The Art of Norman Saunders (book)


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Norman Rockwell is considered by many to be the Great American illustrator. He's pretty great, but I would give the title to another Norman -- Norman Saunders (1907 - 1989) -- because he set the standard for so many different genre illustrations over the decades that it's hard to believe one person could do so much.

A new coffee table art book from the Illustrated Press about Norman Saunders (written by his son David Saunders) just came out and I've been devouring its 368 technicolor pages, filled with examples of his work from the 1920s to the 1980s. The illustrations are arranged chronologically, and the book feels like a history of popular print media. Saunders was a prominent illustrator for Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, Modern Mechanics, pulp detective, western, war, and science fiction magazines, men's adventure magazines, and bubblegum cards and stickers, including Wacky Packages and Mars Attacks. Anyone interested in 20th century magazine illustration pretty much has to have this book in his or her library.

NORMAN SAUNDERS (1907–1989) was the legendary illustrator of Mars Attacks, Wacky Packages, Batman, Pre-Code Comics, Men’s Adventure, Paperbacks, Pulp Magazines, and Sci-Fi. His unique artistic vision influenced the visual language of American pop culture throughout a century of changing fashions, and continues to inspire today’s important visionaries. Savvy collectors have long dreamt of a book on the entire lifework of Norman Saunders, and that dream has finally come true with the world’s first book to present his finest paintings in radiant reproductions, to savor the extraordinary artistry behind so many iconic images, familiar from timeworn vintage collectibles.

The artist’s son has written an insightful biography, seasoned with quotes from the artist and his associates, chronicling the frontier childhood and training of an illustrator who rose to the top of his profession, and then spent WWII in China painting travel sketches. When Saunders defied the corporate forces of conformity during McCarthyism he was relegated to underground world of subculture publishing, where he continued his remarkable career by painting countless icons for Pre-Code Comics, Men’s Adventure magazines and Bubble Gum Trading Cards, until his happy rediscovery by fandom in his twilight years.

This is the consummate reference book on the entire lifework of Norman Saunders, with over 880 illustrations, of which more than 300 are from original art, including 30 working drawings, and 30 reference photos as well as 30 historic family photos, and checklists of all published works. 368 pages, 9”x12”, full-color, hardbound with dust jacket.

Norman Saunders


  1. That’s pretty damn cool! When I was a kid I had plenty of Wacky Packs, and even a few Mars Attacks cards.

  2. A friend of mine deals in old paperbacks on a mail-order basis (Black Ace Books), and she’s always coming across Norman Saunders covers. Man, was he prolific! I had many a … reverie as a teener studying his art.

  3. wacky packs we’re the most fascinating things id ever known at 7yo. i didnt understand what sticking it to the corporate complex was but i knew that it was good, even in such an innocent fashion.

  4. Saunders really doesn’t do it for me. I don’t get the appeal. I really don’t. I suppose this comes from not being very keen on how he draws women – or rather, the one woman who seems to recur in all his drawings of women, but with different hairstyles. I wonder if he had a muse. A muse who was always half-naked with her hands bound behind her back, arched like an alley-cat, pointing her toes, and baring her gravity-defying breasts.

  5. Getting enough packs to finish the puzzle of that tentacly bug-eyed crab cost me a crapload of allowance and, thanks to the stale gum, a few deciduous teeth. Damn you, Saunders!

  6. Those hoping to find the book on will be ‘sorely’ disappointed when searching for ‘Norman Saunders’. Best stick to the ISBN number for that one. ISBN10 0982004109

  7. Montauk @ #6:

    These were pulp book covers. What would you expect? I don’t find them any more lubricious or demeaning than the covers of current romance novels. What’s more I think the stuff from the ’30s – ’50s was much better quality and I think it should be enjoyed without imposing today’s moral values–I mean if you object to this, you are going to have to object to much of classical art as well. (Think of the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa or the many works themed on the Rape of the Sabine Women.)

