Friday, February 12, 2016

Doc Savage Covered (1933)


(1933) (1934) (1935) (1936) (1937) (1938) (1939) (1940) (1941) (1942) (1943) (1944) (1945) (1946) (1947) (1948) (1949)


To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers--the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group--he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is the greatest adventure hero of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes and blood-curdling excitement.



DOC SAVAGE’S AMAZING CREW

William Harper Littlejohn, the bespectacled scientist who was the world's greatest living expert on geology and archaeology.

Colonel John Renwick, "Renny,” the favorite sport was pounding his massive fists through heavy, paneled doors.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, “Monk,” only a few inches over five feet tall, and yet over 260 pounds. His brutish exterior concealed the mind of a great scientist.

Major Thomas J. Roberts, “Long Tom,” was the physical weakling of the crowd, but a wizard at electricity.

Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks, slender and waspy, he was never without his ominous, black sword cane.


WITH THEIR LEADER, THEY WOULD GO
ANYWHERE, FIGHT ANYONE, DARE EVERYTHING—
SEEKING EXCITEMENT AND PERILOUS ADVENTURE!



I first came across Doc Savage in the late 70s, when I was making that awkward jump from elementary-school-kidness to junior-high-school-what-the-hell-am-I-nowness. Since I was also one of those spindly picked on kids (you remember the ones), it was ridiculously easy for me to lose myself in the adventures of a "physical and mental giant" who's whole life revolved around "righting wrongs and punishing evildoers."

Of course I kept on growing up, and it wasn't too long before all that awkwardness was behind me, but I've carried a fondness for Doc Savage with me to this very day. (And how could I not? Doc is darn cool, awkward-age or no-awkward-age.)

So. Doc was invented by Henry Ralston, vice-president of Street & Smith, along with his editor John Nanovic, in 1933. Pulp magazine author Lester Dent wrote most of his adventures (he did at least 150 out of the 181 novels originally produced), under the pen name Kenneth Robeson, and he was the guy who really fleshed out Doc's character and brought him to life. Doc Savage Magazine went for 17 years straight, before finishing up in 1949.

And if 1949 had been the end of it, I'd have never discovered Doc myself. But in the mid 60s, Bantam Books decided to reprint his entire run of pulp novels as paperbacks. It took 'em 30 years, but they got it done, and it was those reprints I found and got so hooked on.

So what I'm doing with this series of posts, is showing off cover art for both the pulps and paperback reprints. They both featured amazing artwork, and I think it's cool to look at 'em side-by-side, to see how the stories were visually represented with such a big time gap. Emery Clarke and Walter Baumhofer did the lion's share of the original covers, and James Bama and Bob Larkin did most of the paperbacks.

What I'll do is go through each novel by year of pulp publication and compare the pulp's cover to the reprint's. Since Bantam didn't reprint the stories in order, those dates will jump around a bit. I'm also including the plot blurbs from the reprints, the pulps didn't feature any to speak of. I don't think I'll do a ton of commentary once I get into the covers themselves, except when something really catches my eye or if I just can't help myself.

And as usual, you can click through images for larger versions, using your browser's back button or keyboard shortcut to get back to the full post.

Now let's get into it.



The Man of Bronze (March 1933 and October 1964) by Lester Dent

High above the skyscrapers of New York, Doc Savage engages in deadly combat with the red-fingered survivors of an ancient, lost civilization. Then, with his amazing crew, he journeys to the mysterious "lost valley" to search for a fabulous treasure and to destroy the mysterious Red Death. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

Right off the bat you can see how differently Doc is portrayed between the pulps and reprints.

The original stories put Doc at over six-five and very muscular, but proportioned so his size wasn't apparent unless he was next to someone. And I don't think his exact age is ever mentioned, but Philip José Farmer said he was 29 during this first adventure. And he would know, right?

Anyway, the pulp cover here more or less goes along with Doc's print description. The reprint, though, gives us a more obviously muscled and older looking Doc.

And just for fun, here's a look at the 1975 Golden Press cover for Man of Bronze. Golden Press put out a set of six Doc Savage reprints, around the time that God-awful George Pal movie was hitting theaters. The set was marketed to younger readers, and as far as I can tell, all six covers were painted by a fellow named Ben Otero. Anyway, I happened across this set's covers while researching the series' main content, and since they offer a nice contrast I'm throwing them in as we go along.

Artist: Ben Otero

I also happened across Otero's original artwork for this cover. It's almost startling to me, how alive his canvas seems compared to the book's cover, and I like seeing the entire piece as he originally envisioned it.




