Thursday, December 31, 2015

Circles and Spirals on the Cover of Weird Tales

Revised Jan. 27, 2016
The year ends and begins again. The calendar is a circle and the seasons are cyclic. Circle and cycle are drawn from the same Greek root. Both represent never-ending renewal, as all things in nature move in cycles and are renewed. The history of the universe itself may very well be cyclic, stretching beyond our vision and comprehension into the unseeable past and future. In the end it will begin again.

Spirals seem related to circles. Spiral is from a Greek root, too. It means a twist, a coil, or something wound. The spring underlying the circular clock face is a spiral. The golden spiral in nature seems eternally wound in and by the structure of the universe. Circles are never ending, however: they close upon themselves and go on forever. Spirals are open. Do they require rewinding? If so, by whom? In their openness, spirals imply ending, winding down, descent. We talk of the downward spiral of an airplane or a bird shot out of the air. Of a falling, whirling maple seed at the end of a season of life and growth. Of dark whirlpools and maelstroms and of the spiraling accretion disk around a black hole. Of a widening gyre, suggesting chaos, dissolution, or decay, as in the poem by Yeats:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

"The Second Coming" was written in 1919, that crucial year in the world's history and in the origin of Weird Tales. The poem is heavy with vision and prophecy. It speaks of our time as easily as it does of its own. The artist, being a seer or visionary, like Yeats, sees patterns: cycles, circles, spirals. Those patterns show up in the artist's work, symbolizing or illustrating ascent, descent, decay, the passage of time, or passage into another turn of the cycle. I count five covers [now, in November, seven covers] of Weird Tales with circular or spiral motifs. Three came out as one year turned into the next, either in December or January. A fourth came as summer gave way to fall. [The two I have added came in the middle of the year.]

Weird Tales, December 1933, with cover art by Margaret Brundage. The meaning of the circle here is unclear, but its face is divided into twelve equal pieces as is a clock, calendar, or zodiac.

Addition, Nov. 7, 2016: Weird Tales, July 1935. Cover story: "The Avenger from Atlantis" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. This is the first of three covers showing spirals or swirls of human beings. It's an unusual cover for Margaret Brundage, not only in its more painterly technique but also in its conceptual rather than strictly illustrative approach.

Weird Tales, September 1941, again with cover art by Margaret Brundage. The cover story is "Beyond the Threshold" by August Derleth. Note the suggestion of passage and perhaps also of renewal. This image reminds me of the carrousel scene from Logan's Run in which the audience chants, "Renew! Renew!"

Weird Tales, May 1944, with cover art by Margaret Brundage. A ghastly figure, the "Iron Mask" of Robert Bloch's cover story, beckons the hero and heroine to pass through a circular opening, from darkness into light, from a dark present in the Underground to a bright future in a newly free France. There's more to Iron Mask than meets the eye, however . . .

Addition, Nov. 7, 2016: Weird Tales, May 1945. Cover story: "The Shining Land." Cover art by Peter Kuhlhoff. Again a spiral or chain of human forms.

Weird Tales, January 1950, with cover art by Matt Fox and a cover story, "The Ormolu Clock," by August Derleth.

Finally, Weird Tales, January 1953, with cover art by Frank Kelly Freas and a cover story, "Once There Was  Little Girl," by Everil Worrell.

Happy New Year from Tellers of Weird Tales!

Text and captions copyright 2015 by Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Order and Chaos Revisited

"Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror."

The epigram is from Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012), a novelist of Latin America who was, if not an outright leftist, then leftward leaning in his political views. Whatever his shortcomings, Fuentes recognized the dangers of statism and I hope also of utopianism, the first of which strives for perfect order, the second of which requires it. I was reminded of his words over these past few days while watching Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and of course Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). I'm not here to write a review of any of these movies, but I would like to make a few points about them.

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams has done what he had previously done with Star Trek in that he has remade an old franchise for a new generation. If you're a grownup, you shouldn't expect the movie to bring back the magical experience of seeing Star Wars (1977) for the first time. Instead, just think of it as a movie for children, just as you were once a child. Better yet, take a child to see it.