    In fact, there is a renewed appreciation for pin-up art today. Although I’m not too keen on Petty and Vargas, Gil Elvgren is really great, and I make no apologies for liking him. And sure his idealized female subjects for commercial work are often portrayed in degrading situations, I enjoy his work in a purely aesthetic way, much differently than say the late Andrew Wyeth’s Helga paintings, which I also very much like. Does this make me unenlightened? I hope not.

  8. Shrdlu @ #11:

    I don’t have high standards for the covers of pulp novels or men’s magazines. I just don’t understand the artistic appeal of them. If an artist is going to focus on the human form, I personally like to see it depicted in a thoughtful or somehow unconventional way, and I just don’t see that in George Saunders and most pop/comic art. It looks, to me, like the result of those “how to draw comic book art” tutorials on women. And I do find the vast majority of classical art to be pretty dull – for reasons that outweigh the female aspect – though I know plenty of others have a valid interest in that stuff. That doesn’t mean I “object” to it – I just don’t personally like it or see any tremendous merit in it. I’m not really sure where I made a moral objection or whatever.

    I know there’s a renewed appreciation for pin-up art today, I think there’s a renewed appreciation for retrosexual imagery in general – like the trendiness of burlesque, Suicide Girls, Dita Von Teese, Betty Boop, Bettie Page…but that doesn’t mean I’m going to appreciate them. To me, it’s all the same old same old.

    I’m not going to call anyone unenlightened for liking one artist or another, just as I’m sure you don’t think I have poor aesthetic taste just because I don’t care for pin-up stuff. But to me, these representations of women are the same ones I see everywhere, including modern stuff today. And I’m tired of the same old representation – whether it’s an aesthetically lovely representation or not.

    I feel like every time I bring up something vaguely feminist in a discussion about art, people feel like I’m casting moral judgments on them, demanding they recant or apologize for their interests, advocating artistic censorship, or making a case for objective standards of artistry. I’m not. I’m just saying that for me, the uninspiring representation outweighs any aesthetic attraction. For some people, the representation would only detract a little, for others, not at all, and some people just love their sexed-up comic women. I’m not going to revoke anyone’s “Good Person” card on those grounds.

    However, it does make it vastly less appealing to me.

  9. For those of you who may be interested in pulp magazines and the art featured on their covers, I’d recommend you look into PulpFest 2009, a convention for pulp magazine enthusiasts that will be held in Columbus, Ohio in July/August 2009. The website is at

  10. Thank you BoingBoing for mentioning the book I have written on father, Norman Saunders. It is published by Dan Zimmer at The Illustrated Press. He also makes ILLUSTRATION Magazine, which is devoted to promoting a greater awareness of classic illustration artists. Every issue contains two or three biographical articles on an illustrator and includes hundreds of images! I write for the magazine also.

    If you want the Norman Saunders book, why not buy it directly from the poor starving publisher at Dan will ship your book to you this very instant! It is available now and on stock! Thanks again. — David Saunders

  11. I grew up with Wacky Packages and loved them. But only really discovered Mars Attacks! cards recently. That horrendous movie didn’t help me discover them sooner.

    But holy crap! These are amazing cards for kids. A complete collection of scans with the narrative explanation of what’s happening is here.

    I really miss the old days when wry older men would create cool art/entertainment for kids that isn’t patronizing.

  12. Thanks to Boing-Boing power, my father’s book zoomed up to #24 on the Amazon recent best sellers list in the art category! Unfortunately, thanks to the power of the automated stock system at Amazon, the Norman Saunders book is still listed as “out of stock.” They told me it can take fourteen days before their system registers the availability of their own stock. So in the meantime, if you want to get a copy fast and you don’t mind helping a small publisher, you can buy the Norman Saunders book directly from where your purchase will be instantly mailed to you for the exact same price.

    It weighs over five pounds! over 800 images of artworks, including behind the scenes sketches and photo references for many iconic images of pop culture. It took two lifetimes to create this book, my father’s and mine! — David Saunders

  13. I love the high-quality pulp work (like the cover). However, I think Saunders really went downhill after the pulp era and relied too much on photo reference. His later work really loses its painterly charm, and to me the men’s magazine and wacky packages stuff is just plain bad.

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