Illustration by Hannes Bok.

I commissioned this illustration from Hannes Bok after seeing his work in 1939.

The Futurians had any number of members who won awards for writing, but we only had one who earned his Hugo by the beauty of the things he drew and painted. That was Wayne Woodard, as his parents called him when he was born in 1914, though he became better known to fans and to art-lovers all over the world by the name he chose for himself when he needed something to sign to his artwork, Hannes Bok.

Most magazine illustrators get their start with the magazines by visiting their offices, a bunch of samples under their arms, and showing them to whoever on the masthead would look at them until somebody showed up who liked the samples well enough to use a few in their magazines. That wasn’t possible for Hannes. He was a West Coast kid and he had no possibility of affording a bus ticket to where the magazines were. But he had a stroke of luck.

When he moved to Los Angeles — which he did early in 1939 — he met a kid fan named Raymond Bradbury — “Ray,” for short — who was almost as badly off as himself. The kid wasn’t aiming to be an artist; his dream was to become a writer, but he was as unsuccessful at it as Hannes was with his art. However. he belonged to a group of people who, like Hannes, were interested in science fiction and fantasy. The group, the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, would later become the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. They met in an upper room of a place called Clifton’s Cafeteria.

LASFS was a welcoming group for Hannes. Among the people he met there was a writer named Emil Petaja, who did get some of his stories published in the prozines and became Hannes’ best and lifelong friend. Another was a fan, or actually a kind of superfan who knew everybody involved in making of sf films, named Forrest J (No Period!) Ackerman.

The big news in science fiction, at least as far as the LASFS was concerned, was what was going to happen in New York that summer. The city was planning a huge show called the New York World’s Fair, and the fans in New York had uncharacteristically abandoned their blood feuding to work together to create a wonderful new project, a World Science Fiction Convention. It was the chance of a lifetime, they reasoned, because they could take advantage of all the foreigners who would come to New York for the Fair. Some fraction of them, they calculated, were sure to be fans who would be likely to stay for this Worldcon.

It was every last LASFS member’s dearest dream to be among them, but for most they knew it was only a dream. The Depression was dwindling fast, but its effects were not altogether over. And LASFS was made up mainly of teenagers with few resources to draw on.

But one resource was Forry Ackerman. A small inheritance had left him with money in the bank, so he was going to the Worldcon himself. So was a female fan named Myrtle R. Jones — or, as you would say it in Forry’s favorite second tongue, Esperanto, “Morojo.” And, when Forry had had a couple weeks of exposure to the woebegone expression on Ray’s face, he figured out a way of solving one problem. He could lend Ray Bradbury the bus fare. So he tapped the bank account a little harder, and pulled out enough cash to lend Ray Bradbury the price of a ticket to New York.

That was not a risk-free investment on Forry’s part, because the only source of income Ray had to pay him back was what he earned as a newsboy, selling papers on the streets of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just a kindness to Ray. To Forry’s generosity, Ray added on a kindness of his own. He was going to do his best to meet every sf editor in the world, or at least every one who made it to the Worldcon, and while he was introducing them to himself there was no reason — assuming Hannes would lend him some samples to take along — why he couldn’t introduce them to the work of Hannes Bok at the same time.

And that is how it all fell out. Ray wheeled and dealt with such good effect at the Worldcon that, if I’m not mistaken, some of Hannes’ samples were actually bought and published by an editor, and several other editors asked him to do work for them.

One of this latter class was me. I met Ray Bradbury, and heard of Hannes Bok, for the first time at (or, more accurately, near — but that’s another story) the Worldcon, and shortly thereafter commissioned a set of illustrations for a story of my own from Hannes. (I still have one of the drawings on the wall of my office at home.)

That expedition worked so well for Hannes that it gave him the funds to make the move to New York, and that too worked pretty well. Well enough, at least, for Hannes to enjoy some years of relative affluence — affluence enough, that is, for him to pay the rent and have enough left over to eat regular meals.

I think he must have been a pleasant person to be around then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around him for most of that period, because I had received an employment offer — the kind of an offer that you just can’t say no to — from the Armed Services of the United States of America.

Watch for Part 2, covering how all this worked out, coming soon — provided “soon” is when I write it.

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  1. Luciano says:

    Mr. Pohl, I’m sorry to leave this message here, as it has nothing to do with your blog or post but as a long-time SF author and connoisseur you might be able to help me with this if you have the time: my uncle has been searching for a SF book he read back in the 60s; it’s about a space virus coming to Earth which infects people causing their bodies to slowly metalize, to become metallic. Once it reaches the internal organs, it kills the patient. But instead of researching a cure, they are trying to make the disease non-lethal because the metalized body, if allowed to survive, would be a near immortal body. He can’t remember the author or the title of this book, but believes the title is either Merkham’s Disease or something similar to It Came from Outer Space (like the movie, though the plot is entirely different). If you happen to have any clue about which book this may be, we’ll be very grateful, as we’ve searched the entire internet with no luck so far. Once again, sorry to take some of your precious time; thanks in advance!

