Monday, February 3, 2014

C.C. Senf (1873-1949)-Part 2

Weird Tales, the first American magazine devoted exclusively to fantasy, made its debut in March 1923. Subtitled "The Unique Magazine," it was indeed unique, but only for a time. In April 1926, Amazing Stories, the first American science fiction magazine, crowded onto the newsstand with Weird Tales. Although science fiction and fantasy titles proliferated in the 1930s and '40s, Weird Tales and Amazing Stories continued to hold a place of prominence. Both are still in existence in an electronic format if not always in print.

The first cover of Amazing Stories was the work of Frank R. Paul (1884-1963), one of the most well known and influential of science fiction artists. Paul was born in the old imperial city of Vienna on April 18, 1884. Unlike C.C. Senf, he studied art and reached adulthood in Europe, arriving in the United States in 1906. While in London, Paul studied mechanical and architectural drafting. That training showed in his work, for he had a flare for buildings, machinery, vehicles, and equipment. (1) In 1914, Paul met Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), an entrepreneur and publisher, and--like Paul and Senf--a European immigrant. (2) Only four months younger than Paul, Gernsback came to the United States before him, in 1904. Gernsback was an enthusiast of electronics and radio (then called wireless) and founded two magazines on his favorite subjects, Modern Electrics in 1908 and The Electrical Experimenter in 1913. Both published catalogues of parts, instructional and informational articles, and scientific romances, what Gernsback later called scientifiction. One of the earliest of these was "Ralph 124C 41+," Gernsback's own work, which was serialized in Modern Electrics beginning in April 1911. (3) Frank R. Paul, who did illustrations for Gernsback's electronics magazines, also provided the cover art for the hardbound version of Ralph 124C 41+, published in 1925. With the debut of Amazing Stories in 1926, Paul became a regular cover artist for Gernsback's science fiction magazines as well, including Amazing Stories Annual, Amazing Stories Quarterly, Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Quarterly

Although Frank R. Paul excelled at drawing the architecture and gadgetry of science fiction, his work, like that of C.C. Senf, has a decidedly old-fashioned look. That is especially true of his human faces and figures. There is a certain stiffness and formality in Paul's people. Moreover, their hair, dress, and facial features are not especially modern in appearance. Both men were of course fully capable of drawing people, but an air of the Victorian Age pervades their work. Frank R. Paul was younger than C.C. Senf by eleven years. That difference seems not to have mattered much in their art. Like Senf, Paul fussed over details, although to be fair to him, a certain fussiness is necessary when you're drawing objects of such mechanical precision. In that way Paul's work is often a wonder to behold. His perspective and his sense of how a purely imaginary machine is put together are flawless. You can actually count bolts and rivets, and they are in precisely the place necessary to hold the thing together. Also, a certain amount of precision may be unavoidable for an artist of German origin or training. (4, 5, 6) In any case, there is a strong contrast between the early Germanic pulp artists Senf and Paul, and later artists--mostly American-born--who dashed off loose, impressionistic, action-packed magazine covers. As examples, I offer Rudolph Belarski (1900-1983), Walter Baumhofer (1904-1987), and Norman Saunders (1907-1989), all men of a younger generation, each of whom probably cut his teeth on golden age illustration and early newspaper comics.

To be concluded . . .

