Best. Barsoom. Art. Ever?


Everbody has their favorites out there — I know it.  Frazetta is great , Krenkel is cool, and there are others who have done excellent illustrations of various John Carter of Mars editions over the years.  But yesterday Bob Zeuschen gave me a nice high quality print of the single piece of Barsoom art that has always, for me, been the gold standard.  I’ve been chasing down a good scan of it for some time, and now I’ve got one — good enough to enlarge some of the detail.

The artist is J.Allen St. John, who just also happened — according to Danton Burroughs — to be Edgar Rice Burroughs favorite artist (keeping in mind, of course, that Krenkel and Frazetta came along after ERB died.)

So — here it is.  It’s from Thuvia, Maid of Mars, the fourth book in the 11 book series. Below the pic are my notes on why I like it so much, and below that are some detailed images.

Now — I know it’s black and white and in many ways that’s inherently less evocative…or is it? Do we dream in color? When we read a book and the images circulate in our mind, are they full color?

There is a combination of classicism, and realism to this (or maybe I should call it expressive realism) — what I mean is, that while it’s idealized in its own way as much as, say, Frazetta — the forms are all realistic compared to most of the art, especially the rider on the thoat:

Unlike most depictions of the green martian warriors — this one looks plausibly real, and more humanoid than is usually the case. The legs and arms look very humanoid and credible. And look at the interesting choice regarding how the second set of arms are attached just below the armpit, now halfway down to the waist.

But the best part of it is Thuvia — to me, she seems perfect and not one of all the other versiouns of Thuvia or Dejah Thoris ever, for me, reached perfection like this. Seen only from the back — but can there be any doubt that were she to turn and allow us to see her face, it would be exquisite — intelligent, gentle, vulnerable, strong, sensitive — all of it. Someone to face down a thoat and a lance for.

If you like this St. John — Bill Hillman of Erbzine has a number of links that explore St. John and his work.

Here are some of the links:

The C.H.A.S.E.R. Illustrated bio features most of the art that appeared in the ERB novels:

Finally — here’s a video clip I made appreciating many more of the artists who have interpreted Burroughs:


  • Stunning, and yea, I like the non-steroid quality of JC in this one, too. Love Franzetta, and the others, but this is just beautiful! I’d love to see a full-color version of it, too.

  • That first little video left out Krenkel and Whelan. I’m making an actual documentary that wlll be more systematic. Truth is — people think of whoever did the art for the series they read as the one that “defines the series” — for me, that was Krenkel and Frazetta but it was Schoonover in the ‘teens, St.John in the 20’s, then John Coleman Burroughs for awhile in the thirties, etc. Whelan had his stretch in there too, and he will be represented properly in the longer version of the video ad more comprehensive articles, etc.

    That said — this particular St. John is top of the list for me, and believe me — I wasn’t around in the 20’s when he did it. I just love it.

  • Nice selection but…

    How can they omit Michael Whalen? His eleven covers for the del Rey reprints of the Barsoom books– especially the one for JOHN CARTER OF MARS (#11)– define the series.

  • Too many steroids in evidence. I like St. John, then Krenkel. I like Frazetta but I think of him more for Conan.

  • Wow. Love it. I’ve never seen that one before. My dad used to have all the books. I’m really excited about seeing the movie.

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