John Carter of Mars Covers by Robert K. Abbett

In 1963, Robert K. Abbett was commissioned by Ballantine Books to paint the covers for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series. 1965 saw the addition of John Carter of Mars as the 11th book, and Thuvia received a new cover in 1969. Abbett would also paint a Tarzan series of covers.

For the two different editions of Thuvia, I’ve read two stories. The first is that Ballantine accidentally published one of Abbett’s roughs (Thuvia with the banth), and they didn’t correct it until later. The second story is that John Carter helping Phaidor out of the flier was too risqué for 1963, what with the skimpy bikini, and going with the more chaste mini-skirt was the compromise until society caught up. I’m sure someone more knowledgable than myself will bring some clarity to this.

Abbett was one of the premier illustrators of his day, eventually leaving the commercial art game to master another field, painting dogs for the print and gallery market.


I haven’t been able to gather a complete set of virgin art to include here yet, but I did find a few of them.

Robert Abbett Thuvia Maid of Mars

Thuvia, Maid of Mars

Robert Abbett Synthetic Men of Mars

Synthetic Men of Mars

Robert Abbett John Carter of Mars

John Carter of Mars


Robert Abbett A Princess of Mars

Robert Abbett The Gods of Mars
Robert Abbett The Warlord of Mars

Robert Abbett Thuvia, Maid of Mars
Robert Abbett Thuvia, Maid of Mars

Robert Abbett The Chessmen of Mars
Robert Abbett The Master Mind of Mars

Robert Abbett A Fighting Man of Mars
Robert Abbett Swords of Mars

Robert Abbett Synthetic Men of Mars
Robert Abbett Llana of Gathol

Robert Abbett John Carter of Mars

Scott Dutton

Scott Dutton is a graphic designer and illustrator with experience in marketing, publishing and information design

  1. Scott Dutton on the Robert K. Abbett Ballantine Barsoom Cover Art | thejohncarterfiles.com left a comment on April 8, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    […] Ballantine Barsoom Cover Art. April 08, 2012. From Catspaw Dynamics: In 1963, Robert K. Abbett was commissioned by Ballantine Books to paint the covers for Edgar […]

  2. Ralok left a comment on April 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Amazing covers! Have always been some of my favorites!

  3. Ruth left a comment on April 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    These are awesome. Capture the characters better than the ‘look’ of the film I just saw!

  4. Dengor Don left a comment on April 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    The flyers on these book covers have always been my idea of what the Barsoom flyers should look like. The flyers in the film just don’t do it for me.

  5. Jimmie Tee left a comment on April 10, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I’m thinking that’s Phaidor on that original Thuvia cover.
    Blonde, fair skinned, and has that haughty look.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on April 10, 2012 at 10:51 am

      That’s an interesting thought.

      Maybe it was something like Abbett going, “Hi Ballantine, here’s the cover for Thuvia. John Carter helping the seductive and manipulative Phaidor down from her ship.”

      “Very seductive. Nice bikini. The book is Thuvia, Maid of Mars.”

      A moment of silence.

      “How does Tuesday sound?”

      “Sounds good. Thanks, Bob.”

  6. David Hoffman left a comment on September 1, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    I’m establishing my ancient age as I mention that I still have all of the original Ace and Ballantine books of ERB from the 1960s.

    The artwork of Robert Abbett does, indeed, remain the definitive standard for the Martian novels as well as most of the Tarzan novels.

    The artwork is definitive enough that it’s the only viable means of scratch-building a 2-man Barsoomian scout/flyer.
    Not sure of the scale I’ll be using, but it’s based on the illustration from the 1969 cover art from Thuvia. (To the reader who wasn’t sure of the warrior… that’s Carthoris, and the young lady is Thuvia.) The design also goes to the cover of Swords of Mars.

    Best guess is a scratch-built model of about 10–12 inches in length… as soon as I can finish this 31-inch model (1/69th scale) of Disney’s Nautilus… (redesigned an LED circuitboard to show different lighting formats).

    Enjoyed reading your article here and I appreciate that you had the good words for the artistry of Robert Abbett.
    Hope to continue this correspondence.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on September 2, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Hi David –

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, and for sharing your model-making efforts. I know we’d all love to see photos of your work when it’s done.

  7. David Harrell left a comment on September 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I wrote to Ballantine Books in 1966 to ask about the covers and was thrilled when someone there (Robert Abbett?) sent me a collection of the flat covers and the original oil or acrylic art for the Llana of Gathol cover. I still have the letter, the covers, and the original. It was a huge gift to a teen age fan and has been long appreciated.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on September 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      That is one heck of a story, David. Thanks for sharing.

      • Keisuke left a comment on September 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

        I was amused when I figured out what all that “sixth ray”, the ray of flight or whatever, was. The first ray had to be alpha rays which are just Helium nuclei. Burroughs was just being up to date. If the first ray could float lighter than air craft, surely the sixth ray could do it better and even do more.

        P.S. I read the books with the Frazetta covers. The men portrayed were as ridiculous anatomically as the women, but, hey, they’re Martians.

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