Monday, August 31, 2009

Knife to meet you


Watch out! This senorita means business. After the recent post discussing how Lupe Velez was so casual about brandishing her sidearm I thought it would be interesting to follow up with a cover where the Bolles girl looked like she was both willing and able to do some bodily harm. This 1940s reprint from a 1935 issue of Breezy Stories is a most unusual Bolles cover. The most obvious reason is because Breezy Stories was a pulp that trafficked in stories of a rather demure nature far removed from the true Spicy pulps. As described in a 1932 issue of Writer's Digest the editors of Breezy looked for: "dramatic, powerful human problem stories in many of which the sex angle is merely suggested." Curiously the article later indicates the editors "do not care for stories that have a distinct foreign flavor." Despite these high minded descriptions it is obvious that Bolles was hired to to sex things up and add a pinch of foreign spice. Not only did the cover have the exotic accent claimed to be so unpalatable by the editors but also a threat of violence that was entirely absent from within the pages of the magazine.


With this cover Bolles was dipping his brush into the spicy menace genre monopolized by Culture Publications, an imprint started by Harry Donenfeld (who later made his fortune with DC comics) that included in its line-up Spicy Detective Stories, Spicy Adventure Stories, Spicy Mystery Stories, and later adding the incongruous Spicy Western Stories. As risqué as were the stories inside their pages, they paled against the visceral impact of the covers, particularly those by the master of the genre Hugh Ward. His fulsome, barely clothed women practically burst with goggle eyed panic as beetle-browed thugs, mad scientists and backwoods geeks menaced them with dagger, pistol, poisonous snake, blackjack, raygun, scimitar, bullwhip, syringe, branding iron, spear, dumbbell (wielded by the carnival strongman), arrow, harpoon and other instruments of violence. For the sake of comparison, most of the covers shown here involve knives. They are also unusual because they depict some tough harem girls you wouldn't want to mess with, instead of the typical shrieking showgirl. But just from these few examples it is clear that Ward owned the Spicy Menace genre. Even H.L. Parkhurst's covers for these titles, which dealt with equally lurid setups, appear almost classical in contrast.
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Aside from the standard woman in peril theme there were at least two other storylines that run through the spicy menace covers. One pandered to race fears, and the other not so subtly hinted about the impending fate of a brazen woman foolish enough to display her charms to the wrong audience. Not surprisingly the spicy menace titles were prime targets for decency leagues and the editors tried to succor them by publishing less graphic versions of the covers and later by replacing the Spicy Titles with the less provocative "Speed". Neither worked, and they were eventually hounded out of circulation.

So back to our Bolles girl. She must be considered a sort of bespoke or one-off cover as Bolles never did another that remotely resembled her situation or disposition. And frankly, I don't think he was comfortable doing this cover. For as suggestive and even salacious as some of his other work was, it totally lacks the misogyny and sadism that run so rampant through Spicy Menace art. It's also curious that it appeared just a few months after the Culture Publications titles hit the newsstands. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if Ward painted the Hashish for Hoshepure cover to show Bolles how spicy menace was done. Finally, there's one other unusual detail in the Bolles cover painting and no, it's not the lack of the raised pinky. Can you spot it?

9 comments:

Artman2112 said...

that's a great cover! i wish he did more like this! i cant open the image larger so no way can i even begin to try and pick out the detail you mentioned but i will say this gal is surprisingly well-endowed for a Bolles woman!

Jack R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack R said...

I'll try and reformat it. I am lucky to have gotten hold of a high quality poster of this cover, done back in 1935 when it first came out, so I'll scan it and repost the image. Yes, I do wish Bolles would have done more like this but it is just so unusual for him. As far as her endownment, well I would rate her as a bit above average for Bolles. It seems to me that Bolles channeled Salma Hayek in coming up with the painting.

Jack R said...

Ok, I've reloaded the image, much bigger and with some corrections. But now when I open it up full size I see there is a problem with the registration, and that's something I have yet to figure out how to fix on powerpoint.

marco pedrana said...

coolness... this cover, imho, lives more on the acting than on the actual painting, it feels a bit un-cared for, i guess.
yet the colouring and composition are masterful: if actually he was caring a little for this job, Bolles could not avoid to pour his skill on it...

the other covers from different authors, one's gotta say it, are wonderful though.

Gary Underwood said...

Hi Jack, I would say this BOLLES girl is unusual in the application of make-up to her face. Most of his girls are pretty natural, with the exception of the rosey cheeks.She does look like she has a score to settle.She may be the only one of his girls going to the big house.

Artman2112 said...

thanks for reposting the image, i was able to see it much larger now, what a great painting! i cant really see any unusual detail but i am certainly not well-versed enough in Bolles work (yet)
i will go out on a limb and assume this is probably the only piece he ever painted with a gal holding a dagger?!?!?!

Jack R said...

Well, I better admit that it is sort of a trick question. And I'll reveal the answer soon.

Alan Wrobel said...

Nice bit of pulp-style writing Jack! I can almost hear your heart racing as you pounded out the words. And that's the way it should be!! I get back into the writing from those great penny-a-word artists every so often and am amazed at the phrase turns they pull off. And the art matches up so well. But our man Enoch did the girlies, not the spicies, and I'm glad he stuck to his happy, sexy girls.