When Bantam Books published The Man of Bronze in 1964, there was no telling how well Doc Savage, a hero of bygone Pulp magazines, would translate to paperbacks. It was an instant hit and over the next thirty years, all 181 novels would be reprinted, in single or omnibus paperbacks. Success, to a large degree, was attributable to the perfect casting of James Bama as cover artist.
Doc Savage — originally portrayed with tussled hair and rugged good looks by artist Walter Baumhofer — was recast by Bama as a grim, shirt-bursting superhero posing like Mr. Universe against a field of villains and monsters, with a mix of churning seascapes, dramatic mountains ranges and exploding volcanoes on the horizon. With striking colors, stark lighting, strong compositions and a hyperrealist eye for detail, Bama created a memorable and highly influential series of bracing adventure covers. “I did a good job on the series" Bama said, "because I believed in it.”
Bama’s Doc Savage covers have inspired graphic artist Keith Wilson to create a series of pastiche covers for untold, imaginary adventures “unavailable in Bantam editions wherever paperbacks are sold”. Combining art from the Doc covers with unrelated Bama paintings or various other sources, mostly film posters, Wilson has come up with a wonderful set of “might have been” Doc Savage paperbacks.
Wilson’s first try merged a Doc pose with Bama’s cover for a Frankenstein reprint to create The Monster Maker, a meeting of the bronze hero and Mary’s Monster that begs to be written. The game proved to be a lot of fun, and Wilson went on to mix Doc with all manner of monsters including Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, and famous movie creatures the likes of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad Cyclops, Godzilla, Gort and The Blob. Another Frankenstein title, Evil’s Bride, uses Bama’s Aurora kit box paintings of The Monster and a reclining Bride of Frankenstein.
See all 29 of Keith Wilson’s beautifully done fantasy covers, complete with back cover mockups and synopsis.
Book: James Bama: American Realist, with an introduction by Harlan Ellison.