Science fiction has an eclectic history. Authors have explored bizarre new worlds, strange aliens, and unimaginable futures. The pulp novels of the mid-20th century contained all of this, and they were packaged with dazzling cover art that would go on to define the genre for decades. A new video from Evan Puschak’s YouTube channel Nerdwriter dives into the underappreciated history of the genre’s cover art and what it spells for the future of the genre.
The video highlights Frank R. Paul, the cover illustrator for Amazing Stories, the first magazine devoted to science fiction. His covers were brightly colored, with fantastic technologies, spaceships, and creatures. They helped define what a science fiction story looked like and attracted legions of fans to the genre with the promise of exciting stories.
For decades, science fiction appeared in magazines as short stories, but with the introduction of paperback novels, this tradition of bright covers continued, exploring “weirder and more avant-garde styles,” according to Puschak. As the genre grew in popularity, art directors began to elevate their styles by bringing on artists such as Franco Grignani, Richard Powers, and David Pelham, who translated the thematic content of the books into abstract art. Booklovers began to essentially create their own miniature art galleries of beautiful and abstract artwork.
These pieces of art form the foundation for how the genre has been perceived and marketed over the years, and those influences linger in the many, many films and television shows that are released today. Science fiction cover art was originally designed to attract the eye amid a sea of books on a shelf, especially at a time when the genre was demeaned as “sub-literary.” That has become even more important now, in an age where readers select their next reads from tiny thumbnails on retailer websites or via social media posts. The bright colors and the promise of adventure that novel and magazine covers depict is as important in 2018 as it was when Paul first began drawing the brilliant illustrations for Amazing Stories.