Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tales From The Tomb

According to John Schoenherr’s work log, job #226 came along on February 7, 1962: it was from Dell, a cover for “Tales From A Tomb” [sic] and he was paid $200 for it on April 17.

But did this particular project wind up as the cover for “Tales From The Tomb” issued in October 1962 by Dell Comics? I think so.

The painting, however, has been attributed (here and here and here) to the master comic book artist L. B. Cole, who was an editor and art director at Dell at this time. I haven’t yet learned if the various attributors have any hard evidence that Cole actually painted this - and I readily admit that I’m not too familiar with Cole’s work. Even so, this painting is very different from Cole’s wild, bright, and wonderful work that can be seen here and here and here, for example.

The cover does, however, have many similarities with Schoenherr’s illustrations from the early 1960s: particularly in the handling of the sky, trees, branches, grass, and headstones (and it almost looks like the stone on the left is engraved with his initials, J.C.S.). It’s also worth comparing this cover with that for the Dell comic book “Space Man” which I discussed here and which would have been painted at the same time. So unless I find evidence to the contrary - and with all due respect to L. B. Cole and his many fans - I’ll go ahead and claim that this one really is another “long lost” illustration by John Schoenherr.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A New Home for Chewbacca’s Life Story

I just got word that Michael Heilemann’s exhaustive exposé on the origins of Chewbacca (including John Schoenherr’s unwitting involvement, which I posted about here) has been moved to his new blog.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

50 Years of Dune

Frank Herbert is purported to have said that John Schoenherr was “the only man who has ever visited Dune.”*

Well, thanks to Schoenherr’s work log, we can pinpoint the exact date of his first trip. Fifty years ago today - on August 7, 1963 - he was commissioned to make a cover and 18 spot illustrations for Parts 1, 2, and 3 of “Dune World” which was to be serialized in Analog Science Fact and Science Fiction starting with the December 1963 issue.

Schoenherr’s expense ledger also shows that on August 7, he took the subway from Queens to the Analog offices in Manhattan (only 15 cents a ride, then). Although he stopped at the offices the following day, too, he was probably given the manuscript during the first of these two visits.

It’s impossible - with Schoenherr’s own records, at least - to figure out which pictures emerged when. Presumably he took notes and doodled as he read or immediately after, and images gradually took shape in no particular order. One page from his oversized sketchbook shows some fairly well-conceived portraits of Dr. Wellington Yueh, with his “square block of a head with purple lips and drooping mustache, the diamond tattoo of Imperial Conditioning on his forehead, the long black hair caught in the Suk School’s silver ring at the left shoulder.”

The final ink-on-scratchboard illustration of Yueh shows that Schoenherr stuck closely to his initial conception.

While sketching Yueh, Schoenherr also jotted down phrases to keep in mind when painting the planet Arrakis for the cover:
And another sketchbook contains an early incarnation of that world.

Fortunately, this was the brief phase in Analog’s history when the magazine’s format went from digest size to so-called “bedsheet” dimensions - and Schoenherr’s work was always helped by more expansive proportions.

Frank Herbert was pleased with the results. In The Road to Dune he is quoted as saying:
Frequently, I have to ask myself if the artist was actually illustrating the story his work accompanied. Not so with John Schoenherr. His December cover caught with tremendous power and beauty the “Dune mood” I struggled so hard to create. It’s one of the few such works of which I’d like to have the original.
According to Analog editor John W. Campbell (quoted in the same book), this cover was “Schoenherr’s sixth attempt, I believe. Getting the feeling of desolation, danger, dryness and action was not easy; he earned his pay on that one!”

Yes, a cool $250. And did Herbert wind up with the original? I’m not sure. But stay tuned for more souvenirs from these first trips to “Dune World”.

*I’m on the lookout for the precise source for this quote, though it appeared in James E. Gunn’s The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Viking, 1988).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Planet Buyer

In honor of Cordwainer Smith’s 100th birthday today, here's John Schoenherr’s cover for The Planet Buyer, published by Pyramid Books in October 1964.

This was job #303 in Dad’s work log, and he was hired to do it for $300 on April 3, 1964. That same month he and the family moved from Long Island City to an old farm in rural New Jersey, so The Planet Buyer was probably one of the very first things he finished in the new house (built in 1871 by a Confederate Civil War veteran turned Old School Baptist minister, incidentally - but that’s another story). Before he was able to start renovating the old barn on the property, Dad used a tiny (about 7 x 10 feet) upstairs bedroom as his studio - its low, seven-foot ceiling still bears the scars from the top of his easel scraping against it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

John Schoenherr on a stamp?

From comes this:
A petition urging the Obama administration to proceed with a set of commemorative postage stamps honoring sf writers - and to make the group much larger and more diverse - has been launched by Chris Barkley on the 106th anniversary of Robert A. Heinlein’s birth.

A five-stamp set had been announced by the USPS Commemorative Panel program in February with a July 2013 release date. Then, Linn’s Stamp News reported in April the issue had been indefinitely postponed. The report also named the writers who had been selected to be on the stamps: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein and Frank Herbert.

The petition contains 60 names and requests that they appear on a series of stamps over the next several years, “in groups of six, ten or twelve individuals.”

You can sign Barkley’s petition at His goal is to get 100,000 signatures by August 6.
At this writing, only 99,977 more signatures to go!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Amazing Bedfellows

In trying to piece together the early career of my father, John Schoenherr, I’ve been actively accumulating copies of the pulp magazines he illustrated, yet seldom saved. Amazing Stories was one of his early clients, along with others in the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company stable, like Fantastic Science Fiction, Dream World, and Sports Cars Illustrated.

