He was one of the greats: Rocco G. “Roy” Scarfo, space artist, and the world beyond tomorrow

The lunar habitat imagined by Rocco G. “Roy” Scarfo. Anon., “C’est écrit dans le ciel.” La Patrie du dimanche, 24 January 1960, 6.

Space, the final frontier. A catchy opening for this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, don’t you think? This expression known to so many, or so few, is also very appropriate given that the individual at the heart of said issue was truly one the great space artists of the 20th century.

Before we get there, yours truly would like to quote the caption of the photograph I found in the 24 January 1960 issue of the Montréal, Québec, weekly, La Patrie du dimanche. And there it is, in translation:

Man will be on the moon by [1970]. Poets have been there for many old moons. The silver planet will be colonised by [2000]. Man will have to live there under a dome of plastic like the one [above], a dome equipped with gardens intended to give him his food and to transform the carbon monoxide into oxygen. A dynamo powered by nuclear or solar energy will provide electricity. Other devices, such as those seen in the foreground, on the right, will convert raw materials into usable substances. Spaceships will be able to land on a special airport on the right. The astronaut will have to cover himself, outside the dome, with a suit similar to that which appears in the foreground.

You liked that illustration, now didn’t you? Long live patriarchy! Would you like to see another illustration? Wunderbar!

The exploration of Venus as imagined by Rocco G. “Roy” Scarfo. Anon., “C’est écrit dans le ciel.” La Patrie du dimanche, 24 January 1960, 6.

The exploration of Venus as imagined by Rocco G. “Roy” Scarfo. Anon., “C’est écrit dans le ciel.” La Patrie du dimanche, 24 January 1960, 6.

And here is the caption yours truly found in La Patrie du dimanche, again in translation:

Venus, masked by thick clouds, will be accessible by [1990], according to scholars, some of whom believe that it is now what the Earth was thousands of years ago. If this is the case, man will land among lush vegetation and among rock formations that we do not know much yet. Located about [42 million kilometres] 26 million miles closer to the Sun than the Earth, Venus has about the same dimension and gravity as the Earth. Astronauts will nonetheless have to carry their supply of oxygen. These explorers collect samples of rocks and plants that will be returned to Earth in special containers.

As you and I both know, Venus is not the tropical planet imagined by countless writers. It is the sort of place the devil himself might find a bit hellish. The very high temperature and atmospheric pressure have quickly destroyed the probes sent over the years by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States.

What you may not know, my reading friend, was / is that spacesuits very similar in appearance to the ones in the illustration we just saw can be found in one of the many graphic novel albums that depicted the adventures of Dan Cooper, a Canadian fighter pilot imagined by Belgian cartoonist and script writer Albert Weinberg. Said album, entitled Le Maître du Soleil, came out in French in 1958. Both Cooper and Weinberg were mentioned in September 2018 and September 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. The album itself was mentioned in the latter issue of our you know what.

Would you like to know more about the world famous space artist who created more than 60 years ago the 2 illustrations we just saw? Wunderbar!

Rocco G. “Roy” Scarfo was born in the United States in 1926. He joined the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 1943 or 1944, at age 17. Scarfo served in the Pacific theatre of operation and was wounded in May 1945, on the Japanese island of Okinawa. He then served as a guard in the American embassy in China, in Nanjing, where he found the time to study the country’s art and language. Scarfo presumably left the country in August 1949, with the rest of the embassy staff, before the creation of the Popular Republic of China, in September. During the Korean War, Scarfo served as a USMC artist.

After his return to civilian life, Scarfo studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It is worth nothing that Scarfo had a lifelong interest in space flight, presumably acquired through science fiction magazines and movies.

By 1957, Scarfo was a package designer at some company. Mind you, he also retouched photographs of toys for catalogs. To make ends meet, Scarfo worked as a freelance artist. He airbrushed photographs of tank parts for a United States Army publication, for example. If I may paraphrase a great, if very young American philosopher by the name of Calvin, being miserable builds character!

Anyway, as his mind was about to implode, in 1957, Scarfo heard about an opening for an artist at the Space Technology Center of American industrial giant General Electric Company (GE). Having prepared a portfolio, he showed up for an interview the next day. Scarfo did so well that he got the job.

Thoroughly impressed by the quality of Scarfo’s work, GE made him creative art director of its Space Technology Center. Mind you, it is possible that he was hired in 1957 to fill that very position. In any event, Scarfo was the creative art director of GE’s Space Technology Center for 16 years. Would you believe that he was / is one of few non-engineers / scientists to receive, seemingly in 1959, a prestigious GE space award?

Scarfo’s first assignment at GE was to prepare an illustration that would show each and every existing American missile, presumably all at the same scale. This was quite the challenge given that he did not know how many missiles there were, or even what they looked like. Scarfo gathered a humongous amount of information to complete his task. The large (1.2 x 0.75 m (4 feet x 2.5 feet)) illustration that he submitted to his superiors greatly pleased them. If truth be told, it was used by a great many American aerospace companies. Scarfo was now something of an authority on American missiles, from an artistic but not technical point of view of course.