A popular word these days is reboot, and you can call The Force Awakens a reboot, just as Mr. Abrams previously rebooted Star Trek. The difference between Mr. Abrams' reboots and all others is that he seems to respect his source material. In fact he respects it so much that he borrows from it, copies it, imitates it, remakes it, and reshuffles it to such an extent that the new thing often hardly seems new. That was part of the problem with Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). You can decide for yourself whether Star Wars: The Force Awakens has the same problem. If nothing else, Mr. Abrams has made everyone forget the second Star Wars trilogy (as a commenter on the Internet wrote), and for that we can all be grateful.

There are Nazis in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Or maybe I should call them Nazoids--Nazi-like but not quite Nazi. The twist is that the Nazoids in Star Trek Into Darkness are the Federation forces, supposedly the good guys. There are Nazoids in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, too, but because the First Order are obviously the bad guys, the moviemakers don't have to hold back: the forces of the First Order are portrayed as Nazi-like without hesitation. The resemblance is most overt in a scene showing a Nuremberg-like rally of masses of utterly uniform and undifferentiated Stormtroopers. (Note the Nazoid name for them.) They even render a Nazi-like hand salute at the end of their jackbooted leader's furious speech/pep talk.

Stormtroopers do not have names, only numbers, like the people in We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921, 1924) and George Lucas' own THX-1138 (1971). In The Force Awakens, one sheds his helmet and his designation for a name and an individual identity. Before doing so, he gets in trouble for being "non-conforming." His offense: he has shrunk from participating in mass murder.

The goal of the First Order is, not surprisingly, to impose what it calls order on the galaxy. In that, too, it is Nazi-like, but we should remember that the Nazis were merely one permutation of the long-standing utopian thinking that has also given us socialism, communism, Marxist-Leninism, fascism, and like movements of the last two centuries. All seek order. All result in horror.

Another Nazoid group rears its ugly head--or heads--in the recent Captain America movies. The group is called Hydra, and they are the offspring of nazism. Unlike the Nazis, they survive the war. Like the movement that gave birth to them--and like the First Order--they despise the supposed chaos of freedom and seek to impose order instead. As is always the case with utopian regimes, millions must die in order to bring about the desired state--or State. In The Winter Soldier, the number is given as twenty million. That number is curiously close to, yet falls short of Bill Ayers' figure of twenty-five million Americans who would have to die so as to advance his revolution. Ayers is of course an associate and co-religionist of our current president, who likes to kill people with drone-fired missiles, just as the Federation in Star Trek Into Darkness likes to do. All are pikers compared to the socialists of the twentieth century, who murdered and starved upwards of 100 million people. But then Hydra didn't get its full chance in The Winter Soldier, and all because of a star-spangled patriot and his meddling friends.

Tyrants see freedom as chaos and tyranny as order. To them, the supposed chaos of freedom is intolerable. It's why they seek to control people's lives. It's interesting that the supreme villain in The Winter Soldier is played by a left-leaning actor, Robert Redford. I wonder if he sees any irony in that. Probably not. His character is not overtly political or ideological, but his desire to extinguish freedom, control people's lives, and impose strict order on humanity place him squarely in the utopian/socialist/leftist/statist camp. I have to say that his character is so reprehensible that you're glad in the end to see him take a couple of bullets to the heart. You only wish it could have been something worse. And in that, you can say that Mr. Redford did a first-rate acting job.

* * *
Two more minor points:

First, in a scene in Star Wars: The Force AwakensC-3PO exclaims, "Thank the Maker!" I find that curious. Moviemakers today are notoriously squeamish about expressions of faith or belief, yet the screenwriter in The Force Awakens put those words into Threepio's rectangular little mouth. They could be ironic. After all, Anakin Skywalker is supposed to have been the maker of C-3PO. But they could also be a safe way of referring to a higher Maker. (Or they could simply be a rehash of a line from Star Wars. J.J. Abrams has been known to rehash a thing or two.) Whatever their meaning, the situation reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which the most human--and perhaps wisest--character is an android, Data. It also reminds me of every other product of popular culture in which poor people, peasants, "simple" people, children, American Indians, black people (like Lt. Uhura in "Bread and Circuses"), and so on are judged to be somehow closer to the earth and to God and heaven than their smart, worldly, well-educated, and sophisticated superiors. That is probably related to the idea of "the noble savage," a pernicious idea that helped give birth to later horrors, also to what Leslie Fiedler wrote about in Love and Death in the American Novel. But is there really anything wrong with a protagonist who believes?

