Forgotten Sword and Sorcery Artists: Douglas Rosa

Sunday , 7, May 2017 3 Comments

The impact of dynamic covers painted by Frank Frazetta for the Conan paperbacks from Lancer Books in 1966 had a ripple effect in paperback books. Those abstract Richard Powers’ painting that had dominated science fiction paperbacks gave way to something more dynamic.

Every paperback house was looking for their own Frank Frazetta. Avon Books seemed to settle on William Douglas Rosa (1932-1977) as their house artist for fantastic adventure.

Douglas Rosa was an illustration artist from Long Island, who began his career as a freelance artist at age 19. He is perhaps best known for his depictions of the Viet Nam War where he was among several artists given temporary commissions by the Marine Corps fine arts program to spend seven weeks sketching battlefield scenes. His most famous work portrays the beloved U.S. Marine Corps chaplain and Catholic priest Lt. Vincent Robert Capodanno (1929-1967) on a Viet Nam battlefield.

Avon had a long pedigree in publishing science fiction and fantasy in paperback. Avon first published A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool in paperback in 1944.

Talbot Mundy and A. Merritt were the main two reprint authors for Avon Books in the Conan boom of the late 1960s.

Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar had been to a generation what Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings became in the 1960s. Interestingly, Avon reprinted The Ship of Ishtar in 1966 two months before Lancer Books printed the first Conan collection.

The cover artist was Douglas Rosa. He went on to paint four covers for A. Merritt paperbacks for Avon including The Metal Monster, Dwellers in the Mirage, and Seven Footprints to Satan.

Rosa’s covers were colorful. The Ship of Ishtar is especially colorful with a fantasy appearance to it.

Starting in August 1967, Avon reprinted Talbot Mundy’s “Tros of Samothrace” saga. The Tros stories had been six novellas and one novel in the pages of Adventure magazine from February 1925 to February 1926.

The stories were about Tros of Samothrace, a rather long winded mystic swordsman who travels to Britain to defy Julius Caesar. There are moments of great action that infrequently break up the page after page of dialogue. It is an imperfect series.

All were collected together into a massive hardback in 1934. The book had its influence as Fritz Leiber and H. Warner Munn both wrote of buying and reading the book.

As the original Tros hardback was 949 pages, Avon broke up the series into four paperbacks. The first three paperbacks each contained two of the novellas and “The Messenger of Destiny” renamed as Helene.

The four Rosa covers give a unified look to the series. Unfortunately for Rosa, Jeff Jones was used to provide the covers for Queen Cleopatra and The Purple Pirate. Jones was in his Frank Frazetta imitation phase and Avon wanted these books to look more like Conan.

Douglas Rosa just faded out after this. He had provided a cover for the Avon reprint of C. L. Moore’s Doomsday Morning but that was it.

Renamed paperback of The Messenger of Destiny

  • Bruce says:

    Hey, I like Tros! Copper-bottom triremes with repeating ballistae, Cleopatra’s hotter sister, pearls, what’s not to like?

    Okay, he’s not as punchy as Robert E Howard, but there’s a lot of that going around.

    • John E. Boyle says:

      Ditto. Mundy was a big influence on Howard, as well. I think the number of books by Talbot Mundy in Howard’s personal library was second only to ERB.

  • Andy says:

    I think I have all of those Merritt editions, and the Tros books as well. The cover art definitely stood out to me.

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