Rediscovered: More on Monahan

Keeping his eye on the centennial clock, noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook returns to the Mean Streets. Here’s Kevin:

Pulp cover illustrator P.J. Monahan was born Patrick John Sullivan on January 4, 1882. When he was just a youngster his parents both died of influenza and he was raised by kind neighbors. He took on their surname of Monahan for his professional career.

The check with his signature shown here is for the cover painting for Francis Stevens’ brilliant novel of demonic possession “Serapion” (All-Story Weekly, June 19, 1920), published exactly 100 years ago. As you can see, he was paid the princely sum of $125.00 by the Frank A. Munsey Company for his efforts.

If you could eliminate the last four paragraphs on the last page, “Serapion” would be regarded as one of the greatest noir novels ever written. But of course that was not Stevens’ intent, and I question whether it would have seen print in 1920 with the total triumph of evil.

Although he painted some beautiful covers for “Polaris — of the Snows” (All-Story Weekly, December 18, 1915) and “Land of the Shadow People” (All-Story Weekly, June 26, 1920), novels written by Charles B. Stilson, Monahan is best remembered today for the 13 cover paintings he did for novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs from 1913-1923, and the one he did for Johnston McCulley’s first Zorro story, “The Curse of Capistrano” (All-Story Weekly, August 9, 1919).

The cover illustration for ERB’s “Thuvia, Maid of Mars” (All-Story Weekly, April 8, 1916) was subsequently used as the dust jacket on the A.C. McClurg first edition of the novel in 1920. He also produced the dust jacket painting for ERB’s The Girl from Hollywood (The Macaulay Company, 1923). Monahan died young in 1931 as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. 

A myth started on the internet has it that P.J. Monahan was nothing less than Edgar Rice Burroughs’ favorite Munsey artist. I checked out that idea, searching for concrete proof.

First, I contacted David Saunders whose pulp artist website probably has the best biographical information regarding Monahan. He stated that he believed that Burroughs had a “qualified preference” for Monahan, but put me in touch with Robert Barrett, the man Danton Burroughs asked to research, organize and index all of the carbon copies of his grandfather’s correspondence at ERB, Inc.

Barrett advised me that Burroughs never wrote a single letter regarding Monahan, although Munsey editor Bob Davis did gift Burroughs with the original Monahan cover painting for “Tarzan and the Golden Lion.” Apparently, a combination of the fact that Monahan painted 13 covers for Burroughs stories and the knowledge that ERB possessed that original gave rise to the idea that he was a favorite of ERB.

Also interesting to note is that Monahan’s pay rate for ERB covers increased after 1920 from $125.00 to $135.00 each. Plus, other contemporary artists like Modest Stein were only receiving $50.00 from Munsey for cover paintings, Burroughs or otherwise. By the 1930’s Munsey was paying $250.00 each for cover paintings. This information came from Bob Barrett, who has original checks for the ERB cover paintings.

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