In 1961, Scarfo was involved in a rather interesting promotional project, in cooperation with GE’s Photo Lamp Department. The work involved the design of
- a 16-page comic book in colour entitled Conquerors of Space which described an orbital flight (the first?) made by an American astronaut, and
- a corrugated cardboard space capsule large enough to accommodate a child.
To obtain one of these Powermite II capsules, one only needed to send the coupon in the comic book, as well as $5 and, from the looks of it, an empty pack of 12 Powermite flashbulbs. The battery or batteries needed to activate the capsule’s control panel were not included.

As you may well imagine, this promotional project produced by Johnstone and Cushing, an advertising firm that specialised in comic book type ads like this one, proved very popular.

As busy as he was, Scarfo found time to act as a science and space art consultant for organisations like the United States Senate, The New York Times, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense. And yes, as we both know, NASA was mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018.

Over the years, Scarfo also collaborated with luminaries like
- Isaac Asimov, a Russian American associate professor of biochemistry and world famous author / science fiction writer,
- Wernher Magnus Maximilian von Braun, a world famous German American aerospace engineer,
- Willy Otto Oskar Ley, a German American author and science fiction writer, and
- Alvin Toffler, a famous American author, businessman and futurologist.

As we both know, von Braun was / is a somewhat controversial character mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since January 2019.

Ley was a rather different kind of person. This gentleman acted as technical consultant for a world famous 1929 German science fiction movie, Frau im Mond / By Rocket to the Moon / Woman in the Moon. No friend of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeitpartei, Ley joined the American Rocket Society soon after immigrating to the United States, in 1935. He played a crucial role in the 1940s and 1950s’ most successful efforts to promote space travel in the United States, namely a best seller book entitled The Conquest of Space (1949), the articles published in 8 issues of the monthly magazine Collier’s (1952-54), and 3 episodes of the television series Disneyland (1955-57). Some of this work was done in cooperation with von Braun.

Ley was also a cryptozoologist, in other words a Fortean. You will undoubtedly remember that fortean topics are topics said to be controversial / mysterious / original / paranormal. This term was mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2018.

Would you believe that Frau im Mond and the American Rocket Society were mentioned in February 2018 and February 2019 issues of our you know what? But I digress.

It should be noted that, while Scarfo’s works were seen by countless people, relatively few of them actually knew the name of the gifted artist who captured their imagination. The same was / is true of countless illustrators. I mean, do you know the names of the people who drew / draw the ads we all see every day?

This being said (typed?), Scarfo’s countless works sparked the imagination of millions of Americans as to what space exploration and travel might look like. Even though most of his illustrations were made before the 1980s, he was / is among the people who moulded the way millions of Americans imagine space exploration and travel in 2020.

Would you believe that the living space of the extraterrestrial civilisation shown at the end of the 2014 British-American blockbuster Interstellar, you know, the one with the upward curve, bore / bears a striking resemblance to the one visible in one of Scarfo’s most famous works, Inside-Out World?

Scarfo’s works were not experienced only through the advertisings found in virtually all important magazines and newspapers in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. They were seen in more than 40 books. Most of his best known works were published in Beyond Tomorrow: The Next 50 Years in Space, a book authored by his close colleague and dear friend, Dandridge MacFarlan Cole, in 1965.

Scarfo’s first exhibition / retrospective was launched at the International Space Hall of Fame, today’s New Mexico Museum of Space History, at Alamogordo, New Mexico, in 1978 or at the opening of this institution, in 1976. Entitled Beyond Tomorrow, it included about 35 works from the eponymous book.

It goes without saying that Scarfo’s works were displayed in various museums, including the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, District of Columbia, a world famous institution mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since November 2017.

As you well know, many of Scarfo’s works also appeared on television,
- around 1965-67, in The Twentieth Century and The Twenty-First Century, a pair of television series narrated by the great Walter Leland Cronkite, and
- in 1972, in Future Shock, a documentary based on the eponymous book published in 1970 by the aforementioned Toffler which was narrated by George Orson Welles.

May I derail your train of thought by pointing out that Cronkite was mentioned in a May 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee? Welles, on the other hand, was mentioned in July and December 2019 issues of that same publication.

Incidentally, much of the research, brainpower and editing that turned Future Shock into a staple / icon of the post-industrial era was supplied by Toffler’s wife and intellectual partner, Heidi Farrell Toffler. She seemingly refused to have her name put on the cover of the book, preferring to work behind the scenes, but back to our story.

Scarfo left this world and ascended to the stars in December 2014. He was 88 years old.

In more ways than one, Scarfo is still very much with us, however. In high demand for a great many years, his charts of our solar system and of faraway stars and planets can be seen in countless agencies, institutes, museums and observatories in the United States and in foreign countries. Scarfo truly was one of the greats.

It is with some sadness that yours truly must confess that, while the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, has a kick posterior collection of aviation art, said museum has nothing in the way of space art. This is undoubtedly a consequence of the fact that space was added to the mandate of this august institution in 2010, half a century after its doors were kicked open by its first visitors. Said museum may want to consider the possibility of looking into the idea of acquiring examples of space art. Just sayin’.

I will leave you with this thought. See you beyond tomorrow.

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Rénald Fortier