Second, in Get Smart, the good guys are part of CONTROL. The bad guys are part of KAOS. That turns my theorizing on its head, but I don't mind a bit, as Get Smart is one of the funniest shows of the 1960s.

In case there is any doubt as to the lineage of KAOS, just have a look at two of its agents, Siegfried, played by Bernie Kopell (right), and Shtarker, played by King Moody (left). Nazoid. Totally Nazoid.

Boris natasha fearless.jpg
In Rocky and Bullwinkle, another very funny show from the '60s, Boris Badenov and Natasha may have Russian names and accents to match, but their leader--Fearless Leader--is Nazi-like. His lair is called Central Control. I hope that helps to right my theory of control/order and freedom/chaos.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, December 24, 2015

F.B. Ghensi (1865-1943)

Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi
Aka Norbert Lorédan
Government Worker, Diplomat, Theatre Director, Librettist, Lyricist, Journalist, Editor, Publisher, Author 
Born November 21, 1865, Toulouse, France
Died January 30, 1943, Paris, France

In its May issue of 1940, the month in which the Sitzkrieg ended and the Nazis invaded France, Weird Tales printed a story it called "The Red Gibbet" by an author it called F.B. Ghensi. Like the Sitzkrieg, the title and the author's name were phony. His identity has been a minor mystery since then. The Internet allows a solution to the mystery.

Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi was born on November 21, 1865, in Toulouse, France. He studied in Castres and in Toulouse. In 1887-1889, he worked on the revue Le Décadent littéraire et artistique, where he wrote under the pseudonym Norbert Lorédan, but his literary career stalled and he went into politics.

Gheusi was well connected. Among his friends, associates, and supporters were scholar François de Vesian, politician Jean Jaurès, poet and essayist Laurent Tailhade, musician Georges Pierfitte, author Émile Zola, and poet Catulle Mendès. In 1889, Gheusi joined the political campaign of Jaurès in Castres. For several years after that, he held government posts, including in Rheims. In 1894, Gheusi relocated to Paris. In that same year, he married Adrienne Willems, niece of the painter Florent Willems. In 1897, Gheusi made an inspection tour of the Christian schools in Palestine. In 1906, he held a post at le Ministère des Colonies. And in 1911, he served as a diplomat in working to restore relations between France and Venezuela.

From 1888 to 1931, Gheusi wrote works for the stage, including lyrics, libretti, dramas, and comedies. He also authored histories and other works of non-fiction. His first novel was Gaucher Myrian, vie aventureuse d'un escholier féodal. Salamanque, Toulouse et Paris au XIIIe siècle, written with Paul Lavigne and published in 1893. Eleven more novels followed, the last of which, La Fille de Monte-Cristo, was published posthumously in 1948. I have not read any of his books and know nothing about them except for their titles. At least two have titles suggesting genre fiction, however, Le Serpent de mer, roman à clés (The Sea Serpent, a "key novel," 1899) and Les Atlantes, aventures de temps légendaires (The Atlanteans, Adventures of Legendary Times, with Charles Lomon, 1905). As it turns out, Les Atlantes is a fantasy, and it has recently been reprinted. (See below.)

In later years, Gheusi held various positions of directorship or editorship, including of Le Gaulois du dimanche (1897), Nouvelle Revue (1899), le Paris Opéra (1906, 1914), l'Opéra Comique (to 1918), le Théâtre Lyrique du Vaudeville (1919–1920), Le Figaro (to 1932), and again l'Opéra-Comique (to 1936). During World War I, he was on the staff of General Joseph Gallieni. Gheusi also used his castle near Biarritz as a hospital for French troops.

The life of Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi was very nearly bracketed by German invasions of his native land. The Franco-Prussian War broke out when he was only four years old and ended not long after his fifth birthday with a humiliating defeat for the French. (His distant cousin, Léon Gambetta, was a leading figure during the war.) Sixty-nine years later, Germans reentered France and again dealt it a humiliating defeat, worse than in his childhood. He would not live to see his country liberated. Gheusi died on January 30, 1943, in Paris.

Three years before, perhaps unbeknownst to him, Weird Tales had reprinted the story "The Red Gibbet," translated by H. Twitchell. Twitchell translated numerous works from numerous languages into English. Unfortunately, Twitchell seems to have left his or her Christian name unrevealed except for its initial. The translator would appear a dead end. The phrase "the red gibbet," however, leads to a solution as to the identity of the author.

