Jul 14, 2017

Boris Vallejo: Bodybuilder turned Fantasy Artist

During the 1970s, the covers of your Conan, Tarzan, John Carter, Doc Savage, and miscellaneous barbarian hero books were likely to feature a heavily-muscled, naked or nearly-naked muscle-god fighting off monsters, giant snakes, or weird gods, usually with a naked steatopygous lady clinging to his feet (it's really hard to fight that way, but it keyed into the heterosexual fanboy's fantasy of conquest).

If they were comic books, the illustrator was Frank Frazetta.

If they were print novels, the illustrator was Boris Vallejo.

Both started out as bodybuilders, both began their careers in 1954, and moved into the field of fantasy illustration in the 1960s. They are neighbors, in Scranton and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

But the Peruvian-born Vallejo was more naturalistic in his drawings, he used a brighter color palette, lots of gold skies and gleaming muscles, and his work was more erotic -- these barbarian heroes had obvious bulges. .

He drew covers for many paperbacks, as well as posters for such films as Barbarella (1968) and National Lampoon's Vacation (1983).

Also oil paintings, like this glowing Icarus.

A friend of the gay community, Vallejo drew this poster in 1979 to commemorate the renovation of the famous St. Mark Baths in New York.

His wife, Julie Bell, is also a former bodybuilder and illustrator, who has a similar style, except her women aren't clinging to the legs of muscle gods: they're female bodybuilders and barbarian heroes in their own right. She has illustrated over 100 covers for science fiction novels since the 1990s.


  1. I'm obsessed with your website and wit right now. Fun research and facts I didn't know.

    Will have to talk about it at some point on the podcast I do with my partner. Thank you. Interesting stuff.

    1. Thanks, I would be happy to get a shout-out on your podcast.


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