back cover design for Mad #146, October 1971, by Jack L. Thurston.

Back cover design for Mad #149, March 1972, by Jack L. Thurston.

Updated 2017, December 7, 2018.
Thanks to all who have commented and provided more information on Jack L. Thurston. Thanks also to Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site for images and information.
Text and captions copyright 2012, 2017, 2018 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Jack is very much alive I spoke to him on the phone today. He is of course best known for the poster painting for the film One Million Years B.C.

    I can be reached if you have questions about him you'd like answered or would like to arrange a respectful phone interview.

    1. Hello Joe,

      Jack Thurston was the illustrator for my grandfathers books as well. His name was Karl H. Bratton, and he wrote amongst others two children's books. "Tales of the Magic Mirror", and "Tales of Once Upon a Time". Not only did Jack illustrate the cover art, but numerous pictures throughout both books. My Granddad passed away at 91 years old in Sun City Arizona a number of years ago. The Mirror book was dedicated to my mom, Patricia Bratton Gilman, and the other book was dedicated to her sister, Sheila Bratton Kendall. We have some of the original prints from Jack that were a part of the book, and have treasured them for many years.

      Stu Gilman
      Modesto, CA

    2. I would love to learn more about Jack's works, as I've been buying up copies of my granddad's books online, just got two more in the mail today, and was admiring the illustrations in the books and decided to look him up. I can be reached at



    3. Hi Joe, I just entered a comment below... My name is Diana Rickard. My father, Jack Rickard, was a good friend of Jack Thurston's and I would love to catch up with him. I am thinking of creating a book about my father, who was an illustrator for Mad Magazine and who died in 1983. Please let me know if you can help. Thanks so much.

  2. Hi, Joe,

    Thanks for writing. I have questions and I would like to talk to Mr. Thurston to see how he's doing and to clear up some things that aren't very clear. If you can put me in touch with him, that would be great. Or if you can pass on a letter or note with a few questions, that would be good, too.

    Thanks again.

    Terence Hanley

  3. Hello, my father Jack Rickard, an illustrator for Mad Magazine, was a good friend of Jack Thurston's. I am thinking of writing a book about my father, who died in 1983, and would love to be in touch with Thurston. Please let me know if that can be arranged... Diana Rickard

  4. I think there's a chance that he died very recently, April 27, 2017.
    A man named Jack L. Thurston, longtime resident of New Rochelle, died that day at 97 years of age.

  5. I can confirm that It was in fact Jack who died and, sadly, his address book is missing so we have no way to inform friends or colleagues. If anyone here is in touch with his contemporaries please pass the news on. Thanks, Christy Kalan

    1. Dear Ms. Kalan and Anonymous,

      Thank you for letting us know about the passing of Jack L. Thurston. I have updated my article on him.