Finlay’s cover for the May 1952 issue of Weird Tales
Master of exquisitely detailed images that often combined the sexual and the scary, Virgil Finlay was born in Rochester, New York in 1914. He was a highly prolific commercial artist in the midcentury years — one commentator went so far as to call Finlay “the most famous fantasy illustrator of mid-twentieth century.”
In his youth during the 1920s, Finlay discovered the magazines Amazing Stories and Weird Tales, which focused on sci-fi and horror, respectively. Once he reached adulthood in the mid-1930s he felt confident enough in his artistic prowess to try to get a position at those journals. Finlay’s mastery of stippling was so advanced that it nearly cost him a job at Weird Tales because his employers weren’t sure that their printing process could reproduce his fine detail, but it turned out that it could.
Finlay in 1969
A key medium of Finlay’s was scratchboard, a method that incorporates a white clay coating covered in black ink—the artist scratches the black ink away with a scribe or knife, and the resultant effect is similar to a wood engraving. The technique is called “working from black to white,” whereas the more usual method of applying dark ink to a white surface is called “working from white to black.” Finlay’s originality and dedication to an impressive effect can be seen in the fact that he would sometimes blend both techniques in a single image, creating isolated areas of black which he would then scratch away to get a specific gray tone or the hatched or stippled effect he desired.
Finlay’s debut at Weird Tales occurred in the December 1935 issue, in which Finlay had illustrations for three different stories. Over the next two decades Finlay’s art would appear in 62 issues. He was also responsible for 19 color covers for Weird Tales. In 1938 he began working The American Weekly and moved from Rochester to New York.
The July 1937 issue of Weird Tales featured a remarkable homage to Finlay’s gifts, in the form of a poem dedicated to Finlay by the great horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The poem was called “To Virgil Finlay Upon His Drawing of Robert Bloch’s Tale ‘The Faceless God’”—here is the image Lovecraft was referring to, and after that the poem itself:
In dim abysses pulse the shapes of night,
Hungry and hideous, with strange miters crowned;
Black pinions beating in fantastic flight
From orb to orb through soulless voids profound.
None dares to name the cosmos whence they course,
Or guess the look on each amorphous face,
Or speak the words that with resistless force
Would draw them from the halls of outer space.
Yet here upon a page our frightened glance
Finds monstrous forms no human eye should see;
Hints of those blasphemies whose countenance
Spreads death and madness through infinity.
What limnner he who braves black gulfs alone
And lives to wake their alien horrors known?
Much more after the jump…....