Background art by Rafael Desoto
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Rafael DeSoto

Rafael M. DeSoto (1904-1992) was born in Aguadilla, on the west coast of Puerto Rico to a family of noble Spanish bankers. Rafael began drawing at an early age, though he has no idea why; In a family that could trace its lineage back to 1250 -- and included conquistadors -- he was the first artist.

In 1915, following an international banking crisis and his father's death from a heart-attack, he, his mother, and his five siblings dispersed. Rafael was sent 80 miles from his home to Saint Joseph's Catholic seminary in San Juan. There he continued to develop his painting, but also prepared to become a priest. At 19 he graduated and, taking a year off before committing to the priesthood (and study in Rome), he travelled to New York City in 1923 to explore an art career. It didn't take too long to decide to stay in New York. Maybe it was the adventurous conquistador in him, but he himself admits "I liked girls too much!"

DeSoto kicked around doing artist odd jobs (including soda-pop labels!) for seven years until, in 1930, he answered a newspaper ad and landed a staff job at Street & Smith doing pen & ink interior story illustrations. He learned much in two years and was given the opportunity to do his first cover painting -- Top-Notch Magazine, dated June 1, 1932. S&S art director Bill Lawler probably regretted that opportunity, because DeSoto immediately left to try his hand at freelance. What followed was one of the longest, most notable careers in Pulp Art!

Soon DeSoto's artwork could be seen regularly on the covers of All Detective, Black Book Detective, Ten Detective Aces, Thrilling Detective, and many western and sports pulps like Ace Sports Monthly. He worked for six different publishers for six years before signing an exclusive contract with Popular Publications, where he would became their top cover artist from 1938-1948. (He continued to do covers for other publishers, by either not signing the work or using variations of his wife's maiden name like "F. Mason" or "M. Francis.") He started painting The Spider with the glorious October 1939 issue, and continued to the end of the series.

In the late '40s and early '50s, the demand for Pulps waned -- thanks to the rise of television and paperback books -- and "slick" magazines were using photography for illustrations more and more. Like many artists from the Pulps, DeSoto started painting for paperback books and men's magazines like Male, Action for Men, Sportsmen, True Action, Men's Life, and For Men Only.

In the very late '50s, DeSoto fell into portraiture for government officials and CEOs, and this led to doing religious posters and cards -- finally using his God-given talent for the Church! In 1964 he was hired to teach anatomy and compostion at the State University of New York, Farmingdale, which he loved very much and was able to do for ten years (having fudged his birthdate by five years). He continued to paint every day, until he died in 1992 following a serious cold.

Official Site: The Estate of Rafael M. DeSoto