Amazing Stories Annual #1, 1927, with cover art by Frank R. Paul. Note the attention to detail in the clothing and equipment. Note also the nineteenth-century appearance, especially the look of a lithograph and the stiffness of the male figure. This scene, from "Master Mind of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is one of the most iconic in all of science fiction. Generation after generation of artists has depicted it or variations thereof.
Weird Tales, November 1929, with cover art by C.C. Senf. Here for example is a version by Senf.  His scientist is a villain rather than a savior. Again, note the old-fashioned look. 
Amazing Stories, April 1927, with cover art by Frank R. Paul. A scene that looks even more Victorian than the first two. The man on the lower left looks like a depiction of Sherlock Holmes, right down to his Victorian- or Edwardian-era suit and collar. Again, Paul's work looks like a lithograph. 
Weird Tales, May 1927, with cover art by C.C. Senf. It looks like Senf was more comfortable with the human figure than was Paul, but there is still a certain posed stiffness to much of his work. Or maybe staged is a better word. I have called Senf and Paul old-fashioned, but Hollywood movie stills from the same period looked a lot like this. It may have been that moviemakers were still thinking in terms of the stage and had not yet gotten it into their heads that they were working in an entirely new medium. Maybe pulp artists were in the same boat. Pulp magazines were a new form, but artists were still looking to the past for inspiration. For example:
Amazing Stories, August 1927, with cover art by Frank R. Paul, illustrating War of the Worlds, a story by H.G. Wells from the Victorian Age. It's an exciting image and has a certain pulp garishness, with flat and very bright colors. Note the artist's fascination with and mastery of mechanical objects. 
Frank Reade Weekly Magazine #10, January 3, 1903. That fascination with mechanical objects may have been simply a personal preference with Paul. On the other hand, it may been a throwback to so-called "Edisonades," or stories of invention from the Victorian and Edwardian Ages. (7) Note the similarities between the work of Senf and Paul, and the much earlier work of the anonymous artists who illustrated dime novels: the formalized composition and treatment of figures; the attention to detail, especially in textures, foliage, and machinery; and the use of the medium of lithography.
Frank Reade Weekly Magazine #46, September 11, 1903. Another example of a dime-novel "Edisonade." So, a quarter century separated the dime novels I have shown here from the pulp covers drawn by C.C. Senf and Frank R. Paul. To be sure, there were changes in those twenty-five years, but none as dramatic as those that took place in the next decade:
Argosy, January 8, 1938, with cover art by Rudolph Belarski. Note the more dramatic composition and the ease with the human figure. Note also that most of the detail has dropped out. There is a machine in the picture, but the artist has refrained from showing every rivet and joint on its surface. Note a certain slickness and glamour in the presentation. The three main characters could be movie stars (maybe Alan Ladd, Dorothy Lamour, and Anthony Quinn). It's a story from the past, but it looks like the future with all its perfect people and clean, streamlined surfaces. There is even an evocation of the perisphere and trylon from the 1939 World's Fair in the planet and the wing of the aircraft.
Startling Stories, May 1941, with cover art by Rudolph Belarski. Another Belarski cover, more action-packed than the previous. Note the impressionistic brushwork, especially in the creatures in the foreground. Moreover, note the composition: you are not just looking at a tableau; you are actually right beyond the bounds of the picture.
Doc Savage Magazine, November 1933, with cover art by Walter Baumhofer. Only four years separated this cover from Senf's November 1929 cover shown above, yet the difference is remarkable. Was Baumhofer a better artist than Senf? Maybe so and maybe not. That's beside the point. What matters here is the gulf separating the artist working in a nineteenth-century European tradition from the artist working in a new, twentieth-century American style. 
Secret Agent X Detective Mysteries, June 1938, with cover art by Norm Saunders. So what happened in the ten years or less between Senf and Saunders? I can't say for sure. I can speculate that the torch was passed from one generation of artists to the next. Each of the three previous artists was born after 1900. They would not have had any memory of dime novels, Currier and Ives, or any other trappings of nineteenth-century America, nor would they have been trained in a European tradition. Despite his Polish name, Belarski was born in Pennsylvania and attended the Pratt Institute, as did Baumhofer. Norm Saunders came from the sticks, too. He studied with Harvey Dunn, a student in turn of Howard Pyle, the father of illustration in America. They and artists like them grew up looking at books and magazines illustrated by giants--Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth--and by artists of glamour and sophistication--Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christie, and James Montgomery Flagg. They would also have read newspaper comics with all their verve and vitality. And they would have witnessed the transition of movies from simply filmed plays to a new kind of art. Maybe that was the difference: from the mid or late '20s and into the 1930s, pulp magazines became something new--not a dime novel or penny dreadful, not a magazine from the golden age, but a new form and something uniquely American.

(1) Frank R. Paul was also very good with designing alien life forms. I can't help but think that Stanley G. Weinbaum was inspired to create his Martian Tweel by looking at pictures by Paul.
(2) Hugo Gernsback was born in Luxembourg.
(3) The title "Ralph 124C 41+" is a pun--"Ralph, one to foresee for one"--and lets us know that Gernsback's story is one of prophecy and prediction.
(4) Before you get upset about supposed ethnic stereotypes, you should know that I'm about half German, and I'm from Indiana, a state with a lot of German-Americans. I recognize the German sense of precision and order in myself and in many of the Hoosiers I have met over the years. I would guess that Germans recognize these qualities in themselves as well.
(5) In the late nineteenth century, there was a certain tension between artists working in the French manner and those working in the German manner. In an example from the world of music, the French composer Erik Satie stated in a lecture:
At that time [presumably circa 1890-1892] I was writing music for Le Fils des Etoiles . . . and I explained to Debussy the necessity for a Frenchman to free himself from the Wagnerian adventure which in no way corresponded to our national aspirations. And I told him that I was not anti-Wagner in any way but that we ought to have our own music—if possible without choucroute [sauerkraut]. Why shouldn't we make use of the methods employed by Claude Monet, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.?
Using sauerkraut as a shorthand expression for German or Germanic music may have originated with Debussy. I believe Ravel also used the expression. A further example from the world of art: Indiana artists John W. Love and James F. Gookins established the first Indiana School of Art in 1877. The school lasted just two years and was dissolved in part because the two men differed in their approaches to art. Love studied in France and worked in an Impressionistic manner. Gookins on the other hand studied in Germany and labored over his paintings in the German manner. We should remember that France and Germany fought a war in 1870-1871. A German victory secured Alsace-Lorraine, the birthplace of C.C. Senf, for the German Empire. We should also remember that France and Germany have had a couple of tussles since then, one of which began one hundred years ago this year. If you read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, you'll find that there were certain feelings of cultural inferiority among the Germans who went to war against France in 1914.
(6) Senf's and Paul's artwork is decidedly Old World in appearance, but their heritage need not have locked them in a box. After all, William F. Heitman (1878-1945), one of the first artists for Weird Tales and a near contemporary of C.C. Senf, was also born in Germany and also came to the United States as a young boy. In contrast to Senf, Heitman possessed a loose, rapid-fire, journalistic technique. He may not have been the draftsman that Senf was, but Heitman got the work done in a hurry, and he produced--a lot. The interior art in some early issues of Weird Tales was entirely his work.
(7) The term Edisonade is relatively new, but the idea is old. The Tom Swift books were another brand of Edisonade. For boys who were more interested in building machines rather than just reading about them, there were toy trains, Erector sets, model airplanes, and model rockets. By the way, I think early science fiction too often lavished attention on technology while skimping on characterization. I recently read some early stories by John W. Campbell, Jr., in which there is an almost pornographic description of science and technology at the expense of other elements of storytelling. These "stories" often amount to little more than plots.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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