Friday, May 20, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: A Medley of Monsters

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

James Bama was a very busy guy in the 1960s. In addition to his labors on the Doc Savage adventure novels and the Nevada Jim westerns, he made something of a name for himself painting monsters. Not real ones, of course, but those created by authors as well as by Hollywood moviemakers. His fronts for Bantam Books’ 1967 paperback releases of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (above) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (below) couldn’t be overlooked on bookstore shelves. Neither could his rendering of a fictitious giant gorilla—“the Eighth Wonder of the World”—on Bantam’s 1965 edition (also below) of King Kong, Delos W. Lovelace’s novelization of the 1933 film of that same name.

In addition, Bama was commissioned by New York-based Aurora Plastics Corporation, a manufacturer of toys and hobby materials, to paint the packaging for a new line of film-related monster models. It helped that the artist had a longstanding interest in such creepy creatures. As James Gurney, artist and author of the illustrated book series Dinotopia, wrote some time ago in his blog, “When James Bama was a six years old, he went to see the classic Universal monster movies: Wolfman, Frankenstein and Dracula. ‘They were seriously done and beautifully crafted,’ Bama said. He was so scared afterward that he had to sleep in his mother’s bed.

“When he later became a professional illustrator, he got the assignment to illustrate the plastic model box covers. He used movie stills as reference for Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and Dracula.

“But parents complained that the actual plastic models didn’t live up to the painted covers. So starting with the Mummy, he worked instead from reference photos of the completed models. Despite the truth in advertising, the painting based on the actual model might not be quite as successful at presenting the fantasy.”

Frankenstein is said to have been the first of Aurora’s model kits bearing Bama illustrations. Like most of the remainder, it was available on store shelves between 1961 and 1968. A number of these models reappeared as part of Aurora’s “Frightning Lightning” series (1969) and the “Glow in the Dark” series (1969-1975).

During an interview conducted some years ago by Robert Deis, a Florida-based authority on men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork, Bama explained that he created the box illustrations for Aurora’s first 22 monster kits, but quit that job in 1965.

“They started having Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman riding hotrod cars, drinking blood from cocktail girls, driving through cemeteries,” he recalled. “It got to be too much. The art director used to leave the assignments in my office when I was out to lunch because he knew I didn’t want to do them anymore. But at first it was fun and they sold a million copies of each model. You know for $300, Bob, I was a well-paid slave. I wanted to be an illustrator since I can remember and I never was interested in money, and I just did them. I was always busy and I happen to have done a few things that are still popular. I can’t escape tem. I tell my wife the monsters and Doc Savage are going to outlive me.”

Below, you can see the Bama pictures that graced the Mummy’s Chariot and Frankenstein’s Flivver models.

(Special thanks to the pseudonymous KlaatuCarpenter, who uploaded onto Flickr most of the model-kit art I’ve used in this post.)


Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

I've been loving your "Bouquets for Bama" series! You're showing many examples of his cover art I had not seen. Thanks! And, thanks for the shout out for the interview I did with Jim . It was an honor to have had the chance to talk with him.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic series!