Rolf Gohs: Master of Cover Art


On this day 62 years ago, Fantomen issue 7/1957 was released. Who cares? Well, what makes this issue significant is that it was the first Phantom cover that the legendary cover artist Rolf Gohs had published.

His career has spanned across seven decades, with an astonishing 911 covers (you read that correctly - nine hundred and eleven covers!!) and countless other Phantom images that have been published across more than ten countries and several continents!

Today we are lucky enough to be reading not one but two joint interviews conducted by friend of the ChronicleChamber and longtime Fantomen editor Ulf Granberg. Ulf is a close friend of Rolf's, and interviewed him for the 2017 published book Rolf Gohs : A Cartoon Life (Rolf Gohs - ett tecknarliv).

Ulf has also generously facilitated a brief interview with follow up questions asked by the ChronicleChamber team.

It was a huge pleasure to be able to communicate with both Ulf and Rolf and we thank both of them for their time.

Below, we have included a video review of the book. If it sparks your interest, you can still buy a copy. It will set you back SEK200 + postage (SEK200 regular mail or SEK275 registered mail). Under current exchange rates, SEK475 equals about $70AUD and $50US. Please contact Team ChronicleChamber for Ulf's email address.

This first interview is an excerpt from the book Rolf Gohs : A Cartoon Life (Rolf Gohs - ett tecknarliv) and has been translated into English and published here with permission given by both Ulf Granberg and Rolf Gohs.

Enjoy as we learn about this legendary man.

Ulf Granberg: Rolf, you stopped school in the spring of 1951 because you wanted to draw comics. It was a pretty bold decision to take for a 17-year-old?

Rolf Gohs: Yes, that was it, in a way... two years earlier I had sent in some work samples to the Seriemagasinet and received an answer that I had a predisposition for drawing, even though they thought I needed to practice and draw diligently.

In the spring of 1951 I drew some work that I showed to Armas Morb. He owned Press & Publicity which released Seriemagasinet . He looked at my pages and said, "Yes, this looks good. We can imagine hiring you when you leave school." I got so excited that I quit school immediately and went back to Press & Publicity a week later saying, "Well, I've now finished school!" Armas Morby was quite taken aback when I turned up so soon, but he kept his promise to hire me.

I started on a trial for a month or two, but then I got a permanent job and had a good salary from the beginning.

There was already another artist at Press & Publicity called Nils Egerbrandt and the two of us shared rooms in an old 19th century building. In the winter it was very cold in the room and the one who came first in the morning had to put on the fire.

UG: You became a studio artist for the first time. What work did you do for them?

RG: I had to add text in the speech bubbles, make simple retouching of the art and vignettes to the Kilroy comic.

There was no copier at work so I got to draw action scenes for the opening panels free hand. If you wanted to enlarge a picture, we had a device that we called "snabel" - a technical drawing tool. There were interconnected rods with a fixed and a sliding pin. You followed the outline of the original with the fixed pin, and then the movement was transferred via the bars to the sliding pin and an enlarged copy was then obtained which was then tipped. It was good training and eventually I also got to draw covers.

UG: Draw covers? You mean painting covers?

RG: Yes and no. For example, Seriemagasinet, there was usually no cover image so then we got either Brownie or I, together with Per Gillberg or Arne Linderholm, to select a good picture from any of the panels and sketch it on paper. Then you dote the cover, turn over the page, put it on a light table and paint on the back… so the painted picture is a middle piece or colour guide, This technique has been used in other newspapers and magazines as well such as Superman, Leather Patch, Cowboy and Tomahawk.

UG: And then you started work on Kilroy (or Amok as it was called in Italy)?

RG: Yes, the Kilroy series stopped in Italy in 1951, but it was popular and the editors wanted the series to continue. I would draw and Arne Linderholm would write script . The first job was to finish the Italian section of No. 6/1952. There was nothing further. Looking back, we were probably bad at finishing this story.

I worked regularly with Kilroy until 1952, but it became difficult to keep up to date and on budget with several pages a week and at the end of the year 1952 the ongoing publication ceased. But Kilroy has returned a few times in short adventures since then.

I still had a lot to do… more and more covers for Seriemagasinet, short stories and advertisements for upcoming issues, covers for Cowboy and studio jobs at the Tomahawk magazine.

UG: From 1954 the cover for Seriemagasinet changed technology and now included painted covers in watercolor. Was it the editors who wanted it that way - or you?

RG: Both. You can say in the period 1952-53 it was a failed experiment with very bad paper to save money. After that we wanted the magazine to look more beautiful. It turned out to be better wrapping paper that the color came into its own, in addition we at the editorial office considered that painted covers would make Seriemagasinet look more like a "real" newspaper, such as Living Life or Lecture.

It also felt a little more artistic to paint in watercolor than to sit and put paint on the back of a felted image. It was more fun to paint the covers in this way, but it also took more time (one to two days for a cover) and seeing Seriemagasinet was a weekly magazine, others on the editorial staff had to fill in and do simpler retouching jobs to help me out.

UG: You must have painted over two hundred covers between the years off 1952 and 1958, however they varied a lot - for example from a western series to head hunters. Who decided what the cover would be? And what support did you have to work with?

RG: Oh! Did I really do that many?