Jane Frank’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of the Twentieth Century is a successor volume to Robert Weinberg’s Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, published in 1988. Given the labor-intensive quality of a project such as this one, it is fortunate that Frank had Weinberg’s full cooperation in the creation of this volume.
This is, first and foremost, a reference work, and Frank quite carefully describes the limits set and criteria used to determine inclusion: the focus is the twentieth century, so that younger artists who entered the field in late in the century are not included under the assumption that their main contributions are still to come. Likewise, those early artists who illustrated the works of Jules Verne and the early works of H. G. Wells are not included unless they were active well into the new century. It is interesting that Frank has also included artists who have worked in graphic literature — comics and graphic novels. Given the somewhat uneasy relationship between comics and the “literary” arm of that indefinable supergenre, science fiction/fantasy, I find it gratifying that she has taken that step, although given some of the artists not included, I have to mark it as a first step.
After the requisite Preface, in which Frank lays out the game plan and thanks those who must be thanked, we find a section on “How to Use This Book,” which describes the book’s organization and gives a concise view of the origins of the material — in almost all cases, from Weinberg’s original volume, updated as necessary, and from Frank’s own research, using, where possible, primary sources (the artists, their Web sites, their families, etc.). That scholarly requisite, a list of abbreviations of periodicals cited, follows, and then we get to the meat.
First is Weinberg’s historical overview of science fiction illustration to “about 1975.” (I find that delightful, considering that we are dealing with a genre in which everything seems to be “about such-and-such.”) Frank follows this with her update of the field from the 1970s to the end of the century. Both are highly informative, tracking trends not only in audience taste and the publishing field, but new media and technologies and how they affected the creation, marketing, and distribution of the literature and the art that comes with it.
Then come the entries, which are alphabetical by last name, cross-referenced for those who use pseudonyms, and exhaustive. These entries include not only brief biographies of the artists, but listings of books illustrated, magazines illustrated, collections and anthologies in which the artist has been included, graphic and design work for games, calendars, and work in media and film. As might be expected, entries for such luminaries as Ed Emshwiller, Kelly Freas, Frank Frazetta, and Michael Whelan are extensive. Interestingly, some artists I would have expected to find, such as Mike Mignola, Dave McKean, and Matt Wagner, are missing. (One can, I suppose, quibble over whether superhero comics [or any other kind other than romances and “Archie and His Friends”] count as science fiction/fantasy, but in my book, they do. Frank makes no claim for a complete survey here, but it would appear that the inclusion of artists working in graphic literature is in its early stages. In her defense, to have included those artists as well would have expanded the project quite possibly beyond one person’s ability to complete it.)
There are several appendices listing awards and their recipients, and that sine qua non of any research tome worth its salt, an index that looks to be quite complete.
In a book dealing with art and artists, one always hopes, of course, for at least sample illustrations, which are lacking here. Understandable: the work involved, not only in surveying and selecting, but in obtaining reproduction rights, is daunting. And to include illustrations would have made this a two-volume offering, at least. (Not to mention a substantial increase in price.) It is, however, a bit of a disappointment not to be able to see at least one example of the artists’ work.
The problems of producing a book such as this are manifold, and it’s to Frank’s credit that she has pulled together as coherent a resource as she has. What has been done has been done very well. In spite of the omissions I noted above, there is a wealth of information on just about anyone who was active in the field of science fiction and fantasy illustration in the twentieth century.
(McFarland & Company, 2009)