Scott's Classic Comics Corner: The Painted Covers of Norman Saunders

This week, I thought that I'd talk about one of the greatest cover artists of all-time: Norman Saunders. You may not be familiar with the name, but I'm certain that you've seen his artwork before. Late last year, I posted a piece on my blog about a Norman Saunders painted cover that had sold at auction. It was a spectacular painted cover to the Classics Illustrated adaptation of Frankenstein. Norman Saunders' daughter, Blaine, contacted me through my blog. We corresponded via email. She was very gracious about sharing stories and photos of her father. I posted a good chunk of that on the Classic Comics forums, but I thought it would be fun to do a quick overview here.

My first exposure to his work was via the Batman trading cards from the 60s. An uncle of mine passed down a stack of these cards to me in the late 70s (although, I've long since lost them). These beautifully rendered scenes were painted by Saunders, along with Bob Powell and Maurice Blumenfeld. Many of you may also be Mars Attacks! fans without realizing that the concept originated back in the early 60s with a series of cards painted by Saunders & Co. Here are some samples from those two series.

Norman Saunders had a very short stay in the comic book universe during the early 1950s, but he made a lasting impact. Like Saunders, Ziff-Davis only lasted a short while as a comic book publisher but their extremely attractive painted covers have kept them in geekdom's collective memory. Like Matt Baker at St. John and LB Cole at Star Publications, Norman Saunders is synonymous with Ziff-Davis. He lent his artwork to many of their covers in a variety of genres. I think the Crime Clinic cover with the ventriloquist's dummy is easily one of the 10 greatest covers of all-time. The Red Grange cover from Football Thrills shows his versatility, although that referee seems to have had some money riding on the game. Finally, we have a Little Al cover. This is a great pint-sized character in the tradition of Logan and Al Pratt, who managed to work for both the FBI and Secret Service in just a handful of issues.

Fawcett was Saunders' second home in comics, and while he didn't do the quantity of covers for them as for Ziff-Davis, the quality was just as good. The Worlds of Fear cover has become quite infamous and is highly sought after by collectors. I really like the Strange Stories From Another World cover - zombies covers like this would not survive the introduction of the Code. Finally, I've included a Tom Mix cover to show that Saunders also excelled at westerns. The man could paint anything.

One of the most interesting things I learned from Blaine was that Saunders, and the Saunders clan, did much of the modeling for photo referencing purposes. Blaine provided me with this photo of Norman in action, and I browsed through a million comic and pulp covers until I finally found the same pose (although the cover is in rough shape). Apparently, Saunders often used his wife as a model, and Blaine passed along this painting of a woman in the sunglasses based on her Mom.

I only wish that Norman Saunders had worked in the comic book field for longer. Neither Marvel nor DC were ever into painted covers, so there would not have been much work for him beyond the early 60s. How cool would it have been to see one of those Batman paitings on an actual comics book cover? Just another fanboy fantasy, I guess.

Here's a link to my blog post that got the ball rolling: Norman Saunders: Monster for Sale

Here's a link to the thread at CBR where I posted just about everything I learned from Blaine about her father: Norman Saunders: A Painted Legacy

If you're interested in finding out more about Norman Saunders, and you're willing to lost hours of your life looking at his art, do not miss: www.normansaunders.com

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