Forgotten Sword and Sorcery Artists: Stephen Fabian

Sunday , 1, October 2017 6 Comments

Pulp magazine illustration did have some influence that carried over into post-pulp publications. One of the best examples is Stephen Fabian (b. 1930).

Gerry de la Ree wrote in the introduction to Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies and Legends (Charles Miller, 1993):

                “Stephen E. Fabian came late to professional illustration. Whereas most of our leading artists in the field, began drawing in their teens and were appearing professionally in their twenties, Steve waited until the age of 37 to have his first piece of work published. He did not appear in the pages of a professional science fiction magazine until 174. He was 44 at that time.”

Steve Fabian had been an engineer in the aerospace industry but decided to make the switch to artist in 1974 when he was laid off.

Much of Fabian’s earlier work were for science fiction magazines. He first came to my attention when I started picking up back issues of Ted White’s Fantastic Stories in the 1970s. Fabian’s covers harkened back to the garish pulp magazine era. The colors were bright, the characters and situations were retro looking.

Steve Fabian was a star of the small press in the 1970s. He showed up in a number of small press zines including Cross Plains, Whispers, REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, Fantasy Crossroads, The Howard Review, The Diversifier.

He briefly had a career producing mass market paperback covers. He did some for Zebra and Avon Books including Sword Woman. For whatever reason, art directors wanted Ken Kelly instead of Stephen Fabian.

He had greater success with quality hardbacks including a run of covers for the famous Arkham House. Underwood-Miller, Donald M. Grant, Owlswick, and Doudleday Science Fiction Book Club.

Fabian did not make it past the 1980 barrier for mass market paperbacks. He continued steady production for Starmont House and Cryptic Publications.

He also had a gig doing interior illustrations for TSR’s “Ravenloft” books.

His work continued with W. Paul Ganley, especially for Brian Lumley books.

The Scithers-Schweitzer era of Weird Tales had some Fabian covers. Wildside Press used Fabian for the covers for The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard series.

Steve Fabian has been compared to Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok. Fabian’s work is more energetic than Finlay. His use of bright colors including lots of green was a nice contrast to the duller tones used by many. Fabian has the best female figures this side of Jim Steranko. He really shines with more baroque settings in the Renaissance or Jack Vance’s Dying Earth.

 

Fabian should have been a guest of honor at Robert E. Howard days in the past considering all the illustration he has done over the decades for Howard fan magazines. A shame he was not given the chance to do more paperback covers.

6 Comments
  • deuce says:

    One of the great fantasy artists of the last 40+yrs. Excellent horror artist as well. He has done more QUALITY illos, bar none, of REH’s protagonists and stories than any other artist. It’s a travesty that he’s never been a guest of honor at Howard Days.

    It’s very cool that Fabian found work at TSR for a decade. I know many gamers with fond memories of his illustrations. He captured the Gothic feel of the Ravenloft setting perfectly.

    It’s heresy, but I’ll take a Fabian over a Finlay. Finlay’s great, but a little stiff. He also didn’t do those great borders that SF put on so many of his illos.

  • john silence says:

    There is something with his females that just clicks with me. He has a thing for this raven-haired Latin or idealized theatre/storybook Roma seductress look.

  • Sheila Vanderbeek says:

    Always loved his work. Did many quality illustrations in fanzines of the sixties and seventies before professional work.

  • Bob Bechtold says:

    Steve has always been a favorite of mine. He did so many covers for Fantastic and Fantasy and Science Fiction, it would be hard not to notice him.

  • Ben says:

    You can find some good collected Fabian illustrations with an Amazon/Ebay search – good quality used copies.

    Hard to even approach what his best were – he’s done so many over the decades – IMO most will like his work for REH’s “Tower of the Elephant” or his work for Hodgeson’s “The Night Land” I recommend Pinterest for a good way to see lots of images.

    He’s done tons of awesome works – a successor to Virgil Finlay, obviously. There used to be a derogatory term “Another Finlay”… Well, not for him.

    Though I’d seen his works for years the illustrations that I noticed that caught my attention was for “The Stone King’s Daughter” by Darrell Schweitzer – published in a 90s Weird Tales – also collected and included in “Sekenre – the book of the Sorcerer” (buy on Google Books for tablet) – some pretty clever tales which are about worthy of Clark Ashton Smith.

  • Harri Kallio says:

    Great information, thank you. I had seen Fabian’s work often, but I did not know who the artist was. Yeah, I know I should know better. These writings are a great way to fix the situation.

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