Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Wanderer's Return: Virgil Finlay

"Where have they gone, those proudest of dreamers?"
~Ian Read

Lately I've been feeling discouraged by all of the shining souls we've lost to time and dust. It's enough to make even the most stoic among us feel downright gloomy. So today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest (dead) American horror/fantasy illustrators, Virgil Finlay. Finlay was a master of the macabre whose wonderfully detailed stippling and immaculately rendered scratch board illustrations were a high-water mark in mid 20th century fantasy illustration. Born in Rochester, New York in 1914 Finlay soared to fame like a phallic space ship at the young age of 21 when he boldly submitted several drawings to Farnsworth Wright, editor of the seminal sci-fi pulp magazine Weird Tales. He would go on to become one of the most widely respected artists of the genre and his influence can be detected in the precision line work of comic artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Johnny Craig as well as the raunchier nightmare visions of later underground mavericks such as Rory Hayes, Pushead and Mad Marc Rude. In fact, Rory Hayes' trademark Bogeyman character bears more than a passing resemblance to Finlay's 1948 illustration for The House of Rising Winds by Frank Belknap Long (see below). In his own lifetime Finlay earned the colorful praise of H.P. Lovecraft himself (pictured in the odd portrait below) who wrote in a letter to Finlay: "'Holy Yuggoth!', I cried to myself, 'Is it possible that Satrap Pharnabazus [Farnworth Wright] has dug up somebody who has a genuinely fantastic imagination & can really draw?'...Weird Tales at last had an illustrator worthy to rank among the Olympians of its writing staff..." Despite his meticulous time-intensive style, Finlay created more than 2,600 works of art in his abbreviated career. He survived active combat in Okinawa after being drafted during World War II and would've turned 95 today if he had not been taken down prematurely by cancer at the age of 56. To commemorate his fortuitous birth and prodigious influence, I suggest you all eat a handful of mushrooms and stare at the sun until your retinas melt down your face in kaleidoscopic rivulets. Happy Birthday, Virgil! I feel better already.

Detail from Finlay's 1948 illustration for The House of Rising Winds.

Detail from R. Hayes' Bogeyman character probably drawn around 1970.

Finlay's 1949 illustration for Between Worlds.

Detail from Steve Ditko's story in Creepy #10 showing a clear Finlay homage.

Virgil Finlay
July 23, 1914–January 18, 1971


Anonymous said...

hello, i'm brazilian always see your site and blog, and really apreciate your jobs man, bic pens are really the best to draw. I do some works too, if you want to know its in:
"abra├žo" and sorry for terrible english.

Murdoch said...

The man was insane
I've read about his methods. It must have taken him so long to finish one. I always suspected he didn't do more than a hun-dread pieces but wow.

Mike Smith said...

That Victorian Lovecraft illustration is pretty great. I acquired some Lovecraft memorabilia that was sent out by the Rhode Island Philatelic Society in the late 80s, including a short biography of the man that included the Finley piece. What he has to do with stamp collecting is anybody's guess