Heinlein's juvenile novel The Star Beast originally appeared in serialized form in F&SF as Star Lummox. F&SF included art by Fred Kirberger. There are a couple of strange things about the art. One is that the title ET and the Hroshii species are never shown clearly. The other is that although Mr. Kiku is described as an elderly and frail black Kenyan, he's illustrated in the magazine as a robust young white man. (The text is not at all ambiguous. It mentions his wooly hair, and there is also a minor subplot in which North American prejudice against black Africans comes up.)

I'm mainly interested in the racial misrepresentation. Was it really taboo in a US magazine in 1954 to show an illustration of a black protagonist in a role of power? It seems a little hard to believe that Kirberger wouldn't have noticed Kiku's race. His name is obviously not Anglo-Saxon like those of the North American characters (most of whom Heinlein plays as rustics from a backwater rural area).

Farnham's Freehold as serialized in Worlds of If does seem to show characters in more racially accurate depictions, but it's from 1964. We have racially specific depictions of Ponse, who is a bad guy and shown in sort of a Moorish way, and of Joseph with a gun (!) at the start of ch. IV.

It would be sad and ironic if F&SF in 1954 couldn't show an illustration of an African protagonist, whereas the titillating art for The Pupper Masters was OK in Galaxy in 1951. But I suppose the use of sex to sell pulp magazines was completely standard. Also amusing with respect to the "John Thomas" joke that Heinlein put over on the prudish Alice Dalgliesh. (And the text also mentions what seems to be the protagonist's attic porn collection.)

  • Interesting question, but as it's more about society's attitudes than about the Sci-Fi as such, it might just get closed as off-topic. I suspect the History stack might pick it up though. Please be sure to take their tour and read their help centre's part about what's on-topic before posting. Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 2:37
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    Since Hugo Gernsback invented the science fiction magazine in 1926, one constant complaint of readers has been illustrations not matching the stories. One could almost think that the artists didn't read the stories closely. Or at all. Anyway, I don't think you have to invoke racial taboos to explain a mismatch between a character's depiction in an illo and his description in the text of a pulp magazine.
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 3:46
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    @User14111 - That was my first instinct. Any discrepancy between the story and the artwork seems far more likely due to the artist being told what the story is about rather then having read it thoroughly and intentionally mis-drawing a key character or alien
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 6:25
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    @user14111 All too true. My copy of P. K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch has a cover that was clearly intended for Frank Herbert's Dune.
    – Sam Azon
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 12:52
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    Remember that back then for the artist to read the story he either needed to visit the editor and sit and read it or get a copy. But copying machines were very, very primitive and expensive in the 50s and copying a story and mailing it to the artist was very uncommon. Much more likely was the editor telling the artist what he wanted and describing a scene or maybe reading a few bits over the phone. It's very unlikely the artist read the whole story.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 14:23


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