Normand Blaine Saunders was born January 1, 1907 in the northernmost wilderness of Minnesota. His 35 year-old father, Clare, was a war veteran and his 18 year-old mother, Elvira, was one quarter Iroquois Indian. Norm's younger brother Duane was born in 1913.
At age three Norm's right eye was severely burned by accident with a red-hot fireplace poker, resulting in six months of complete blindness. After his sight was restored by several operations at a charity hospital in Minneapolis, Norm acquired a passionate lifelong habit of sketching his observations of life.
After graduating high school, Norm was trained in art by correspondence courses with The Federal Schools Inc. of Minneapolis. Along with his diploma in 1927, Norm also received a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute, which he soon forfeited when offered a full-time job on the art staff at Fawcett Publications in Robbinsdale, MN. Norm worked there for six years along with future pulp artists Allen Anderson, Ralph Carlson, George Rozen, and Carl Buettner.
Norm moved to NYC in 1934 and studied night classes with Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art.
In 1935 Saunders began to sell freelance cover illustrations to Fawcett's arch rival, Harry Donenfeld, for pulp magazines Saucy Stories and Saucy Movie Tales. In order to avoid burning any bridges with Fawcett, these covers were signed with his little-known middle name "Blaine."
Although many early illustrations are signed "Normand" in 1937 Saunders legally shortened his name to "Norman."
By 1938 Saunders was a top pulp magazine cover artist. He painted 446 pulp covers for almost every title and publisher during the pre-war period.
By 1940 he had moved into the slicks.
Saunders was drafted by the Army during World War II and served one year in the military police before being trained in camouflage and sent to paint gasoline storage tanks along the Burma Road in China for the duration.
Saunders returned to NYC in November 1945. He married his model, Ellene Politis, in September 1946 and moved to a Harlem townhouse and raised four children.
After two years of unsuccesful attempts to work within the confines of post-war slick magazines, Saunders left the slicks and returned to working for pulp magazines, where he was in constant demand for the remaining years of that industry. During this period he added another 421 pulp covers to his lifetime total of 867, which is the highest number of covers painted by any pulp artist.
He painted his last pulp cover in 1960. Saunders found all of his subsequent clients in the subculture publishing world of paperbacks, comic books, men's adventure magazines, and trading cards.
Norman Saunders lived long enough to see himself celebrated as the legendary creator of many iconic images of American popular culture.
He retired to his wife's hometown and died of emphysema at age 82 in Columbus Nebraska on March 7, 1989.
© David Saunders 2009