Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: Savage Beauties

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Partly because James Bama is so familiar for having painted Doc Savage paperback fronts, and partly because I highlighted two examples of those in this series’ very first post, I have held off on displaying any further Savage covers. However, as this tribute begins to wind down (yes, it has to stop sometime), I want to be sure that Bama’s Savage artistry receives the attention it is due.

As I have explained previously, Bama was hired by publisher Bantam Books in the mid-1960s to create cover illustrations for a new line of Savage softcovers. He, in turn, brought actor and model Steve Holland into his studio as the new face of Clark “Doc” Savage Jr., a scientist, doctor, martial artist, inventor, and “master of disguise” who had been introduced to readers in the March 1933 debut issue of Doc Savage Magazine. The original Savage yarns continued to be turned out until 1949. They were officially credited to “Kenneth Robeson,” but that was only a house name; most of the writing was done by Lester Dent (1904-1959), a Missouri-born pulpster with a reported 175 novels to his credit, most of them in the Savage series. (Dent also penned short stories and standalone novels, such as 1946’s Devil at Take-off, 1948’s Lady Afraid, and Honey in His Mouth, which was published posthumously in 2009 by Hard Case Crime.)

The Pulp.Net says Bama “painted 62 of the first 67 covers” for Bantam, cementing the handsome Holland in modern book-buyers’ minds as the tanned, brawny, and gold-fleck-eyed “Man of Bronze” conceived in Dent’s imagination. Bama’s efforts were quite dissimilar from those of Walter M. Baumhofer (1904-1987), who’d illustrated Doc’s original pulp releases, but both deserve appreciation. (You can compare the respective artists’ contributions to this series by following the book-title links in this article.)

Gathering together all of Bama’s Doc Savage fronts would be a difficult task, both because there are so many of them, and because it’s not always obvious which he painted and which were created by others. Instead, I’ve picked 15 that I find interesting, including (above) Murder Melody, which was first published in 1967. Any Doc Savage fans out there are invited to mention their own favorite James Bama covers under “Comments” at this post’s end.

READ MORE:In the Beginning,” by Michael Stradford (Steve Holland: The World’s Greatest Illustration Model); and just for fun, check out this wonderful collection of fantasy Doc Savage fronts.

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