James Bama: Artist of a thousand faces

For a compulsive credits-watcher like me, the revelation was dumbfounding: One artist was responsible for some of the most memorable pop culture images of my childhood.

James Bama is a well-known Western artist. For me, he’s always been the man who painted photorealistic but slightly surreal covers for the 1960s paperback reprints of old “Doc Savage” pulp novels.

Since I obsessively checked movie and TV credits and artist and author credits of books, magazines and comic books, Bama was a familiar name to me.

His drawings of pulp hero Savage no doubt helped sell a new generation of fans on the Depression-era adventure stories.

How could young readers not be interested in a hero and an adventure that looked like this?

But when goofing around on the Internets the other day, I realized that the Bama of “Doc Savage” fame was also the artist who painted the cover of  an early “Star Trek” novelization. It’s one that’s still on my bookshelf.

When I realized Bama had created that art, I began looking around and discovered that Bama had also painted the monster art used on 1960s Aurora model kits I loved as a kid.

How is it possible one man created so many pop culture — geek culture — touchstones?

Bama, a commercial illustrator for decades, gave up that life at his peak and left the fast lane behind to become a Western artist. He’s still going strong, painting and selling his art through a variety of galleries and websites.

He’s not drawing the colorful characters of my childhood anymore. But that’s okay. His classic work is already the stuff of pop culture legend.

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