The cover illustration for the February 1971 issue of Real Men magazine might go with the story “He Bet His Babe In A Poker Game…And Lost!” that lurked inside. But with so many so-called ‘men’s adventure’ magazine stories like this particular issue’s “Sex-Hungry Women – Where To Find Them!”, “Give A Dame A Gun And She’s A Killer!” and “I Went To Bed With A Lez…Just To Find Out What It’s Like!” (from ‘an average young wife’, no less), it’s not always entirely clear which story the cover art goes with. Nonetheless, it’s classic 1960’s-70’s style vintage sleaze, and likely could’ve been paired with any of a number of that marketplace’s stories and articles.
Mort Kunstler – The Godfather Of Pulp Fiction Illustrators by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle (and Mort Kunstler) was the first book to arrive as I replenish my woefully empty to-be-read spot on the writing lair’s endtable. Mind you, the actual reading went quick, this very handsome 130+ page 2019 hardcover being a little light on text. But the nine-page intro by Mort Kunstler himself (as told to Robert Deis) was an intriguing read nonetheless. As he explains right at the start, “The word Kunstler means artist in German”, his immigrant father (an amateur artist himself) kept the spelling, and the rest was probably destiny.
The book’s heavy on Mort Kunstler’s pulpy ‘men’s sweats’ and adventure magazine illustration work, filled with WWII combat scenes, Cold War era spies and exotic safaris, with only a few examples of the master’s crime pulp work included. But trust me, it’s worth it for that intro alone, even if you’ve already seen many of the illustrations included here at any of your favorite pulp, vintage illustration and retro-kitsch sites and blogs.
“Stag Fiction” by Jack Q. Lynn in a 1956 issue of Stag magazine – This Is Santa Claus: “…The city was in Christmas wrapping, budding with bubbling brats, struggling parents, bells, hymns and good will. Only I wasn’t having any…I was going to collect plenty of Christmas loot, thanks to a ripe sucker, a tape recorder and two lush dames.”
Ho-ho-ho to you too. I’m no fan of the so-called ‘mens sweats’, but who can overlook a Robert Maguire illustration not often seen, the master artist known for so many and memorable paperback original covers, but clearly just as adept with a one-color palette and a horizontal canvas.
Like many of the academically trained artists from the post-WWII era of paperback and pulp magazine illustration, John Duillo’s real interest wasn’t gangsters, gumshoes or femmes fatales, much less the damsels in distress (more accurately, women in peril) that he’s best known for. His real passion was western art and the Civil War. Still, a fellow has to eat, and following a stint in the U.S. Navy, Duillo studied art with Adja Junkers and photography with Berenice Abbott, then worked in commercial illustration, as an art director, set designer and a photographer. From 1960 onward, Duillo is credited with over 500 book covers, constantly in demand for expertly rendered westerns in particular. Search online, though, and you’ll likely be scrolling through a gallery of his color cover illustrations for the late 1950’s through early 1970’s men’s “adventure” magazines, apparently called upon when women in peril images were needed…which seemed to be all the time for those particularly weird publications, and lets just say the images became increasingly ‘perilous’. Quite sinister, in fact. If the 1930’s shudder pulps’ covers seem a little pervy to modern eyes, the so-called ‘men’s sweats’ are diabolically so. WWII Nazis and Japanese soldiers, Cuban revolutionaries, Soviet KGB officers, motorcycle gang leaders and sundry robed and hooded cultists abound, and all of them are gleefully tying up women and threatening them with bizarre tortures – whips, racks, snake pits, alligator ponds, blowtorches, iron maidens — you name it — or in the ‘tamer’ pieces, more conventional forms of sexual assault. Yikes. We’ll skip those here.
Cowboys roping steers and rebels waving stars-n-bars flags aren’t my thing any more than than leering sadists. It’s too bad John Duillo didn’t get more illustration assignments for routine mystery/crime fiction book covers or the remaining crime fiction magazines that were still left during his peak years. He was a talented artist, and I’d love to see what he could’ve done with more gangsters, gunsels, gun molls and gumshoes, given the chance.
I see this ‘silver age’ pulp interior duotone illustration all the time at Pinterest, Tumblr and wherever, though rarely credited. I suppose that sometimes it’s just because the posters are…well, lazy. But maybe in this case it’s because the source’s title is just so darn silly: A Charles Copeland illustration for “Break The Black Panty Spy Ring” by Maxwell Hamilton from the February 1960 issue of Stag magazine. And no, I personally don’t own any so-called ‘men’s sweats’ rags. Doesn’t mean I won’t browse the artwork from Copeland, Bill Edwards, Samson Pollen and others from that peculiar post-pulp-heyday genre. And that has to be one of the silliest titles among those magazines’ many, many outlandish story titles.
I’ve posted Bill Edwards illustrations before, and will again, hopefully along with some explanatory background on this truly intriguing artist, once I get the time.
Some have claimed that the figures in his full color cover art can look a little stiff or his backgrounds too pedestrian compared to some of his contemporaries, which include the genre’s masters like McGinnis, Maguire and others. I don’t now about that, not being an art critic. I do know that his B&W and duotone interior illustrations — surely done fast, probably not for mega-bucks and normally for the bottom-feeders of the fast-fading pulp magazine marketplace — the so-called ‘mens sweats’ – are full of verve and manage a lot of pop with only a one-color palette. Period-perfect retro-sauciness, too, don’t you think? This particular piece is a Bill Edwards gouache on board for a 1964 issue of Babe magazine.
‘Babe’ magazine? Yikes.
An often-seen and often-ogled illustration by pulp-art maestro Mort Kunstler, who’s still with us, I believe, and in his early nineties. Kunstler’s pulp magazine, paperback covers, and men’s ‘sweats’ magazine cover art and interior illustrations may be cherished by fans of all that’s retro, kitschy and sleazy, but the artist would understandably prefer to be known for his incredible historical art, his many epic Civil War paintings in particular. Nonetheless, this bit of 20th century naughtiness is from a February 1970 issue of Men magazine and seen often enough to almost be a noir-culture icon, replete with a spartan room, a rugged shoulder-holstered bad guy with gun in hand and a table covered with stolen loot. Just how many gals were still rolling on nylons by 1970, I don’t know, but some pulpy clichés almost demand to be retained, don’t they?
Men in danger? Sure, but I’m not certain which is more dangerous. The easy money for delivering a package of something that’s surely illegal? Or Miss Can’t-Keep-My-Slip-On goading him from her perch on the bed behind? A pulp (or more correctly, one of the so-called ‘mens sweats’) magazine interior illustration by Howell Dodd from a 1964 issue of Men In Danger.