I have not read the the story "The Red Gibbet" in Weird Tales, but it seems certain to me that it is merely a retitled reprinting of "The Christmas Wolves" by P.B. Gheusi, originally published in French in Figaro Illustré in February 1897, then in an English translation by H. Twitchell in The International: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine in December 1897 (Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 546-552). You can read it by clicking here. As its title implies, the story takes place at Christmastime. It involves not only wolves but also a hanged witch. Oddly for a Christmas story, it is a tale of revenge.

So why did Weird Tales change the name of the story and its author? I don't know. The misspelling of Gheusi's name may simply be a typographical error. I doubt it, though. I think it more likely that the magazine was trying to avoid problems with copyrights or other legalistic matters. In any case, the mystery of "The Red Gibbet" is solved, and we have another French author to add to the list of those who were in Weird Tales.

F.B. Ghensi's [sic] Story in Weird Tales
"The Red Gibbet" (May 1940; originally published in the United States as "The Christmas Wolves" by P.B. Gheusi in The International: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Dec. 1897)

Further Reading
"Gheusi, Pierre-Barthélemy," in French, at the following URL:

"Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi" on the French version of Wikipedia:

A portrait drawing of Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi. Note the reference to Gallieni, "the savior of Paris."

On October 31, 2015, Hollywood Comics/Blackcoat Press published The Last Days of Atlantis by Charles Lomon and Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi. The book was originally published in 1905 as Les Atlantes, aventures de temps légendaires. Artist Mike Hoffman created the cover illustration.

Merry Christmas from Tellers of Weird Tales!

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away . . .

. . . and in movie theaters today.

And 100 years ago in a place not so far away, the co-screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back was born . . .

Leigh Brackett (Dec. 7, 1915-Mar. 18, 1978)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Curtis W. Casewit (1922-2002)

Soldier, Author, Outdoorsman
Born March 21, 1922, Mannheim, Germany
Died March 2, 2002, Denver, Colorado

Curtis Werner Casewit was born on March 21, 1922, in Mannheim, a city in southwestern Germany, not far from the French border. During World War II, he served in the French army and as a translator for the British army. After the war, in 1948, he immigrated to the United States and settled in Colorado, where he set about a career as a writer. Casewit wrote four stories for Weird Tales in 1952-1954. He also had stories in Amazing Stories, Fantastic Universe, and Super-Science Fiction. His genre credits make a short enough list to show here in its entirety:
  • "The Mask" in Weird Tales (Mar. 1952)
  • "Table Number 16" in Weird Tales (Sept. 1952)
  • "Fermentation" in Weird Tales (Nov. 1952)
  • "Transfusion" in Amazing Stories (June 1953)
  • "The French Way" in Fantastic Universe (Oct. 1953)
  • "Prediction" in Weird Tales (May 1954)
  • "The Advantages Are Tremendous" in Fantastic Universe (Aug. 1955)
  • "Bright Flowers of Mars" in Super-Science Fiction (Apr. 1957)
  • "The Martian Wine" in Super-Science Fiction (Aug. 1958)
  • The Peacemakers (science fiction novel, 1960)
  • Adventure in Deepmore Cave (adventure novel [?], 1965)
Casewit also wrote non-fiction, especially on skiing, mountaineering, and careers. His books include:
  • Ski Racing: Advice by the Experts (1963)
  • The Adventures of Snowshoe Thompson (1970)
  • Mountain Troopers: The Story of the Tenth Mountain Division (1972)
  • Overseas Jobs: The Ten Best Countries (1972)
  • Adventure Guide to Colorado (1973, with Steve Cohen)
  • Freelance Photography: Advice from the Pros (1974)
  • America's Tennis Book (1975)
  • Colorado, Off the Beaten Path
  • The Hiking-Climbing Handbook
  • How to Make Money from Travel Writing
  • The Complete Book of Mountain Sports (1978)
  • The Stop Smoking Book for Teens (1980)
  • Graphology Handbook (1980)
  • Making a Living in The Fine Arts: Advice from the Pros (1981)
  • The Saga of the Mountain Soldiers: The Story of the Tenth Mountain Division (1981)
  • The Diary: A Complete Guide to Journal Writing (1982)
  • Quit Smoking (1983)
  • The Skier’s Companion (1984)
  • How to Get a Job Overseas
  • Handwriting Never Lies . . .
  • Tennis Resorts
  • The Mountain World
  • The Mountaineering Handbook: An Invitation To Climbing
  • Foreign Jobs: The Most Popular Countries
  • Freelance Writing: Advice from the Pros (1985)
  • Skier's Guide to Colorado (1993)
Curtis Casewit died on March 2, 2002, in Denver. He was seventy-nine years old.

