What makes science fiction (and fantasy) so enthralling to readers is that not only can their authors tell extraordinary stories, the stories themselves can come packaged with great art. When I was in my teens (in the 1960s) I bought science fiction solely based on their covers. Jerome Podwil like a number of commercial artists came up through the publishing world doing all sorts of covers for all manner of publishers. Artists go wherever the money is (to paraphrase Michelangelo) and I came to recognize Podwil’s unique sense of whimsy immediately.
The above three covers are representative of how Podwil captures the strangeness of the future in a manner reminiscent of the great pulp magazine covers of the 1930s and 1940s. Some of his covers are representative of the content of the novel; others are almost abstractions. And some even have a colorful cartoonist element to them.
If you want to see more of Podwil’s art, simply do a Google image search. You’ll see how diverse he is. One thing that does stand out in Podwil is how adept he is at drawing the human body true to form, but also bizarre and quite peculiar machines. I don’t think science fiction would have the impact it does without great artists such as Podwil.
Which brings up a philosophical question. How is it that a single static image of a cover can enhance the reading experience of a story more than a pile of CGI in a story told in movie form? I’m of a generation that came to science fiction through paperback books and occasionally movies and television. (And comics, of course.) Yet this generation (in their early 20s) almost uniformly come to science fiction through movies and video games. When I teach my Introduction to the History of Science Fiction (Eng 369 – Science Fiction Studies) at Arizona State University, I have my students introduce themselves. The class is entirely online and their answers are almost uniform: they come to my class having only seen the popular movies and the popular science fiction series on television. They haven’t read Bradbury, they haven’t read Clarke, they haven’t read Heinlein. Which is good, because they get to read these great writers in my class. But they have come to science fiction visually. It’s just a different experience–not lesser, just different.
Thus I’ll be posting some of the covers of my favorite artists, to let the two or three people who read this blog know about my own relationship with science fiction through cover art.