Amazing Stories: The Progression of Illustration Relating to Events and Fears in the 20th Century

Through the decades, there have been many nationalized fears and current events that define a period of time. It is normal for an artist to draw inspiration from the world around them; it helps the artist relate to a larger audience and creates community. Science fiction already has a community but by including a shared experience on the cover, it is likely to attract more people to the genre. 

This exhibit analyzes the cover art of the magazine, Amazing Stories, and explores the inspirations behind them. Amazing Stories was a pulp magazine created in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback, as the first of its kind, with the intention to instruct as well as entertain the readers. Unfortunately, through the decades, Amazing Stories would go through some hard times and setbacks, seeing many different parent companies and editors; some being John W. Campbell, Raymond A. Palmer, Harold Browne, Cele Goldsmith, Ted White. After almost 80 years of publications, the magazine was sold to Gary Gygax of D&D Fame and never regained the acclaim it once had.

The cover of the magazine always showcased an art piece, sometimes they related to the published stories but other times, they expressed worries and fears of the present time. The art evolved through the decades and never seemed to repeat itself. All the decades tell the stories of their time through illustrated figures and themes. Some common themes found in the science fiction genre include but are not limited to: aliens, unnatural creatures, robots, invasions, other worlds, space, humanoids, experimenting, etc.

This exhibit will feature cover art from the 1920s to the 1990s. It will analyze the art and compare elements featured in the cover to current events like wars, economic crisis, the Cold War, etc., to make estimations on the artist’s inspirations. You will see an evolution of style and ideas; the design of the title changes quite a few times along with organization of the cover page, likely from the changing editors through time. Between the 1920s/30s and the 1940s/50s/60s, there was a shift from aliens as foreign planets with adjacent civilizations (like John Carter, etc.) to aliens as visitors of earth featuring a boom in popularity of UFO and abduction stories. The narrative changed from humans visiting other planets to aliens visiting ours, likely caused by the fear of the other, changing from an imperialist narrative to a Cold War threat one. Following that, it seems to be either based in nostalgia of the previous eras or embodying a sort of conspiracy theory fear, like the x-files.

By viewing this exhibition through a chronological progression of decades, it makes it easier to understand the ever changing world and examine the past through a science fiction lens. It shows how much can happen in a decade and the ramifications of events such as war and hysteria.