Curtis W. Casewit's Stories in Weird Tales
See the list above.

Further Reading
Casewit's papers are at the University of Southern Mississippi de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. There is an article on him in the Dutch-language Wikipedia.

The Peacemakers, a British edition from 1963.
And an American paperback edition from 1968. The cover artists are unknown.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, December 14, 2015

Final Notes from PulpFest

On Saturday evening, August 15, 2015, a panel of enthusiasts and scholars got together at PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the editors of Weird Tales. The panelists were Garyn Roberts, Morgan Holmes, Don Herron, Will Murray, and moderator Tom Krabacher. Their talk is called "Weird Editing at 'The Unique Magazine'." You can hear it on the website The Pulp.Net, here.

On the day of the talk, someone warned me that it could become contentious. I have wondered about the politics behind pulp magazine research and about Weird Tales in particular. I am not an insider in the world of pulps and really have no experience with the political side of things. I asked what the contentiousness might be about but came away without anything concrete. As it turned out, the talk was mostly friendly and only a little contentious. Evidently things were worked out before it began. I have a feeling, though, that the politics of Weird Tales involves mostly H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard--and probably August Derleth, too. Lovecraft and Howard may at times have been handled a little roughly by the magazine. For fans, that kind of handling may very well amount to an unforgivable crime.

I made only a few notes during the talk. Here they are, fleshed out:
  • Regarding the origins of Weird Tales, Will Murray mentioned a letter written by Henry S. Whitehead and published in The Writer magazine in 1921 or 1922. In his letter, Whitehead complained about the lack of outlets for stories of ghosts and fairies. That caught my interest, so I looked it up. The letter is called "Editorial Prejudice Against the Occult." It was published in The Writer in October 1922, Volume 34, Number 10, pp. 146-147. You can read the text in Google Books and on the blog Tentaclii::H.P. Lovecraft Blog, August 13, 2014, here. Whitehead got his wish just five months later with the debut of Weird Tales. He went on to have twenty-six stories published in "The Unique Magazine."
  • One of the panelists--I think it was Don Herron--brought up Lovecraft's ghostwriting for Harry Houdini. I made a note at that point: "Houdini helped Lovecraft escape from his marriage." My chain of thought in writing that is lost, but Lovecraft returned from New York City to Providence in April 1926. Houdini died six months later, on October 31, 1926. Lovecraft had previously ghostwritten "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," published in the triple-issue Weird Tales of May/June/July 1924. Lovecraft lost his draft of the story on his way to marrying Sonia Greene. He spent his honeymoon retyping the story. By the time two years had passed, Lovecraft was back in the city of his birth and his marriage was for all intents and purposes over.
  • J.C. Henneberger famously offered the editorship of Weird Tales to H.P. Lovecraft in 1924. Lovecraft famously declined. In a way, though, Lovecraft was an editor in the way that an editor works with a circle of authors, developing them, mentoring them, encouraging them, suggesting revisions, rewriting stories, etc.
  • H.P. Lovecraft was rejected by Weird Tales on several occasions, as Morgan Holmes pointed out in the talk, but he ultimately rejected himself by not acting professionally, retyping his manuscripts, seizing opportunities, or persisting in his pursuit of being a writer; also by excusing himself from work as an old-fashioned gentleman or dilettante, by talking down his work, by giving up easily, in short, by his evident passivity and low self-esteem.
  • The talk at PulpFest was about fifty minutes long. Edwin Baird got a couple of minutes. Dorothy McIlwraith, who edited the magazine for fourteen years, got about the same. Dorothy is often passed over, but one of the panelists made a good point, that she may not have published stories as good as those published under Farnsworth Wright, but she also didn't publish stories that were as bad. Otherwise, talk of Wright dominated "Weird Editing at 'The Unique Magazine'." Opinion of him was mixed as it seems to be in general among readers of the pulps.
So that ends my series on Notes from PulpFest. Now on to other things.

