Friday, April 28, 2017

A Swipe from Virgil Finlay and Back Again?

Virgil Finlay (1914-1971) lived and died by making swipes from the other artists, photographers, that is, who took pictures for the sake of art or commerce. (Those two fields are not, of course, mutually exclusive.) However, I don't know him to have swiped from other illustrators or draftsmen. Until now. Maybe. But this one is a little tricky, so I'll go through it step by step:

First came Finlay's black-and-white interior illustration for Pearl Norton Swet's story "The Medici Boots," published in Weird Tales in the August-September issue of 1936:

Next came Harold W. McCauley's (1913-1977) cover illustration for Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy, from May 1953. Although the pose is similar to that of the conjured spirit in Virgil Finlay's illustration above, I would not call this necessarily a swipe by McCauley:

Update (Sept. 9, 2018): Now I find that Finlay reused his earlier drawing and seems to have swiped McCauley's drawing for his interior illustration for "A God Named Kroo" by Henry Kuttner, printed in Fantastic Story Magazine, Summer 1954. 

A year between issues (May 1953 to Summer 1954) is enough for Finlay to have seen McCauley's illustration and to have worked from it for his own rendering, but I'm still not sure this is a swipe. There is definite resemblance of Finlay's second drawing to McCauley's illustration of May 1953, but both are similar to Finlay's first drawing from nearly thirty years before. Also, note that "A God Named Kroo" had previously been printed in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1944. I wondered whether Finlay's illustration had also been reprinted, so I looked it up. As it turns out, it had not. The artist in the original printing is unknown, and his (or her) illustrations look nothing like those of Finlay or McCauley.

Another near-twenty years passed before a painting that Finlay had done in the 1960s showed up on the cover of Weird Tales, Summer 1973, after the artist had died. This version is a combination of Finlay's two previous illustrations as well as of McCauley's cover. It's not a straight swipe of McCauley's drawing, though, because Finlay rotated McCauley's Shiva figure slightly, recolored it, and recast it as a kind of Medusa or Gorgon figure, more or less like his illustration from 1954 but also with a definite resemblance to the one from 1936:

So what do we call it? A swipe of a swipe? And who did the swiping? McCauley from Finlay? Finlay from McCauley? Finlay from Finlay? I'm not sure. Another possibility--one that seems surer to me now versus when I first wrote this article in 2017--is that both Finlay and McCauley swiped their pictures from an unknown original source. Whatever the case, it seems likely that, as in the old commercial with Mr. Owl, "The world may never know."

Text copyright 2017, 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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