I started seeing Virgil Finlay‘s amazing artwork in the science fiction and fantasy magazines I was reading in the 1950s. I was aware of his name from the start because he signed his work with a distinctive signature, which usually appeared in one of the corners of the image.Like his signature, his work was very distinctive. You knew immediately that a cover or illustration was his, you wouldn’t mistake it for anyone else’s. Per Wikipedia, Finlay “specialized in, and became famous for, detailed pen-and-ink drawings accomplished with abundant stippling, cross-hatching, and scratchboard techniques. Despite the very labor-intensive and time-consuming nature of his specialty, Finlay created more than 2600 works of graphic art in his 35-year career.”
I didn’t know the definition of the terms stippling, cross-hatching, and scratchboard before starting this post, but I’d certainly recognized the results as being his style. I begain downloading and saving Finlay’s illustrations months ago.
Virgil Finlay was born in 1914 in Rochester, New York. He was an aspiring artist heavily influenced by science fiction, fantasy, and horror pulp magazines in the 1920s and ’30s. In 1935, at age 21, he submitted six unsolicited artworks to the editor of Weird Tales magazine. His illustrations for three stories were published in the December issue. His work subsequently appeared in 62 issues of Weird Tales, including 19 color covers. Finlay illustrated stories by writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others. Lovecraft told stories of ancient gods from other dimensions wreaking havoc in our world — hideous, monstrous beings. Lovecraft’s influence can be seen in Finlay’s vivid depictions of these stories. He also appeared in many other publications and received numerous awards.
Without knowing the content of stories depicted in his covers and illustrations, these images, often extreme and disturbing, take on the aspect of a Rorschach test as we attempt to give them meaning. Most of these are so strange, abnormal even, that it’s easy to imagine they come from a dark place in Finlay’s mind. I mean, most of this is very weird stuff.
Here is a sampling. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are two drawings of H.P. Lovecraft by Finlay.
Okay, I think you get the idea. Finlay’s work may not be as much fun as Ed Emshwiller’s, but I find it pretty compelling nonetheless. There’s lots more where this came from, just a Google search away.
He died in 1971 at age 56. Too young.
That’s all for now. Until next time, be safe. — Ted Hicks