Hannes Bok in his apartment on West 109th, NYC / Photo Copyright © Martin Jukovsky

Photo of Hannes Bok in his West 109th Street apartment cica 1960s. / Photo Copyright © Martin Jukovsky


By Robert Weinberg

Born Wayne Woodard (1914-1964), the artist used the name Hannes Bok for most of his life. One of the few stylists in the pulp magazine field, Bok was also one of the unique personalities of early SF and fantasy illustration. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, the child of a broken home, he moved to Seattle, Washington, after high school and became friends with science fiction fans in the area.

A self-taught artist, Bok was a strong admirer of Maxfield Parrish and considered himself a student of the Parrish school of illustration, although he never actually studied with that illustrator.

Bok moved from Seattle to Los Angeles and soon was involved in the active science fiction fan community there. His close friend Ray Bradbury showed some samples of Bok’s work to Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales magazine, during a trip to New York in 1939. Wright liked what he saw, and Bok soon moved to New York to work for the pulp. His first professionally published painting was the cover for the December 1939 Weird Tales.

Although Bok did a great deal of work for Weird Tales, he soon was working for other science fiction pulps as well. His major problem was a lack of discipline in both his professional and private life. He lived the way he wanted with little worry about convention. He never let editors dictate to him what he should do in terms of illustration, and this lost him a number of assignments during his career.

When Farnsworth Wright was fired as editor of Weird Tales, Bok tried to organize a boycott of that magazine even though the publication was his main source of income at the time. He never broke into the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, which was not surprising since he could not depict machinery or people realistically. More surprising was the fact that Bok, like Virgil Finlay, was able to sell very little to Unknown (later Unknown Worlds), the major fantasy market of the early 1940s, which was published by the same chain as was Astounding, Street & Smith. Bok’s lack of success was probably due more to his inability to meet deadlines and satisfy rigid requirements than to any artistic failings.

When the Science Fiction Small Press publishers started publishing after World War II, Bok found a new market. His imaginative paintings worked well as jacket art. He did some of his finest work for Shasta Books. Many of the small press publishers could not afford expensive color separations and had the artists do paintings in monochrome to which the printers added color. Bok went a step further. He supplied acetate overlays for many of his paintings with specific colors for each overlay—in effect, doing four color separations himself to insure that the painting would turn out the way he intended. Some of the finest jacket art in the fantasy field. was done by Shasta Books for Bok paintings for Sidewise in Time, Slaves of Sleep and Kinsmen of the Dragon. Bok also did exceptional work for Arkham House and Fantasy Press.

Bok got involved in the publishing field, joining with several other fans to form the New Collectors Group. A lifelong fan of A. Merritt, Bok finished two incomplete Merritt novels, which the house published in hardcover editions with Bok’s illustrations. Some questionable business activities by one of the other members of the group caused the company to cease publication, with Bok losing
money [and his art—Ed] in the deal; it was his first and last taste of the publishing end of science fiction.

Meanwhile, Bok continued to work for the many science fiction magazines in the field. His art was in demand by all of the smaller companies, but he never seemed to be able to sell to the best markets. Again, his lack of discipline and fannish habits worked against him. When the market suffered major reversals in the 1950s, Bok left illustration and became an astrologer, maintaining only a few contacts in the SF community.

Bok was the first major stylist in the pulp science fiction market. He was never a master craftsman and was primarily concerned with horror and fantasy art. His pieces were free flowing and stylized and in no way realistic. Lush curves and exaggerated detail ruled. His humans were not photographic but pixieish. His monsters were creatures of nightmare, bizarre and unusual but rarely frightening. Along with Virgil Finlay, Bok was considered the greatest SF artist of the 1940s. But he has gained little recognition outside the field. since his death of a heart attack at the age of fifty.

This article originally appeared in A Biographical Dlctionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists by RobertWeinberg, Greenwood Press, 1988, and is reprinted by permission of the author's estate.




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