Edward Cartier: Artist and illustrator who drew for 'The Shadow' and 'Unknown'

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The Independent Online

Edd Cartier was the last survivor of a remarkable trio of American artists, all three, even more remarkably, born within 31 days of each other in the summer of 1914, and all destined to become renowned for their work during the golden age of fantasy and science fiction from the late 1930s to the 1950s.

One of the three, Virgil Finlay, specialised in horror and science-fiction illustrations, characterised by an almost obsessive use of stipple and a fondness for voluptuous nudes. The pictures of Hannes Bok, meanwhile, a disciple of Maxfield Parrish and a friend of Ray Bradbury, verged on the surreal, especially in his often bizarre use of autumnal colours. Both worked at one time or another for the leading horror pulp Weird Tales.

Cartier eschewed outright horror while at his drawing-board, although he could work up a wonderfully phantasmagorical world of smoke and shadows. His artwork at school outclassed his teachers', and he later enrolled at the Pratt Institute of Fine Arts in Brooklyn, where one of his teachers, Harold Scott, a well-known illustrator himself, pointed him in the direction of the pulps.

At the age of 22, and while still at college, Cartier began working as an illustrator for pulps such as Wild West Weekly and Detective Story Magazine, and then graduated to the post of chief illustrator for "The Shadow", one of the most iconic pulp characters of the 20th century.

The Shadow, crime-fighting hero of a famous radio show (played by Orson Welles in the late 1930s), was also the chief character in The Shadow magazine, mainly written by the professional magician (and erstwhile friend of Harry Houdini) Walter Gibson. A master of disguise, the Shadow roamed the night-enshrouded canyons of Manhattan with a pair of blazing .45 Browning automatics, a billowing cape and the slouchiest of slouch hats: a vengeance figure who dealt death to evil men and spread terror among their minions.

Cartier provided over 800 atmospheric illustrations for The Shadow as well as countless dramatic, action-packed covers, which were hugely influential with his peers, especially those comic-book artists such as Lou Fine, Wally Wood and Will Eisner, whose "The Spirit" strip (released as a film last year by Frank Miller) drew heavily on Cartier's chiaroscurist effects.

At one stage, the artist Norman Rockwell was so taken with Cartier's work that he offered him a job, but the younger artist preferred to plough his own furrow.

However, in 1939 he did succumb to the blandishments of John W. Campbell, the influential editor of Astounding Science Fiction, who was just launching what most commentators consider to be the greatest fantasy magazine of the 20th century. Unknown (later to become Unknown Worlds) worked a vein not of heroic, but of comic fantasy.

Cartier filled its pages not with shadowy horrors but with pixilated elves, potbellied peris and cockeyed monsters in a clean, unfussy style quite unlike his Shadow work. His art perfectly matched that of Campbell's stable of authors such as Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, L. Ron Hubbard and Theodore Sturgeon. Much of Unknown's reputation is owed to this perfect melding of humorously written fantasy and Cartier's superb whimsy.

In 1941 he was drafted into the US army, as a machine-gunner in a tank squadron, and was severely wounded in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, then wounded again on a hospital train which was attacked from the air. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

After the Second World War, Cartier continued to draw for the pulps (including Doc Savage, home to another American icon) as well as for the newly emerging comic-book industry. In 1953 he was the recipient of a Baccalaureate in Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute and, as the low-paying pulps were dying, he found work in the field of graphic art and design, becoming art director for a major printing company, Mosstype.

Cartier's illustrations, for both The Shadow and Unknown, are now eagerly collected.

Edward Daniel Cartier, artist and illustrator: born North Bergen, New Jersey 1 August 1914; married (two sons); died Ramsey, New Jersey 25 December 2008.