The cover of Pinkie at Camp Cherokee, a children's novel by Henry S. Whitehead from 1931.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 11, 2015

Jon Arfstrom (1928-2015)

Fine Artist, Illustrator, Writer
Born November 11, 1928, Superior, Wisconsin
Died December 2, 2015, Anoka, Minnesota

PulpFest is four months gone and only now am I finishing up with topics from that event and notes I made there. The high point of the show for me was my meeting and talking with artist Jon Arfstrom. At age eighty-six, Mr. Arfstrom was, at the time I met him, one of the last living artists to have drawn for Weird Tales. (Gahan Wilson is in that category.) And, at age eighty-six, he was still drawing in his sketchbook diaries, some of which he showed me. Jon Arfstrom's drawings are beautiful, colorful, and effortless. They show skills undiminished by age and illness. I have to admit that I have felt daunted by the prospect of writing about such a wonderfully good artist. After having written about Theodore Roscoe--another topic from PulpFest--I have at last arrived at Mr. Arfstrom. Today (Dec. 10, 2015) I find that he has passed away.

John Douglas Arfstrom was born on November 11, 1928, in Superior, Wisconsin. He later dropped the h to set himself apart from other boys who shared his first name. The dropping of a letter proved unnecessary, however, for his art was more than enough to set Jon Arfstrom apart.

Jon's parents were born in Sweden. His father, Fred Arfstrom, was a painter and a jack-of-all-trades. His mother, Thyra Westlund Arfstrom, was a chef. Jon's older half-brother, Ralph "Bud" Molene, was a commercial artist at the Magill-Weinsheimer Company in Chicago. Jon grew up in Minnesota and studied at the Minnesota School of Art and by correspondence with the Famous Artists School.

"Every kid in the 1930s read the pulps," he told me at PulpFest. Jon Arfstrom was no exception. He liked Westerns, also Blue Book, one of the premier magazines of its kind. The Shadow was one of his favorites, and in 1942, Jon wrote a letter to Doc Savage, his first appearance in the pulps. Among artists, he was influenced by Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), later by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. The influence of surrealism on his work is unmistakable. "Whether my art is called surrealistic, metaphysical or poetic," he said in a 1983 interview, "the essence of it is to search the imagination, to delve into the subconscious, to reach deep into hidden recesses of that psychological world that is our heritage. . . ."

Too young for service in World War II, Jon lied about his age (at fourteen) and got a job on board ships plying the Great Lakes. At sixteen he was a freight foreman. He married shortly after the war and with a family to support started selling his artwork. He began work as a commercial artist in 1950. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, his first published genre art was an illustration for "Jonathon's [sic] Blanket" by William Jones Wallrich, published in The Fanscient #9, Fall 1949. Jon turned twenty-one in that same season.

Jon worked many different jobs before settling into his first full-time and long-lasting day job with Brown and Bigelow in Minneapolis in 1954. In his forty and more years at Brown and Bigelow, he produced illustrations for calendars and coloring books. He turned out to be one of the last artists to work for the company. He also freelanced in that time. In the fields of fantasy and science fiction, that freelance work came mostly at the beginning (1956 and before) and end (1985 and after) of his full-time career. Jon also did illustration work for Gamble-Skogmo and Lakeland Color Press.

Like his father, Jon was a jack-of-all-trades. He was equally adept at graphic art, pen-and-ink illustration, watercolor, oils, and acrylics. In 1975, he cofounded the Northstar Watercolor Society and had an astonishing ease in that medium. His one-man shows and awards were numerous. His work is or was in the collections of Grinnell College, Normandale Community College, and the Tweed Museum, among other institutions.

Jon created cover illustrations--mostly in color--for more than a dozen books and magazines. His interior illustrations numbered three dozen, of which two-thirds were for Weird Tales. He also painted three covers for "The Unique Magazine." The first, a cemetery scene showing a mysterious figure in a red cloak, was merely a sample or portfolio piece. The editor, Dorothy McIlwraith, liked it and bought it. Jon's reformatted art was published on the cover of January 1952 issue of the magazine.

It seems clear that Jon Arfstrom contributed to science fiction and fantasy magazines when he had the time and close to the outset of his career at Brown and Bigelow. He returned to those genres late in his career and in retirement. In the meantime, he painted hundreds of works for himself, many of which are surrealistic in their themes, subjects, and moods. At PulpFest, he had prints of some of his best paintings. I feel fortunate to have bought one from him and to have him sign it. I wish now that I had picked up another that I liked.