The Land of Terror (April 1933 and August 1965) by Lester Dent

A vile greenish vapor was all that remained of the first victim of the monstrous Smoke of Eternity. There would be thousands more if Kar, master fiend, had his evil way. Only Doc Savage and his mighty five could stop him. But the corpse-laden trail led to mortal combat with the fiercest killing machines ever invented by nature.

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: Douglas Rosa

This Bantam cover is notable for being the first of only two done by Douglas Rosa.



Quest of the Spider (May 1933 and May 1972) by Lester Dent

Inside the grim, swamp-surrounded "Castle of the Moccasin," the Man of Bronze and his faithful, fearless band are trapped -- perhaps forever -- in an insidious web of evil by a master devil known only as the Gray Spider!

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: Fred Pfeiffer

Fred Pfeiffer did fourteen covers for Bantam. As far as I remember, there are no actual spiders (let alone giant ones) in the story, but you gotta admit that Bantam cover is more exciting than the pulp's is.

Overall, the pulps tended to actually pair covers with story content, while the reprints either took inspiration from the corresponding pulp cover, or just created a purely title-inspired image that had little or nothing to do with the story (like this one).



The Polar Treasure (June 1933 and April 1965) by Lester Dent

Menaced by "the strange clicking danger," Doc Savage and his fabulous five-man army take a desperate journey on a polar submarine in search of a missing ocean liner and a dazzling treasure. Their only clue is a map tattooed on the back of a blind violinist. Awaiting them at their destination is the most terrible killer the Arctic has ever known. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: unknown, possibly Lou Feck

Here's another Bantam cover that's more visually exciting than the pulp version. Couldn't track down this Bantam artist, the closest I got was either Lou Feck or James Avati. A couple of fairly authoritative sources said it wasn't Avati, so I'm going with Lou for now (who by the way also did that iconic cover for Jaws 2).

EDIT: Here's a new opinion on the Bantam cover. James Nobel had the following to say (see the comment section all the way at the bottom for more details):
The Polar Treasure is still somewhat of a mystery. What I can say, with some confidence, is that it is not Lou Feck. Lou Feck never painted in that style. My best guess would have to be Frank McCarthy, who was both a friend of Bama's and a Bantam regular. McCarthy had a style of painting that is easy to recognize, and I see that style in the Polar Treasure. The cover reproduction of The Polar Treasure book is pretty bad, and that makes it harder to be sure of anything. Still, Frank McCarthy is the best guess.
So Frank McCarthy, a fantastic artist in his own right, joins the list of possible painters for this one.



Pirate of the Pacific (July 1933 and September 1967) by Lester Dent

Not ships but nations are the prey of the sinister Oriental mastermind, Tom Too. Only Doc Savage and his daring crew stand a chance of saving the world from this figure of evil and his lethal legions. On land and sea, in the weirdest corners of the wide world, Doc and his friends plunge into their wildest adventure -- against their most dangerous foe! 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama
In spite of all the action going on with the pulp here, I think I prefer the reprint. That's a classic-looking Doc pose, Bama's got going on there.



The Red Skull (August 1933 and May 1967) by Lester Dent

Into a subterranean world of red-hot lava, Doc Savage and his fantastic five descend -- to face the most fiendish foe of his career. Awaiting Doc is an irresistible power that can level mountains... that can enslave the world... and that threatens to make Doc's most dangerous adventure his very last... 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

I'd guess Bama used the pulp cover for inspiration on this one.



The Lost Oasis (September 1933 and April 1965) by Lester Dent

While seeking to solve the mystery of " the trained vampire murders," Doc Savage and his amazing crew suddenly find themselves prisoners of Sol Yuttal and Hadi-Mot aboard a hijacked Zeppelin. Their deadly destination is a fabulous lost diamond mine guarded by carnivorous plants and monstrous, bloodsucking bats. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: Douglas Rosa

And here's the second of Rosa's two Bantam covers. The guy was a talented artist, but neither of his Doc covers do a lot for me.

EDIT: Also a different take on this Bantam cover's artist. (See comments for details.) I'd initially checked a couple of different sources (here and here, if you're interested) before listing Rosa as the artist, but more recently commenter James offered the following:
The French edition of The Lost Oasis has a less cropped version of the painting were you can see [Stanley] Meltzoff's distinctive signature. Meltzoff and Jim Avati were life-long friends. Avati was a regular Bantam artist during the 1960's. My guess is that Avati recommended Stanley Meltzoff to Len Leone to fill in for a honeymooning Bama.
I'm by no means a cover artist expert, so I can't add an opinion to the mix. I do know that multiple sources pointing to the same information don't always mean the information's accurate, and James' statement would be easily verifiable with a French copy, so I'm inclined to go with it myself....



