The Consummate Illustrator

Austin Briggs

Just ordered mine today from Auad Publishing: Austin Briggs – The Consummate Illustrator edited by Manuel Auad, text by David Apatoff, with a foreword by the artist’s son.

Briggs isn’t the first name that’ll come to mind when you think of so-called golden and silver age illustrators from the mid-twentieth century, at least among pulp, mystery and crime fiction enthusiasts. He worked primarily in the glossies (lucky fellow) and in advertising, but his enormous body of work included no shortage of dark and mysterious pieces from high profile magazine story assignments. Check out a previous post of mine on Austin Briggs (link below) for a few more examples of his work and more about the artist.

Austin Briggs Cosmopolitan 1947Austin Briggs

And try the link to Auad Publishing while you’re at it. What an interesting operation. I have a couple Auad books, so I know that Austin Briggs – The Consummate Illustrator will be a handsome piece. Manuel Auad produces a small but impressive list of titles, each a labor of love and honoring classic American and foreign illustrators. These are well made books done in short runs, most sold direct from the publisher, not in stores, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. There’s only so much to browse there, some of the titles already sold out. But the site’s definitely worth a visit for its Links page, with a great list of artists’ and illustration sites you’re bound to probe a bit.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/07/24/austin-briggs/

auadpublishing.com

Austin Briggs

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Born in Minnesota, (unbelievably, in a railroad car parked on a spur!), Austin Briggs (1908- 1973) spent his childhood in Detroit, then moved to New York City as a teen, during the Depression, no less, to purse a career as an artist and illustrator. He began with low end ad agency work, his talent for figurative work quickly spotted, and was assigned to paint men and women into completed car ad illustrations. He began doing spot interior B&W’s for the burgeoning pulp magazine marketplace, which led to a job as the assistant to successful comic artist Alex Raymond, working on the Flash Gordon and Secret Agent Corrigan strips.

Austin Briggs 1

After WWII, Briggs hit the big time, doing both paintings and B&W pencil illustrations for the highly competitive ‘glossies’: Redbook, Reader’s Digest and The Saturday Evening Post, and along with illustration luminaries like Norman Rockwell, Robert Fawcett and Jon Whitcomb, was one of the founders of the Famous Artists School. You won’t find Austin Briggs work adorning 1940’s – 1950’s crime paperbacks or sleazy pulp mags, and his 1930’s pulp interior spots are largely lost, mostly unsigned and uncredited. But leave it to the ‘stiletto gumshoe’ to root up a few mystery and crime story illustrations done for the highbrow set nonetheless, for tales like “The Counterfeiters” and “The House Of Terror”.

Austin Briggs 5Austin Briggs 2Austin Briggs 3

 

Adriano Rocchi

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I’ve looked, and unless I’m misspelling the artist’s name, I can’t find a thing about Adriano Rocchi. Not just online, mind you. I have several long bookshelves crammed with books on vintage paperbacks, pulp magazines, U.S. and European illustrators and sundry sleaze artists. But…nothing. Now lets guess from the examples I stumbled across that Rocchi is one of the many post-WWII era Italian pulp artists working in Giallo paperbacks, crime/horror/sleaze digests and film posters. If you know more, I’m all ears!

adriano rocchi

Master Stylist: Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke - 6 - Parker

No one’s passing is good news. But when beloved or talented people leave us at a young age, it’s doubly painful. We can’t help but wonder what else they’d have created if granted more time.

Darwyn Cooke - 5 - Parker

Canadian artist, illustrator and animator Darwyn Cooke was just such a case. The master stylist was born in Toronto but grew up in Nova Scotia, where he learned to draw at an early age by ‘deconstructing’ comics, attempting to replicate the style of the illustrations…and in doing so, developing his own very distinctive style. Know him for his stunning comics work on Batman, Catwoman (that’s where I first discovered his work) and Richard Stark’s Parker, or for his animation work for The New Adventures Of Batman and Batman Beyond, or know him for winning thirteen Eisner Awards. But know that, sadly, he succumbed to cancer in 2016 at age 53. But his work lives on…

Darwyn Cooke - 7 ParkerDarwyn Cooke - 3 - The SpiritDarwyn Cooke 1Darwyn Cooke 2Darwyn Cooke 4 - ParkerDarwyn Cooke - 8 - Parker

