A recent comment from a reader on a post I did back in 2006 reminded me that I haven’t written for some time about the great science fiction, fantasy and horror illustrator Virgil Finlay.
Though he worked in a variety of media, both in color and in black and white, Finlay is noted primarily for his astonishing ink illustrations, which were combinations of the meticulous and difficult techniques of scratchboard, crosshatch and stipple (the application of a myriad of tiny dots to make a tone).
His proficiency in the medium was matched only by his outrageous imagination, and the combination made him one of the most popular and in-demand science fiction and fantasy illustrators of his time.
Though his career spanned a longer period, Finlay was most active in the 1940’s in 1950’s when his illustrations appeared in numerous “pulp” magazines (so named because for the cheap grade of paper on which they were printed), and many of his images have a deliciously lurid pulp sensibility.
Since I last wrote about him, some new sources for images of his work have become available on the web, though the links I pointed to in my original article are no longer valid (the internet giveth and the internet taketh away).
Also unfortunately, the collections of his work printed in the 1970’s (like The Book of Virgil Finlay) and 1990’s (Virgil Finlay’s Women of the Ages, Virgil Finlay’s Phantasms, Virgil Finlay’s Strange Science and Virgil Finlay’s Far Beyond) are long out of print and have not been reprinted or compiled into a larger compendium as they deserve. However, you can still find used copies of some of them for reasonable prices.
Finlay’s extraordinarily detailed work in particular shines in the high-resolution medium of print, especially in those collections, which were printed on much higher quality paper than the original magazines. There are, however, a few resources on the web with reasonably good images.
One of the best is Golden Age Comic Book Stories (a blog with a much wider reach than its title implies, and for which I’ll issue a Major Time Sink Warning). My link is to a search which lists numerous posts in which Finlay is mentioned. If you’re inclined, keep clicking through “Older Posts” at page bottom, though they can be more or less relevant, the listed posts go on for several pages, and most images are linked to much larger versions.
Finlay often brought scratchboard, hatching, stipple and deep chiaroscuro to bear in a single image, with masterful control of each technique. Though he was obviously influenced by pen and ink greats like Joseph Clement Coll, Franklin Booth and Howard Pyle, among others, Finlay created a style the was uniquely his own.
[Addendum: nice Flickr set from MonsterBrains]