More Mystery In Moonlight

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Here is the full suite of creative retro-pulp homage (or spoof?) images done by model Claudia Schiffer, photographer Michelangelo di Battista, artist Jon Rogers and stylist Alison Edmond for Harper’s Bazaar UK in 2009, titled “Mystery In The Moonlight” and inspired not so much by crime pulps, but more by the so-called ‘shudder pulps’, those dark mystery and horror magazines notorious for their damsels-in-distress (and undress) covers. Also shown below is Ms. Schiffer herself at a gallery opening with the works.

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Mystery In Moonlight

Claudia Schiffer by Michelangelo di Battista

The image could almost be from a 1950’s B-movie poster, vintage paperback original on a spinning wire rack or a tawdry ‘true crime’ magazine lurking on the bottom row at the candy store. Michelangelo di Battista shoots supermodel Claudia Schiffer for Harper’s Bazaar UK in an editorial titled “Mystery In The Moonlight”, utilizing drawings by artist Jon Rogers, the project styled by Alison Edmond. More of this projects intriguing pulp-spoof images follow in the next post.

Benicio’s Girls With Guns

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It’s a peculiar American conceit: We think we dominate everything. No question, sometimes we do. In the vintage art and illustration arenas for comics, pulp magazines and book covers, titans like McGinnis, Maguire, Steranko, Kirby, Adams and so many others created a remarkable legacy of mid-twentieth century pop-cultural visuals. A person could spend a lifetime studying these artists and their work. But, I also like to snoop around Euro-Sleaze magazines, Giallo digests, and pop illustration in other markets from the UK to Australia and Mexico to South America. There’s a lot to be appreciated.

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For example, commercial art studios in Spain reached out across Europe — and across the Atlantic as well – to become a powerful force in 1960’s – 70’s comic art art and illustration, most evident in the American market among the many magazine-sized monthlies from Warren Publishing like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, along with competing titles from Marvel and Skywald. Meanwhile, the work of talented young artists from Brazil and Venezuela made it into the regular U.S. comic book scene and the paperback cover market, though the latter was contracting so fast at the time, many U.S. artists had already migrated into more lucrative advertising and movie studio work.

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Consider Brazilian artist Jose Luis Benicio, apparently regarded as the ‘King Of The Pinups’ in his own country, though his work actually dealt more with Brazilian film studio posters and regular advertising assignments. Perhaps he really ought to be known as the painter of ‘Girls With Guns’, for his extensive work on period-sexy action/espionage paperback series.

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Born in 1936 near Rio Prado, Benicio originally planned on a career in music, but abandoned the piano for a paint brush, initially starting out as an apprentice in Porto Alegre at only 16, then hitting the big time in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1950’s. There he worked for various studios and small agencies, eventually forging a lucrative long-term relationship with the Brazilian office of McCann-Erickson advertising by 1961, which led to work for Coca Cola, Esso and others. Tireless in his prime, Benicio also produced, by his own reckoning, over 300 movie posters for the government-backed Embrafilme Studios.

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At the same time, Benicio worked for various publishers on popular Modesty Blaise-style knock-off series like Giselle and Bridgette In Action, nearly all featuring the series’ provocatively posed heroines brandishing a gun. Tame by both U.S. and European standards, these ubiquitous ‘Girl-With-A-Gun’ covers actually brought him some unwelcome attention from the conservative military government. Eventually political changes in Brazil brought an end to the government backed film studio system, and portions of Benicio’s lucrative movie marketing work dried up. He began working with some American publishers, but by this time, digital graphics were already sounding the death knell for traditional illustration.

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Benicio normally worked in gouache, today considered by many to be a dying art. Gouache, which is more or less ‘fine-arts’ tempera paint, combines the brilliance of the purest oils but with unparalleled opacity. Due to its quick drying time, it’s the perfect medium for commercial illustrators. I worked with it a little back in school days, and was impressed with its bright, intense colors and buttery viscosity, but found it pretty tricky to handle. (Which is probably among the many reasons why I’m not a successful commercial illustrator!) More of the well-known vintage U.S. paperback and pulp magazine covers than you’d think were actually done in gouache, not oils.

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To be clear, ‘girls with guns’ aren’t the only thing Benicio painted. But they are among the familiar pop culture images the artist is widely known for, particularly in the South American market. Do dig around a bit on your own if you’d like to see more of the Brazilian illustrator’s work. There are two books on Jose Luis Benicio, though neither is likely to be on a shelf at your local bookstore: Sex & Crime: The Book Cover Art Of Benicio by Reference Press, 2011 and Benicio Created The Woman by Goncalo Junior, originally published in 2006 and re-released in 2012.

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Men In Danger

Howell Dodd Men In Danger magazine 1964

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.

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.

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.

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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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