Horror Cover Artists: A New Generation

Horror Cover Artists

By Fred Godlash @LA_Review

At only six years old, I was in a candy store fixated on the magazine display. I was astonished and a little frightened. Staring in front of me was a monster magazine depicting a frog with a bloody hand protruding from its mouth. That image, from the movie Frogs, made such a strong impression on me that 40+ years later I have that artwork by Ken Kelly displayed in my house for the world to see.

Starting in the late 1950s, the Warren Publishing Empire pushed the boundaries of censorship, exploitation, science fiction and fantasy art. All of the Warren magazines used beautiful original paintings for cover art – many sell for small fortunes at auctions. The cover paintings were created by some of the most revered artists of the 20th century. Legends like Frank Frazetta, Basil Gogos, Ken Kelly, Sanjulián and many others have changed the face of pop culture. But unfortunately all good things must end. The Warren Publishing Empire crumbled in the early 1980s due to numerous financial problems as well as health problems from the founder, James Warren. For years most magazines stopped using original cover art. Luckily out of the ashes of bankruptcy, most of the legacy Warren magazines like Famous Monsters, Creepy and Eerie have returned to life with new owners trying to recapture the imagination of the past. So what has changed?

Horror Cover Artists

New technologies bring new opportunities. Thanks to a more targeted audience that can find each other on the internet, options to purchase digital copies that can be viewed anywhere on any device and a resurgence in good old fashioned print, younger audiences can discover original cover art used in horror magazines similar to what was sold decades before. To fill the demand new generations of artists are stepping up to keep the tradition alive. Let’s take a look at some of the new artists.

Terry Wolfinger brings the classic film Ghostbusters back to life for his much-admired Famous Monsters artwork. The cover art includes a montage of 30 different images including the late Harold Ramis. Wolfinger claims that he started the painting for the magazine before Ramis died but ultimately produced a tribute to him. Wolfinger first started doing cover work for Famous Monsters after the editor (Ed Blair) discovered him at a local art show put on by Academy Award winning make-up artist Rick Baker. The art work that initially caught the attention of the magazine was a portrait of Dracula. Wolfinger says, “Ever since I can remember Dracula has been my favorite monster – it is always the Bela Lugosi Dracula. I started at an early age and he was just the coolest character.” Wolfinger is currently working on a Bruce Campbell cover that is rumored to be one of his best paintings.

Horror Cover Artists

Jim Pavelec has been painting for over 15 years and has done all of the latest covers for the new Eerie. He has been called by Dark Horse comics the new Frank Frazetta. For the cover of Eerie issue number five, Pavelec illustrated a transfigurative metamorphosis of the macabre. Editor Dan Braun confesses, “He is a real find and has done all five of our covers, all amazing and disturbing. He is obviously mentally ill… in a good way.” Dan likes Pavelec’s work so much that he purchased the original artwork for the second edition of Eerie. Other works include the comic Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2009) and artwork for famous role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. It is clear that Pavelec is doing his best to scare children!

Artist David Palumbo is a force in science fiction and fantasy. He has contributed to Heavy Metal Magazine since 2008, Marvel, Lucasfilm and recently Creepy. In the cover art for Creepy issue nine called “The Clearing,” Palumbo shows how things can go painfully wrong when hunting in the cold wilderness. Palumbo has been showing his work in fine art galleries since 2003. In 2010, Brand Studio Press put out a collection of Palumbo’s fine art nudes.

Horror Cover Artists

The artists are trying to keep the tradition alive and thanks to the revival of the Warren titles there is a new place for the public to see them. Famous Monsters publisher Philip Kim says, “We are trying to keep the legacy alive. The cover art is the signature of the magazine. We don’t do Photoshop covers of publicity photos and we don’t do pictures that have been used in other publications. We use our own original art pieces.”

What does the future hold for cover artists who paint Science Fiction and Fantasy? Ask the over 130,000 attendees each year at San Diego’s Comic Con – the nerds have inherited the earth. Today’s highest grossing movies are all fantasy, science fiction, and superhero mega-blockbusters. The demand for all things fantastic has grown exponentially with no end in sight. Today it will not be a six year kid finding a scary magazine cover on a newspaper rack. Most likely a kid will ask, ‘What is a magazine?’ But cover art is here to stay and like a roller coaster, kids like to be scared. It does not matter how, if it is shocking – kids will find it – and some adults too. 

Look for adaptations from the archives of Creepy and Eerie to hit theaters in the future.

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