C. C. Beall

C C Beal

Cecil Calvert Beall (1892 – 1970), better known as C.C. Beall, isn’t a big name among vintage paperback and retro pulp magazine illustrators. Actually, his reputation is mostly due to a series of high profile WWII era war loan drive posters.

c c beal - 3

Beall learned under master figure drawer George Bridgeman, surely a familiar name to any former art student, and studied at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. While most contemporaries worked in slow drying oils or fast drying (but extremely tricky) gouache, Beall worked primarily in traditional (transparent) watercolors, though in a distinctive heavy manner, only ocassionally combining them with charcoal or gouache for selected commercial assignments. His patriotic war era propaganda ad and poster illustrations were so successful that he was temporarily made an employee of the U.S. War Department, and was present at the final Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri in 1945, where he painted the official portrait of the event.

CC Beal - 2

But like many working artists of the time, Beall did all kinds of work, from glossy magazine illustrations to advertising, film studio assignments and book covers, including his darkly gorgeous painting for Bruno Fischer’s 1950 House Of Flesh from the preceding post. Some more of his non-military work is shown here. And heck, I’m throwing in the cover art from House Of Flesh one more time for good measure.

Walk In Fear CC BeallsSiagon Singer CC BeallsFarewell To Arms CC BealDark Interlude CC BeallsCC Beall House OF Flesh 1950 Art

Basil Gogos

Basil Gogos

The name Basil Gogos (1929 – 2017) is inextricably linked to Forrest J. Ackerman’s beloved monster kidz magazine Famous Monsters Of Filmland, Gogos responsible for so many of the cover illustrations of classic monster characters, all done in his own striking color schemes. But like most postwar illustrators, Basil Gogos did all kinds of work, from prosaic advertising assignments to paperback book covers, pulp magazine covers, interior illustrations even work for the so-called “Mens’ Sweats” magazines.

Edmond Gray

Edmond Gray

Maybe I’m just looking in all the wrong places. I don’t think I’m misspelling the artist’s name. But I can’t seem to locate much (or any!) background or biographical information about postwar illustrator Edmond Gray. I’ll keep digging, but till I do uncover something, here’s a piece that’s always been among my favorites from that era.

The Pop Culture Rembrandt

Pop Culture Rembrandt

Check out the Crime Reads.com essay by J. Kingston Pierce: “Robert McGinnis: A Life In Paperback Art”, honoring the prolific American illustrator on his 93rd birthday this Sunday, February 3rd. The article’s tag notes, 93 Years & Thousands of Paintings from a “Pop Culture Rembrandt” and Pierce’s essay does a fine job of sharing McGinnis story and his place among the masters of postwar paperback, magazine and commercial illustration.

Robert McGinnis - Lesbian Covers

Perhaps more than any other artist from that era, Robert McGinnis’ work is almost inseparable from the identities of a number of popular paperback crime and adventure series. Consider at least the well-known ones: Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne, various Carter Brown series, Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott series, John D. MacDonald’s novels including the Travis McGee series, M. E. Chaber’s Milo March Mysteries, Edward S. Aarons’ Sam Durrel spy series, and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books as well as his A.A. Fair Donald Lam & Bertha Cool mysteries. Almost disappoints me that McGinnis only did two covers for one of my own private eye series favorites, Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddel mysteries. But along with these, there were countless stand-alone titles, from crime to romance, westerns to espionage and more. McGinnis only did a few of the postwar paperback era’s lesbian themed books, and took what may be an unfair bad rap for his illustration for Beebo Brinker, but we should remember that illustrator’s often had no more than a brief editor’s blurb to go by, and often didn’t get to read the book itself…if budgets or deadlines would have allowed them to anyway.

Never Kill A Client 1963

McGinnis’ style evolved with the times, becoming increasingly abstract, vignetted and decorative, rooted less in fully rendered interior/exterior scenes. By the time photography and all-typographic styles began to dominate the paperback market’s covers, the artist had moved successfully into film posters and other assignments (likely more lucrative) while pursuing his own fine art work, predominantly western art. The excellent book Tapestry- The Paintings Of Robert E. McGinnis edited by Arnie and Cathy Fenner does a wonderful job of juxtaposing selected McGinnis commercial illustrations with non-commercial paintings, seeing both in a fine art context.