  2. Don Webb says:

    Dear Mr. Pohl,

    Thanks for this! I love Bok art! His novels The Sorceror’s Ship and Beyond the Golden Stair are great and sadly neglected. But heck, so are my books. If you enjoy avant-garde film you might want to check out a short tribute some of us made to Frank Long’s “Hounds of Tindalos” by googling “The Electric Preludes” — but I did warn you it’s strange stuff:) Anyway, I love your blog and share it with my friends and often my SF writing class for UCLA Extension.


    Don Webb

  3. H. E. Parmer says:

    Thanks for the Hannes Bok link: I’ve been hearing about him for a long time, pretty much ever since I started reading sf back in the mid-60s and very much enjoyed his novel “The Sorcerer’s Ship”, but never before had a chance to see any of his art. Wonderful, amazing stuff. And that illustration you were so kind as to share with us … just … wow! What a brilliant composition and subtle use of color. It was rather sad, though, to read that he ended up a bitter recluse.

    “Famous Monsters of Filmland” made Forrest J Ackerman a kind of god in my 10-year-old’s world. So it comes more as a pleasant confirmation than a surprise that he should be a generous soul.

  4. Ace Lightning says:

    Luciano –

    The book you’re looking for is _Highways in Hiding_, by George O. Smith. “Mekstrom’s Disease”, a virus accidentally brought back by an infected astronaut, causes human flesh to become stone-like, starting at an extremity and gradually overwhelming the entire body. When it reaches the internal organs, the patient dies. But a group has found a way to keep patients alive until the transformation is complete – and the survivor is now far stronger and more durable than an “ordinary” human. They have to keep this a secret because of the intense prejudice against them. The book also has sub-plots involving telepathy and other forms of ESP. (As you may guess, the book made a tremendous impression on me when I first read it as a teenager, back in the Cretaceous…)

  5. Theophylact says:

    Luciano, the book is Highways in Hiding by George O. Smith (an abridged version was called Space Plague). And you’re close to the disease’s name, which is “Mekstrom’s”.

  6. Theophylact says:

    I can add that a free version is available online (in multiple formats) from Project Gutenberg in multiple formats.

  7. Bill Goodwin says:

    Bradbury is a dear friend and neighbor whom I regularly read aloud to (his eyesight no longer being up to the task). Only a few days ago, I had the pleasure of reading him an account of his 1939 trip from Jon Eller’s fine new biography, “Becoming Ray Bradbury.” It’s a startling “synchronicity” to see this installment the same week…I must print a copy and share it with Ray when I visit him again in a day or two. I know he’ll enjoy it hugely! (One minor correction: Ray’s name was never “Raymond.” It was actually “Rey” on his birth certificate–a spelling usually reserved for girls–but after that his family began rendering it in the way we’re all used to.)

  8. Luciano says:

    Thank you guys! I got the book now and my uncle will be happy to know : ¬ )

  9. Kathleen McKenzie says:

    I got it! I finally got it! I got “The Last Theorem” from the Boston Public Library! Contrary to popular rumor, I did NOT STEAL it from MIT science fiction club library, nor was there a conspiracy to take it. I’ve been waiting three (3) years to read this book. Now everybody wants to read it.

  10. Michael Walsh says:

    At the 1992 Worldcon in Orlando, the original cover art of Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” was on display in the art show. Just stunning.

    Here’s a link to cover:

  11. JohnArmstrong says:

    Well, let me add to the hijacking then – years ago, 40 or more, I read a short story about astronauts who land on a new world and are victimized by , they discover, their childhood boogeymen. there seems to be no defense until someone has the bright idea of ….. wrapping themselves in bedclothes, which all kids no are proof against any bedroom monster.
    I have never been able to find this again.

    (The other one that drove me nuts was into Your tent I’ll Creep by EF Russell. i was sure it was a Kuttner or Tenn story until I bought the giant Russell anthology and finally found it again.)

  12. Bruce Arthurs says:

    In one of my own short stories*, the protagonist is named after Hannes Bok. He has a twin brother named Hannes, but he drew the short straw and got saddled with the unlikely name of Bok Beks. (Their father is an obsessive SF art collector.)

    *”Beks and the Monkey”, published in a 100-copy really-small-press anthology called REQUIEM FOR THE RADIOACTIVE MONKEYS. I don’t know that “radioactive monkeys” is the weirdest theme ever for a theme anthology, but it’s probably a contender.

  13. Leah A. Zeldes says:

    Bruce, I’ll see your “Radioactive Monkeys” and raise you “Women Writing Science Fiction As Men,” in which my story “Big” appears.