Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WEIRD TALES artist J. Allen St. John

You might recall from Walker Martin's post yesterday that he feels that James Allen St. John is the finest artist ever to work for WEIRD TALES. That motivated me to look a little bit more into him.

While St. John (1872-1957) is considered one of the finest of fantasy artists and is well-known as a WEIRD TALES cover artist,he is generally best known for his work for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. His work has inspired generations of artists, most notably Frank Franzetta.

David Saunders' bio of St. John at says that at a young age, he was exposed to the old masters when his family moved to Europe. After returning to America, he moved to the San Joaquin Valley at the age of 16 and began to study under Eugene Torrey.

This is where things get confusing to me. The Vanguard Publications site (publishers of a volume of his work, discussed below) says that "St. John began his career by studying the old master in the museums of Paris around 1880. Returning to America, his notoriety among Fine Art enthusiasts developed with recognition from the Society of American Artists and Metropolitan magazine in 1889." But if his birthdate is 1872, as shown on the site, that means that St. John started studying the old masters at the age of 8, and was recognized by the Society of American Artists and Metropolitan magazine when he was 17, one year after moving to California. Either he was a prodigy, or someone has their dates wrong. Maybe someone can clue me in.

In any event, by 1912, he was married and living in Chicago, where he began to do work for A. C. McClurg, the publisher of several Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. In 1915 he illustrated the first of many Tarzan novels, THE RETURN OF TARZAN.

He also did work for other magazines and even did work for Liberty Bonds posters during World War I.

According to THE COLLECTOR'S INDEX TO WEIRD TALES (Sheldon Jaffery & Fred Cook, 1985), St. John's first work for WEIRD TALES was for the June 1932 issue, illustrating "The Devil's Pool," by Greye La Spina.

Then, In November 1932, St. John's covers featured the four-part series "Buccaneers of Venus" by Otis Adelbert Kline.

In April 1933 and May 1933, St. John's covers featured the series "Golden Blood" by Jack Williamson, and are now featured on the covers of a compilation of his work, J ALLEN ST. JOHN: GRAND MASTER OF FANTASY by Stephen D. Korshak & J. David Spurlock, published by Vanguard. (The first is the hardback edition, the second the softcover.)

Later he did work for AMAZING STORIES, including this iconic cover from July 1942.

St. John died in 1957, and it's safe to say that his influence on the world of fantasy art is beyond dispute. While his work for WEIRD TALES was not as prolific as other artists, the fact that his WT covers are some of the magazine's most famous and sought after by collectors underscores his impact on the magazine and the world of fantasy fiction.

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Charles Gramlich said...

I love his stuff, although I do like Krenkel a lot too. I think St. John did the best sword and planet illustrations though

Walker Martin said...

He evidently was a prodigy and according to Robert Weinberg's book, A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY ARTISTS, St. John's mother traveled to Paris with her son who was only 8 years old. The young boy started to sketch and paint, etc.

At an early Pulpcon in the 1970's, Darrell Richardson exhibited several St. John paintings, including, if I remember correctly, GOLDEN BLOOD. He later sold it for alot of money.

Ed Hulse said...

The St. Johns are among my favorite WEIRD TALES covers. Glad to see them here.

I've seen the painting for "Golden Blood" (April 1933 issue, I think) up close, and it looks better in person. The color was too subtle to be accurately captured by the separation process of those days.

Deka Black said...

maybe i'm wrong,buthis look makes me think in David Lynch

Charles: indeed he did

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

At my first comic book convention (Oklahoma City, 1971) a guy at the next table walked over with a St. John original. He claimed someone in the hotel's lobby sold it to him. For five dollars. I could learn to hate a guy like that.

Phil Normand said...

It's not that St. John was studying as such, but he traveled to Paris with his mother who was continuing her art studies there. Her father, St. John's grandfather, was a well known artist of his day named Hilliard Hely. St. John's mother got her first art lessons from her father. Though James Allen started to draw and paint early he did not devote himself to a professional career in art until after he was eighteen.

Ron Scheer said...

Appreciate the research. To me it's interesting that pulp fiction found this visual style of expression that today seems so perfectly to represent it. Has anyone done a study of what it derived from? Is there a direct line back to pre-pulp illustrators / artists?

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks for all the comments - I enjoyed doing the research on him. To Phil Normand: thanks for the clarification; glad you stopped by.

Laurie Powers said...

Ron - don't know but I bet there are some around that would have some interesting ideas on that.