The odd physics of the pulps

In illustration in general, and in pulp magazines in particular, artists often try to capture a moment in time that, out of context, looks a little silly.

Case in point is this 1941 Hannes Bok cover of Planet Stories that illustrates “The Lorelei Death” by Nelson S. Bond.

In the image, we have a woman aboard a sky sled that’s being dragged through the sky by a pair of giant eagles. Without the context of the story, it’s a difficult image to wrap your head around. The sled surely wouldn’t provide enough lift to keep the woman aloft. The eagles, unless they are super-eagley strong, surely wouldn’t have enough power to pull the woman along, either.

One can guess that the sled has some sort of anti-gravity properties, which allows the woman to stay aloft.

From an illustration standpoint, the real issue is that a viewer doesn’t get a sense of motion from the picture. Rather than appearing to be hurtling past the chunky green goblin fellow with her lance, it looks as if she has been frozen in time.

Readers might have been better served if the action was depicted a little more clearly — with a blur. Primarily, it could have been painted in such a way that it looked like the blur created when fast-moving objects are captured on a still photo. Less effectively, the artist could have used so-called “speed lines” that are found in comics.

Both might have helped this cover a bit, but these concepts were rarely used in pulp cover illustrations. In fact, those concepts might not have even been significantly developed by 1941.

This particular pulp, “Planet Stories” from Winter 1941, didn’t create much of a stir since there’s not much information about it.

Here’s what one site said about the contents:

Beautiful classic pulp cover
showing a scantilly clad babe fighting green aliens. This issue has the
Ray Cummings story called “Monster of the Asteroid.” It also contains “The
Lorelei Death,” by Nelson Bond, “Man of the Stars” by Sam Moscowitz, and 3
other stories.

If you happen to fancy the cover, you can actually order a print of it — on canvas or as a poster — here.

Or if you’re interested in a reprint of the entire magazine itself, go here.


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