Forgotten Sword and Sorcery Artists: Three from the Pulps

Sunday , 22, October 2017 6 Comments

There are three artists whose careers started in the pulp magazines, continued with digest magazines, comic books, trading cards, and a few paperback covers: Norman Saunders, Frank Kelly Freas, and Wallace Wood.

Norman Saunders (1907-1989) started in the middle 1930s painting innumerable covers for pulp magazines. He did work for comic books. I thought his whacky packet cards was the stuff in the early 1970s.

He did some covers for Fantastic Novels including the cover for a reprint of Charles Stilson’s polar Tarzan, “Polaris and the Goddess Glorian.”

In the 1950s and 60, he produced covers for a fair number of men’s magazines including an iconic image of a man battling a swarm of bats for Man’s Life, March 1956.

Saunders did the cover for that most famous of Ace Doubles: Conan the Conqueror (with Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon). From these two examples, you can see Norman Saunders favored a Greco-Roman classical look to costumes and armor. Interestingly, the last cover Saunders did was for Geoffrey O’Brien’s Hardboiled America in 1981. A book I highly recommend.

David Saunders, Norm’s son, told me that the Conan the Conqueror painting is in the basement of a university in Syracuse, N.Y.

Frank Kelly Freas’ (1922-2005) first cover was for Weird Tales, November 1950. He had a recognizable style that lent itself well to fantasy. Unfortunately, Freas did little fantasy illustration. He did many a cover for John Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction and Analog. Freas was one of Donald Wollheim’s main cover artists first at Ace Books and then at D.A.W. Books. Freas one true sword and sorcery cover: The Coming of Conan. He showed the Conan of gigantic mirths. He did some illustrations for a 1950s reprint for Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury’s “Lorelei of the Red Mist.” He also did one Gor cover for D.A.W. in the 1970s which is not top-shelf Freas. Covers for issues of Analog for Harry Harrison’s 2nd Deathworld novel and John Dalmas’ post-apocalyptic future barbarism novel “The Yngling” show he could have produce some wonderful sword and sorcery art.















Wallace Wood (1927-1981) had some interior illustrations in Planet Stories in the early 1950s. He was associated with E. C. Comics and did illustrations for the post horror titles such as Valor. He painted a piece entitled “Dweller in the Dungeon” in 1954 for E.C. I don’t know if this ever was used in a comic book. It is straight out sword and sorcery with warrior, damsel, and tentacled monster. Wood did the cover for Gnome Press’ The Return of Conan. He did some sword and sorcery comic stories that were later collected into a nice little hardback as The Marvel Comics Art of Wally Wood (Thumbtack Books, 1982). Wood wrote “The Ghost-Beast” in addition to doing the art. These appear to have all appeared in Tower of Shadows in 1970. Wood’s art reminds me of Gray Morrow in some ways. Wood depictions is very medieval with some fantastic glamor. His Vandal the Barbarian and sidekicks Pit Tippit the elf and Troklin the dwarf turned into lizard never got their own comic book.


Of the three, I would have liked to have seen more Frank Kelly Freas covers for sword and sorcery. We at least got some Wally Wood strips. Norman Saunders’ Roman looking characters would have worn thin. These three help make up the bridge between the pulp era and paperbacks.


  • John E. Boyle says:

    Freas did a number of covers for Andre Norton books both at Ace and DAW, but I can’t think of any that would qualify as sword & sorcery. Our loss I think.

  • Another awesome post. I really enjoy these every week!

  • Verdier says:

    I second the O’Brien recommendation. Both the first edition and the revised one are worth your time.

  • Ben says:

    I consider Freas the Frazetta before Frazetta, though he’s clearly highly Finlay influenced.

    His Gor cover is one of my favs, though lots of Misc scifi and fantasy books are surely better. That would be like Geilgud being remembered only for Obi-Wan though.

  • deuce says:

    “Freas was one of Donald Wollheim’s main cover artists first at Ace Books and then at D.A.W. Books.”

    Wollheim helped Freas break into the paperback market. In the ’70s, when other publishers seemed to think FKF was past his sell-by date, Wollheim kept giving Freas work. All while fostering new SF art legends like Whelan, Maitz and Josh Kirby.

    Freas may have only done one true S&S cover in his career, but THE COMING OF CONAN is definitely a landmark. One of the very first times Conan was featured on the front of a hardcover and easily one of the very best depictions of the Cimmerian up to that point. He even got Conan’s oft-forgotten chest hair in there. No oiled n’ shaved gym rats for FKF!

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