Update: The movie has been released! Read my review of John Carter [of Mars]. And I think Michael Whelan was indeed the principle visual influence.
When I posted my Black Gate entry this week about Bob Clampett’s unmade “John Carter of Mars” project, I got a comment from John R. Fultz regarding the upcoming film from Andrew Stanton: “I . . . hope they are studying Michael Whelan’s incredible iconic covers.”
This immediately made me wonder, what will the visual inspirations be for Stanton’s version of Barsoom? There are three artists who have left a distinct stamp on Burroughs’s novels over the decades: J. Allen St. John, Frank Frazetta, and the above-mentioned Michael Whelan. Stanton read the books as a child, and this most likely means encountering the Frazetta covers; Stanton is about eight years older than me, and my first encounters were with the Whelan covers in the 1980s. Most certainly, however, Stanton has studied the Whelan covers as well, since they’ve dominated the ERB paperback market through the last three decades. And, if you’re going to study the look of Barsoom, you have to look at St. John, the most important Burroughs artist during author’s lifetime.
So I will now present a short gallery of pictures from the three artists that imagine the Mars of John Carter. We can use these to start dreaming about what the eventual film may look like.
First, J. Allen St. John, one of the great fantasy artists of the early twentieth century. Given to a soft-edged, pastel style, St. John’s illustrations have the most nostalgic and dreamlike quality to them of the three artists.
An interior illustration from Thuvia, Maid of Mars:
The cover of that same edition, showing a color version of that picture:
The cover to The Gods of Mars, which has personal meaning for me because I actually own this edition (although the spine of the DJ is in terrible shape):
My personal favorite of St. John’s Barsoom illustrations, this one from Chessmen of Mars:
Next is Frank Frazetta, the most famous fantasy artist of the twentieth century. He has a long association with both Edgar Rice Burroughs and Conan. His style is dominated with dark colors and sometimes surrealistic scenery that people seem to respond to on a primal level. These Burroughs covers were all for editions from the Science Fiction Book Club.
Frazetta’s most famous Barsoom image is from the cover of the omnibus The Mastermind of Mars and A Fighting Man of Mars:
A black and white interior illustration from that volume:
My favorite of the Frazetta covers is from the omnibus Thuvia, Maid of Mars and The Chessmen of Mars:
Great swinging action for the cover of The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars:
And equal action for Swords of Mars and Synthetic Men of Mars:
Ending with the beginning, the cover for the first novel, A Princess of Mars:
Michael Whelan is one of the busiest of all fantasy and science-fiction artists today. His style is hard and hyper-realistic, giving his Mars portraits almost a sense of a Raphael painting in their use of perspective. I grew up on these covers for the Del Rey paperbacks; they currently grace the covers of the new Science Fiction Book Club omnibuses.
His image for A Princess of Mars is now the best-known illustration of John Carter:
But my favorite of the Whelan covers is for Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and it has nothing to do with the outfit Thuvia is wearing . . . no, not at all:
Want a direct comparison to Raphael? Try The Chessmen of Mars:
And last, the weird action of The Gods of Mars:
There’s plenty of beautiful Barsoomian visual splendor to digest . . . what will Andrew Stanton and his team craft from these influences? The moment I see something, I’ll post back here with a report.