According to his work log, job #28 was a 1 1/2 page illustration for “Monster on Stage 4” by Henry Slesar. He got the commission on May 7, 1957, and must have done it quickly, since he billed for it on May 16. Although it hinted at what was to come, his scratchboard technique was still pretty iffy at this point as he experimented with different ways of rendering form, tones, and texture. And I should note, too, that he based his creature on Edward Valigursky’s cover painting for the issue.

“Monster on Stage 4” was published in Amazing Stories for August 1957, which also contains Dad’s illustration for G. L. Vandenburg’s “Look-Alike Army.” Originally titled “Many Mr. Kanes,” this was job #21, which he got on March 4, 1957, and invoiced for on April 4. It paid $30 - his typical price, then, for a single page illustration - and although finished earlier than “Monster,” his technique feels more confident and refined in this one. Maybe he took more time to do it.

Just last month I bought a copy of the magazine and got to see these pictures - made by a then-21-year-old, unknown, and uncredited John Schoenherr - for the first time. And in leafing through it further, I was surprised to find the following letter from another then-unknown science fiction fan, who went on to even greater notoriety...

Yes, that Roger Ebert, who turned fifteen on June 18 that year.


P.S. (of February 4, 2014) And here’s yet another Ebert letter, written later that year and published in the November 1957 issue of Amazing Stories...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Space Man, A Stand Up Comic

Another long-lost, early John Schoenherr illustration has come to light, thanks to the work log that I found a few weeks ago: it's the cover for issue #3 of the comic book Space Man, published by Dell in 1962.

It's job #225 in the log, which shows that Dell commissioned him on February 7, 1962, and paid him $200 on April 17. The original painting - wherever it is! - is most likely gouache on illustration board.

This one's closer to his usual fare than the Monster Parade covers, but it's still an oddball - at least compared to much of his other science fiction pictures. Its "retro" quality would make it at home on a pulp magazine or B-movie poster of the 1940s or 1950s. He sure could could lay it on thick, when need be.

Monday, April 8, 2013

John Schoenherr's Monster Parade

This an odd way to commemorate the third anniversary of my father's death, but maybe it'll leaven the gloom.

Last week, going through some paper bags and boxes of Dad's financial records, I found an interesting document: it's basically a log of his paid illustration jobs, numbered consecutively, starting with #1 in October 1956 (when he was a 21-year-old recent Pratt Institute graduate, living in his parents' house at 52-19 39th Avenue in Long Island City, Queens) and continuing all the way to job #258b in December 1962 (when he was 27, married, but still living under his parents' roof - or, rather, his father and step-mother's roof). I realized that I already had found part two of this "work log" that went up to job #324 in October 1964 (by which time he was married, had a 1-year-old daughter, and was living in rural New Jersey) as well as a few less-careful ledger pages itemizing his work through mid-1965.

Dad often didn't keep or get copies of the work he did, so the log - which notes the job number, the commission date, the publisher, publication, title or subject of illustration, type and quantity of picture(s), and fee (and sometimes the date he was paid and the date of publication) -  is bibliographically invaluable. By 1961 he was illustrating almost exclusively for Astounding Science Fiction (a.k.a. Analog) and doing paperback book covers for Ace and Pyramid. But before that he was drawing and painting for myriad now-forgotten publications, mostly science fiction-oriented, digest-sized pulp magazines and larger-format "men's magazines" full of lurid, sexy, and dangerous "true" stories with tag-lines like "I Gave My Legs to the Maggots of Africa"...

One of the houses he worked for was Royal Publications, starting with job #10 - two illustrations for the magazine Infinity - in December 1956. Over the next 15 months he did other things for Infinity as well as Royal's Science Fiction Adventures, Hot Rods, and True War. And then in May 1958 he was hired to do a cover for a magazine noted in the log as "MONSTER P." This - job #93 - was followed on July 31, 1958, by job #105, another cover.

It turns out that "MONSTER P." was short for Monster Parade, which lasted all of four issues. That makes identifying Dad's work a little easier, and I'm pretty confident that the two covers shown here are his work. The spider - featured on issue #2 for December 1958 - most likely came first, and then came the hula-hooping horror icons on issue #4 for March 1959.

A smoking gun by way of a credit or signature would help my case, but the texture of the spider and the handling of the bloody lady-in-distress feel right, and although Dad isn't particularly well-known for humorous subjects, he did in fact, do a lot of them, especially at that point in his career. So I'm planting a flag on these two illustrations on his behalf. Of course, if anyone can provide information to the contrary, please let me know.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

If You Can't Face It - Faint

A few years into my dad's illustration career, he began to do spots for a "men's magazine" called MEN. Here's one - probably painted early in 1960 - from a regular feature called "Men and Medicine" by Ken Armstrong.

City Under the Sea

Here's a paperback cover my dad was commissioned to do in December 1964 for Paul W. Fairman's City Under the Sea (Pyramid Publications, Inc., R-1162, April 1965). The novel wasn't connected to the City Under the Sea movie of 1965, but was a TV tie-in to the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series on ABC, which, in turn, was based on the 1961 Irwin Allen movie of the same name. Instead of coming up with his own submarine, Dad had to follow the movie/TV design of the Seaview.