In 1994, Jon won a Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association for his cover art for The Early Fears by Robert Bloch. We should note that Bloch (from Wisconsin) and Donald Wandrei (from Minnesota) were both native to the states Jon called home.

Following are lists of Jon Arfstrom's credits from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. These lists may or may not be complete:

Cover Illustrations
  • The Dark Other by Stanley G. Weinbaum (Fantasy Publishing Company, 1950)
  • The Omnibus of Time by Ralph Milne Farley (Fantasy Publishing Company, 1950)
  • Fantasy Advertiser, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Sept. 1950)
  • Spacetrails #5 (1953)
  • Etchings & Odysseys #3 (1983)
  • The Devil Made Me Do It by Paul Dale Anderson (Miskatonic University Press, 1985)
  • Colossus: The Collected Science Fiction of Donald Wandrei (Fedogan and Bremer, 1989)
  • Smoke of the Snake by Carl Jacobi (Fedogan and Bremer, 1994)
  • The Early Fears by Robert Bloch (Fedogan and Bremer, 1994)
  • Don't Dream: The Collected Fantasy and Horror of Donald Wandrei (Fedogan and Bremer, 1997)
  • Tales of the Unanticipated (Minnesota Science Fiction Society, Winter/Spring/Summer 1997)
  • Kaldar: World of Antares by Edmond Hamilton (plus frontispiece, Haffner Press, 1998)
  • The Vampire Master and Other Tales of Terror by Edmond Hamilton (Haffner Press, 2000)
  • Swedish Lutheran Vampires of Brainerd by Anne Waltz (Sidecar Preservation Society, 2001)
  • Scream Quietly: The Best of Charles L. Grant (PS Publishing, 2012)
Interior Illustrations
  • "Jonathon's [sic] Blanket" by William Jones Wallrich in The Fanscient #9 (Fall 1949)
  • "S. Fowler Wright: Master of Fantasy" by Thyril L. Ladd in The Fanscient #9 (Fall 1949)
  • "The Drawings of Franklin Booth" by Jon Arfstrom in Fantasy Advertiser, Vol. 4, No. 2 (May 1950)
  • "Atomic Error" by Forrest J Ackerman in Other Worlds Science Stories (July 1950)
  • "Enchanted Village" by A.E. van Vogt in Other Worlds Science Stories (July 1950)
  • "The Job Is Ended" by Wilson Tucker in Other Worlds Science Stories (July 1950)
  • "No Approach" by Randall Garrett in Other Worlds Science Stories (Oct. 1951)
  • Interior illustration in Science Fiction Advertiser, Vol. 5, No. 6 (Mar. 1952)
  • "The Golden Guardsmen" by S.J. Byrne in Other Worlds Science Stories (June 1952)
  • "Battle of Wizards" by L. Ron Hubbard in Spaceway (Feb. 1954)
  • "Do Fairies Really Exist" by Frank Patton [pseudonym] in Mystic Magazine (Mar. 1956)
In addition, Jon drew three covers and twenty-five interior illustrations for Weird Tales. These are listed below. There is actually a twenty-sixth Arfstrom illustration in the magazine, but Virgil Finlay is the credited artist, despite Jon's clear signature. I'm afraid I don't know which illustration has been wrongly attributed to Finlay. I hope someone can help. The only hints I can offer are that the drawing appeared when Jon was contributing to the magazine (1950-1954) and that it was a scratchboard drawing.

As an artist in Minneapolis, Jon was far from the bustling big cities of New York and Chicago. Nonetheless, he knew John Berkey (1932-2008), who also worked at Brown and Bigelow for a time during the 1960s. As a youngster, he collaborated with Jack Gaughan (1930-1985), though only by mail.

In August 2015, Jon Arfstrom was a special guest at PulpFest, the annual pulp magazine convention held in Columbus, Ohio. On Friday evening, August 14, he sat for an interview with David Saunders, son of pulp artist Norm Saunders. Jon's mild manner and very good, though dry, sense of humor were immediately apparent. You can listen to the interview on the website The Pulp.Net, here. The next day, I met Jon, his daughter Tory, and his son Gary in the main room at PulpFest. I sat and talked with Jon for some time. He told me that in working with Weird Tales, he would receive a manuscript and be told the dimensions for his illustrations. The rest was up to him. He admired Virgil Finlay and Edd Cartier. I think you can see the influence of both men in his early black-and-white art. Jon's last illustration for Weird Tales appeared in the May 1954 issue, only five months before the magazine came to an end, which, according to him, came without any warning.

