Illustrator and landscape painter John Newton Howitt was born in White Plains, New York. His is the classic case of an artist torn between the divergent worlds of commercial and fine art and between what he considered the higher and lower...
Illustrator and landscape painter John Newton Howitt was born in White Plains, New York. His is the classic case of an artist torn between the divergent worlds of commercial and fine art and between what he considered the higher and lower levels of commercial illustration. After a successful career in major magazine illustration, he was forced by the Depression to paint for the pulp magazines, which activity he disliked intensely. He would return, at the beginning of World War II, to magazines such as Colliers and Liberty, and to his landscape painting, but, ironically, it is his illustrations of the pulps for which he is most remembered.
When, at the age of four, Howitt fell ill with polio, his father drew pictures and interested Howitt in drawing. Graduating from high school at age sixteen, Howitt studied with George Bridgman at the Art Students League in New York City. For twenty years, from 1910-1930, he painted illustrations for magazines including Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, and Colliers, as well as for books and newspaper supplement sections for the American Sunday Monthly Magazine, This Week, and the New York Herald Tribune. He also created advertisements during the 1920s for Crisco Shortening, Devoe Paints, Jello Foods, Post Bran Flakes and Vermont Marble. Meantime, he traveled North America, painting landscapes.
During the Depression, only sporadically employed by major magazines, he painted covers for The Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s and early 1940s -- Howitt was forced to earn a living by illustrating pulp adventure and crime magazines, working out of a rented studio at 163 West 23rd Street in New York City. Shirley Steeger, wife of Harry Steeger, publisher of Popular Publications, said Howitt "deplored the work but it was meticulously done." Howitt also worked for Street and Smith, Adventure, and Popular Detective. He was forty-eight years, too old to just be starting out in the pulp illustration trade.
Howitt's first known pulp cover for The Spider appeared in November 1933, continuing for seventy-one consecutive months on the covers of that publication until September 1939. Howitt also painted covers for Popular Publications' Dime Detective, Horror Stories, Terror Tales and Operator #5. Howitt illustrated covers for The Whisperer, Top Notch, Clues Detective and Love Story for Street and Smith, as well as for one-time publications such as The Scorpion and The Octopus.
It is Howitt's gothic horror paintings for Horror Stories and Terror Tales, the so-called "weird menace" pulps that have brought him the most attention. Pulp historian Robert Weinberg comments "(Howitt) did a series of astonishing covers that remain unmatched as perfect examples of the pulp vision of madness unleashed. His work was the stuff of modern nightmares . . ."
Embarrassed by his pulp work, Howitt signed his work with a red "H" rather than his full signature used on what he considered more prestigious work. When markets changed after 1940, and he was again able to get work from the major magazines, he stopped painting for the pulps. His last known cover was for the February 1940 issue of Thrilling Detective. Of all the pulp covers Howitt painted, only one original painting is known to exist, suggesting that he did, indeed -- as has been thought -- destroy this work.
John Newton Howitt died at his home in Port Jervis, New York, in 1958.