The Sargasso Ogre (October 1933 and July 1967) by Lester Dent

A ruthless attempt on the life of one of Doc's crew thrusts the Man of Bronze and his incomparable companions into a chilling new adventure. From the ancient, skull-lined catacombs of Alexandria to a fantastic sea of floating primitive life where they unravel the centuries-old mystery of the Sargasso, Doc Savage and his men once more pursue the perverse agents of evil! 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

Here's one where I think the pulp is actually more dynamic than the reprint. But what the reprint cover lacks in dynamism, it makes up for in mood, which is something a lot of the Bantams tend to have going for them.

This was also one of the six Golden Press titles, with Ben Otero doing it's cover as well. Looks like Otero might have used Bama's cover for inspiration....

Artist: Ben Otero



The Czar of Fear (November 1933 and March 1968) by Lester Dent

DOC SAVAGE IS ACCUSED OF MURDER! The bronze giant battles police, thugs, and a macabre foe in a spectacular struggle to save a city from total desolation. The Arch Enemy of Evil pits his tremendous resources against the grisly and mysterious Green Bell -- the sinister hooded figure whose deadly genius threatens to destroy Doc and drive thousands of innocent people mad! 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

Wow, looks like Bama almost reproduced this pulp cover stroke for stroke. Okay, not quite, but these two are pretty damn similar. amiright?



The Phantom City (December 1933 and March 1966) by Lester Dent

Arabian thieves led by the diabolically clever Molallet set one fiendish trap after another for Doc Savage and his mighty five. Only "Doc," with his superhuman mental and physical powers, could have withstood this incredible ordeal of endurance which led from the cavern of the crying rock through the pitiless desert of Rub' Al Khali and its Phantom City to a fight to the death against the last of a savage prehistoric race of white-haired beasts. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

And we end Doc's first year of publication with another set of covers that really show the difference in Doc's physicality between the two eras. Since I grew up with the Bantam covers, and it was years before I even saw any of the pulp art, Pulp Doc has always come across as a bit anemic looking to me. (Even if he does fit the descriptions printed in the stories better than Bantam Doc ever did.)



And there you have it. One year down, sixteen to go...

...this is gonna take awhile, isn't it?

6 comments:

jamesnobel said...

The Lost Oasis was painted by Stanley Meltzoff.

The Polar Treasure is NOT by Lou Feck.

Dan said...

Hey James! Thanks for the info. I've been trying to search that Polar Treasure cover down for quite awhile. What are your sources for the info on both covers? Let me know and I'll adjust the main text to include them.

Cheers!

jamesnobel said...


Dan,

The French edition of The Lost Oasis has a less cropped version of the painting were you can see Meltzoff's distinctive signature. Meltzoff and Jim Avati were life-long friends. Avati was a regular Bantam artist during the 1960's. My guess is that Avati recommended Stanley Meltzoff to Len Leone to fill in for a honeymooning Bama. I know that Bama was responsible for getting his friend Mort Kunstler the "Brand of the Werewolf" cover. The Polar Treasure is still somewhat of a mystery. What I can say, with some confidence, is that it is not Lou Feck. Lou Feck never painted in that style. My best guess would have to be Frank McCarthy, who was both a friend of Bama's and a Bantam regular. McCarthy had a style of painting that is easy to recognize, and I see that style in the Polar Treasure. The cover reproduction of The Polar Treasure book is pretty bad, and that makes it harder to be sure of anything. Still, Frank McCarthy is the best guess.

Dan said...

Thanks, James. Sounds like you know your stuff. Do you have a website or some other way of being contacted (without sticking your personal email here for spam robots to harvest)? I'd love to get your opinion on some other vintage books I've wondered about.

Unknown said...

Hi, I think we are the same age. I too discovered Doc around that time in junior high. One thing I wanted to mention was that in the first novel, Man of Bronze, Doc is described as being six feet tall and two hundred pounds. He grew in size as the series went on, but I think the original pulp covers expected him that way. Doc's physical regimen was molded after Charles Atlas's Dynamic Tension course where one would do pushups, sit ups and use one arm against the other to imitate lifting weights. To me, that would tend to produce a physique closer to the pulps than what Bama showed. I love both depictions, but feel like the Bama Doc would have stood out like a sore thumb in public. Thanks for.posting these! I love the writeups.

Dan said...

Hi! Thanks for your comment, Unknown. :-)

I'm glad you're enjoying the series. I've got 1935 in the works, but other living-of-life-things have slowed its arrival down a bit. I do agree, the pulp covers probably depict Doc more as Dent envisioned him. And I don't think many of Doc's famous disguises could have actually been pulled off successfully, if he was as physically imposing as Bama and the other reprint artists make him.

Makes for great cover art, though, and I guess that was the point. :-)