Jon showed me a couple of his sketchbook diaries. I can tell you that he was a true and dedicated artist, drawing all the time and everywhere he went. He handled even difficult subjects with ease. His draftsmanship was sure and his sense of color impeccable. Although his health was not good, he had flown in from his home in Minnesota for PulpFest. His mind and memory were sharp and his drawing hand was still sure. I asked if I could write about him and show his artwork on my blog, and he said yes. I'm afraid I have written too late. Jon Arfstrom died eight days ago, on December 2, 2015, at his home in Anoka, Minnesota. He was eighty-seven years old. I would like to say to his family that I am sorry for their loss. As for the rest of us, we still have his extraordinary and imperishable artwork.

Jon Arfstrom's Illustrations for Weird Tales
Jan. 1952
July 1952
Sept. 1953

Interior Illustrations
"Djinn and Bitters" by Harold Lawlor (May 1950)
"The Last Three Ships" by Margaret St. Clair (May 1950)
"The Mississippi Saucer" by Frank Belknap Long (Mar. 1951)
"The Bradley Vampire" by Roger M. Thomas (May 1951)
"Hideaway" by Everil Worrell (Nov. 1951)
"The Night They Crashed the Party" by Robert Bloch (Nov. 1951)
"Morne Perdu" by Alice Drayton Farnham (Mar. 1952)
"The Horror at Red Hook" by H.P. Lovecraft (Mar. 1952)
"Rhythmic Formula" Arthur J. Burks (May 1952)
"Alethia Phrikodes" by H.P. Lovecraft (July 1952)
"Hell's Bells" by Eric Frank Russell (July 1952)
"There Was Soot on the Cat" by Suzanne Pickett (July 1952)
"Island of the Hands" by Margaret St. Clair (Sept. 1952)
"Table Number 16" by Curtis W. Casewit (Sept. 1952)
"The Chain" by Hamilton Craigie (Nov. 1952)
"Hand of Death" Marjorie Murch Stanley (Jan. 1953)
"Six Feet of Green Willow" by Carroll F. Michener (Jan. 1953)
"Caveat Emptor" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Mar. 1953)
"The Dream Merchant" by Harold Lawlor (Mar. 1953)
"The Vengeance of Kali Mai" by Garnett Radcliffe (May 1953)
"The Sea-Witch" by Nictzin Dyalhis (July 1953)
"I Loved Her with My Soul" by Everil Worrell (Sept. 1953)
"The Beetle" by Garnett Radcliffe (Sept. 1953)
"The Banshee of Patrick O'Bannon" by Joe Bishop (May 1954)
"The Return of Simon Carib" by Frederick Sanders (May 1954)

Further Reading
"Etchings & Odysseys Interview: Recipe from the Other Side--Jon D. Arfstrom" in Etchings & Odysseys #3 (1983), pp. 43-49.
"Jon Arfstrom--Last of the Weird Tales Artists" on the website for PulpFest, here.
"Special Guest Jon Arfstrom" on the website The Pulp.Net, here.
"Obituary: From Watercolors to Weird Tales, Illustrator Jon Arfstrom Did It All" by Mary Abbe on the website of the Star Tribune, December 8, 2015, here.

Weird Tales, January 1952, with Jon Arfstrom's first cover for the magazine. I had thought this was a watercolor, but I came to find out it was actually an oil painting. Originally a sample piece, Jon's art was reformatted to fit the cover. Note the green band at the top.

Weird Tales, July 1952, Jon's second cover. He also had three interior illustrations in this issue.

Weird Tales, September 1953, in the British edition. This was Jon's last cover for and the beginning of the last year of the magazine. 

In 1949, Jon Arfstrom created a dust jacket design for The Purcell Papers by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, to be published by August Derleth's Arkham House. After some delays and problems, Derleth accepted the artwork and paid Jon a fee of $25. Unfortunately the book went unpublished for another quarter century and without Jon's drawing on the dust jacket. You can read the full story in "The Original Cover for The Purcell Papers" by R. Alain Everts in Etchings & Odysseys #3 (1983). The image above is from that article.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley