Monday, June 24, 2013

"Do you want an original drawing of your favorite (Black Mask) character?"

Race Williams (left)
Well, heck yeah I do! But I'm about eighty years too late.

I came across this letter from editor Joe Shaw in the February 1933 issue, promising artwork to readers who help spread the good word. What I want to know is, what happened to that art? Where is it now, and how can I lay my hands on some of it? I present here a few samples. (No, I don't own the originals. These are just cleaned-up scans from magazines or photocopies.)

These drawings are the work of Arthur Rodman Bowker, who did the headings during most of the Shaw years. His work is so stylized that many of his figures look alike, and it's often hard to pick out the series characters, even though you know they're there.

Here's Joe:

We have had a great many requests from BLACK MASK readers asking if the artists' original drawings for BLACK MASK stories are for sale and at what price. It seems that these readers have a favorite character which these stories feature and would like one of these black-and-white originals for their offices or dens. We have never sold these drawings, but knowing that a lot of our readers have been following these characters for several years and wouldn't miss a copy of BLACK MASK when one of them is announced on the cover and that they have been such good friends of BLACK MASK, we would like them to have one.

Frederick Nebel's Steve MacBride

We received a letter recently from one of our readers saying that he was so keen about the magazine that he had got about twenty-five of his friends interested in reading it and, in addition, passes his copy around to four or five more. This friendly interest in our magazine means a lot, as it means new readers whom we would not be able to reach in any other way - and this gave us an idea:

We want more people to learn about BLACK MASK because we have found invariably that if a man likes detective, mystery and adventures stories and has never read BLACK MASK, when he gets hold of a copy of it, he is a reader for the rest of his life. We have been trying to think of some way to show our appreciation to those BLACK MASK readers who are doing so much for us, and have thought up an idea through which we can show this appreciation by making a sort of friendly contest among our readers who will merely call the attention of their friends to BLACK MASK.

W.T. Ballard's Bill Lennox (left)

For instance, if you will tell your friends who like a magazine such as BLACK MASK merely to drop us a postal card saying they would like a sample copy; that you - giving your name and address - told them if they would send these postal cards we would be glad to send them a sample copy, we will count these cards, and to the one whose name is mentioned most we will give first choice of these original drawings, and so on down the line.

George Harmon Coxe's Flashgun Casey (upper right)

On February 1st we will count these cards. For instance, if we receive twenty-five with your name on them, and if that is the largest number with any one man's name, we will advise you that you have won first prize and give you first choice of any drawing you may select from any of the back numbers.

We have quite a large supply which we have accumulated over the past several years and therefore, we figure that anyone who has ten postal cards to his credit will win one of these drawings. And there are very few men who have a clientele of over ten or fifteen friends who read any one particular kind of magazine.

Lester Dent's Oscar Sail (left)

What we are attempting in this plan is to get all the people we can to read a copy of BLACK MASK and if they don't like it after one copy, that's our fault; but we think they will and we want to reward in some way those who help us to introduce BLACK MASK to their friends.

The Editor

Frederick Nebel's Kennedy of the Free Press

Me again. Two characters I don't believe I've seen Bowker illos of are The Continental Op and Samuel Spade. If anyone has samples they can email me, I'll be pleased to post them. Thanks!

Shaw letter and art are copyright © Keith Alan Deutsch as successor to Popular Publications, Inc.


Walker Martin said...

I collect pulp art, cover paintings and interior illustrations. My theory concerning what happened to most of the originals is simply that they were lost, destroyed, thrown away back in the day. Now the art is often quite valuable but back then it had very little value and pulp illustrators got very little respect.

Whatever survived seemed to be mainly by accident. I would imagine that the Bowker illustrations were tacked up on walls for awhile and then thrown away, etc. There are all sorts of horror stories about stacks and stacks of original art being destroyed and tossed into the garbage by publishers.

Rick Robinson said...

I wonder haw many they actually gave away? I've had dreams of finding a large stack of magazine illustrations that had been boxed up somewhere and disappeared in a warehouse...

Evan Lewis said...

Have you ever seen one of these Bowker illos, Walker? I'm curious how big they were.

And yeah, Rick, I've had similar dreams, usually involving the magazines.

Walker Martin said...

No, I've never seen or heard of any Bowker illustrations surviving. He did hundreds for BLACK MASK; every story, every issue during most of Joe Shaw's 10 year reign as editor. There must be some out there but most I'm sure have been lost.