content by

Charley Parker

Concept Artist’s Weather-beaten Ships Ply Oceans of Air

When I look at concept artist Ian McQue’s marvelously impossible flying ships, I swear I can hear them—creaking and clanking as they sway on unseen currents, cables banging against their sides, hull plates protesting against the rough bolts of makeshift patches and engines turning over with muffled thudding, tended to by sweaty mates hard-pressed to keep them running.

Visual texture is what does it; McQue has rendered his imaginary flotillas with wonderfully textural details—bolts and plates, rudders and fins, stacks and masts, and apparently cobbled-together superstructures are coated with rust and grime, patchworks of repairs, and mismatched bits of paint. Their rough shapes and scored hulls look as though they have been patched and repaired with bailing wire and scrapyard parts so often they likely no longer resemble whatever form they may have originally had.

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How Concept Art Helped Sell the U.S. Space Program

To most Americans in the early 1950s, a period of post-war optimism but down-to-Earth practicality, the idea of manned space flight seemed solidly in the realm of science fiction.

At the time, commercial aircraft were still prop powered; widespread use of jet airliners was several years away. Movies like Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M, and a growing market for science fiction stories, sparked a bit of interest in the idea of space travel, but to both the general public and the government, real rockets were just experimental weapons, and not particularly interesting ones at that.

That perception would begin to change when a series of illustrated articles appeared in the popular magazine Collier’s, starting in March of 1952 and running through April of 1954, that outlined a vision for rocket-powered manned space travel under the title “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!”

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The Dark and Light of Virgil Finlay

In the 1930s, readers at a typical newsstand could choose between two basic levels of magazines: those known in the industry as “glossies”—printed on glossy coated paper that permitted crisp text and refined images—and “pulps”—printed on rough, low quality paper made from cheap wood pulp.

A glossy magazine would set the reader back 25¢ (not an insignificant price for entertainment in the midst of the Great Depression), but for a dime, a reader interested in adventure, mystery, fantasy, horror, or science fiction could go home clutching a digest-size pulp magazine full of stories and illustrations.

Though pulp magazines had glossy covers—the better to lure your dime with lurid, sensational cover art—the interior black and white illustrations were much simpler than interior illustrations in glossies because of low page rates for artists and the limitations of reproduction on the cheap paper.

That changed noticeably in December of 1935, when Weird Tales first published the work of an strikingly different new illustrator named Virgil Finlay.

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The First Onscreen Superman Was a Gorgeous Series of Animated Shorts

The character of Superman, first created in comics by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933, has a longer history of screen adaptations than most people realize.

Though many know the most recent movies were preceded by the 1978 movie Superman, which starred Christopher Reeve and was followed by three sequels in the 1980’s; and some are aware that pop culture has a friendly niche for the 1950’s Superman television show featuring George Reeves, two episodes of which were mashed into a theatrical release titled Superman and the Mole Men in 1951; fewer know of the serials Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman, that ran before feature films in theaters in the late 1940’s, and in which Kirk Alyn was the first actor to play the role in a screen adaptation.

[Superman goes back even earlier than that, though]

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