kill now pay later 1960

For many, Robert McGinnis’ striking nude (or nearly so) vixens and elongated, preening sixties-chic coquettes are what he’ll be remembered for. Myself, I’m drawn to the more flesh-n-blood figures, my all-time favorite the seated woman in a simple green dress and long brown gloves from the cover of Never Kill A Client, a 1963 edition of a Mike Shayne mystery (above), and an illustration I keep handy since it so closely resembles my own imaginary character, the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’. Some real favorites are shown here in this post, including the fetching femme fatale perched on a private eye’s desk from Kill Now, Pay Later (1960), or the bar room pianist tickling the ivories where McGinnis’ trademark longer-than-long legs draw his attention from Murder Me For Nickels. The iciness of the subdued colors in a very risqué for the time, Exit For Dying (1956) may just be the single sexiest piece of cover art I’ve ever seen. But I’ll always love the comparatively prosaic and fully-rendered scene of the redhead alighting from the backseat on Day Keene’s Too Hot To Hold from 1959.

Murder Me For Nickels

I’m never comfortable with labeling one artist, author, musician or any other creative as ‘the best’. There are masters and there are followers and many at levels of skill, talent and popularity in between. For me, there are several artists from those golden and ‘silver’ ages of paperback, pulp and glossy magazine illustration that comprise the top tier. McGinnis, of course would be there, not only as a superior figurative artist but also as a master designer, possibly demonstrating more stylistic diversity than any of his peers and contemporaries. And of course, those contemporaries are, for the most part, retired or deceased now. Bittersweet, but maybe that’s for the better, so they don’t have to reckon with an Adobe-ruled Illustrator/Photoshop world.

Robert McGinnis Exit Dying 1956

Do follow the link below to J. Kingston Pierce’s “Robert McGinnis: A Life In Paperback Art” essay and gorge on the many reproductions. It’s a far more eloquent tribute than anything I could muster up. Still, a heart-felt happy 93rd birthday to the ‘”Pop Culture Rembrandt”, Robert McGinnis.

Too Hot To Hold 1959

https://crimereads.com/robert-mcginnis-a-life-in-paperback-art/

 

Euro-Pulp: Michel Gordon

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French illustrator Michel Gourdon was every bit as prolific as many of the more familiar names from 1930’s through 1970’s American pulp magazine and paperback cover art masters like Robert Maguire, Robert McGinnis, Mort Kunstler, Earl Norem and so many others. But biographical or any other info about the artist seems pretty scarce. What I can dig up is in French, and even four years of high school French (mostly forgotten) only equips me for some useless word-here-and-there hunting and pecking. Google translating docs yields gibberish for the most part.

flueve noir duo

What I can glean is that Gourdon was born in 1925, spent most of the WWII years studying at the Bordeaux School of Fine Arts, then headed to Paris in 1946, working for the next fifty years or more as one of France’s most popular pulp magazine, men’s magazine, Giallo digest and paperback cover illustrators, while also pursuing more lucrative advertising and film poster assignments. Michel’s brother Alain was also a popular French illustrator, going by the name ‘Aslan’, known mostly for quite explicit pinup art, along with some book and magazine cover work, most of that also pretty racy stuff. Michel Gourdon passed away in 2011.

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Myself, I’m an ardent fan of retro illustration. Mind you, I’m not foolish enough to elevate what were hastily executed commercial assignments to fine art status, nor blind to how salacious so much of it was, nor naïve about just how utterly perverse the 1930’s pulp magazine covers and 1960’s men’s “sweats’ magazines in particular really were. I mean seriously, I understand the value of the hunky hero and damsel-in-distress (or undress) thing to sell crime magazines on a crowded Depression era newsstand, but for all the weirdly fetishistic perversity, American pulps and postwar paperbacks have absolutely nothing on the postwar ‘Euro-Sleaze’ marketplace. If you disagree, just browse some work by Italian illustrators like Alessandro Biffignandi and Emanuele Taglietti for sheer twistedness. Perhaps the French exhibited a little more class. Uhm…a little.

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Books on Michel Gourdon are hard to come by, at least in the U.S., though vintage digests, paperbacks and magazines with Gourdon covers are available for the deep-pocketed collector crowd (which I don’t belong to). There’s much to be found online, not that I’ll post it all here. Some of the work steps over the line between ‘tawdry-retro-kitsch’ and dangerously warped…heck, a couple of these images might be tip-toeing around that line. But pulp-art is what it is, and for good or bad, Michel Gourdon was one of Europe’s postwar pulp masters who surely deserves more recognition among U.S. fans.

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