Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July 3: Compliment Your Mirror Day

As the fourth of July neared my excitement grew. What a theme for a post! It was just a matter of finding the perfect patriotic pin-up. With over 500 magazine covers, countless advertising illustrations and other works you'd think the only difficulty would be picking out the best example. But try as I might nothing came even close. No girls straddling sky rockets, no flappers in Uncle Sam garb, no WW-I posters. It almost seemed that Bolles had made a conscious decision not only to avoid any art linked to the Fourth of July, but with any overtly patriotic theme.
It's possible that this absence was simply a matter of timing. Bolles was not among the rank of illustrators who would have been invited to participate in the civilian preparedness campaigns that J.M. Flagg and other artists figured so prominently in. And his career was coming to an end just as the WW-II pin-up became codified by Alberto Vargas.
So as a fall-back we will be celebrating Complement Your Mirror Day, and in this case I have far more than enough material (don't forget the great Gay Book cover with a mirror theme that was recently featured). Perhaps another day we can reflect on the symbolism of using mirrors as a prop, but for now it's enough to ponder the meaning behind this improbable celebration.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pole Enhancing

Watch it with that axe! This cover from the April 1935 cover of Spicy Stories has a lot going on but it's her expression that makes the cover work for me. The outfit, such as it is, would have been a lot more fun if Bolles had done her up in fire fighter's version of his famous biker girl uniform. The skimpy underthings don't make any sense at all. Well, maybe some. Afterall we are talking about Spicy Stories, a periodical pulled from the newsstands of New York city on order of the mayor, lest it arouse citizens to impure thoughts.

It's too bad that the preliminary sketch to this cover isn't around because I have this idea that Bolles' first attempt had her adorned in fireproof attire (though I have to say of the sketches for Spicy covers I've seen the editors rarely changed a thing). But if Bolles did have her dressed up too much the editors probably defaulted to the standard less is more approach to cover, so off went the uniform ("but keep the rubber boots"). A nice image still, but I can only imagine what Bolles could have done with a firegirl in a uniform.

The cover did generate considerable interest in the form of imitation, the theme of my last post and so I've decided to stay with it for a while. I'll follow this up with two classic Bolles images that were expropriated by other magazine cover artists. Curiously, each involves the model entwining her legs around various props. For your perusal, below are several other examples of girls pole sliding that followed the Bolles cover. The clues I provided in the previous post should help you identify the artists.

Postscript: Somone brought this Elvgren to my attention so I've added her to the growing fire pole.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him" Y. Berra

From time to time I'll get a request to ID a a pinup as a Bolles girl or not. Having seen scores of his magazine covers, advertising illustrations and personal paintings I can usually pick the Bolles out of a lineup without any trouble. Yet there are cases when it is not such a simple matter. Bolles sometimes did work that was very removed from the typical pretty girl theme, and there were occasional odd-ball covers that seemed designed to intentionally frustrate the hard core fan. But the most trouble comes from artists who either borrowed the Bolles style or worked directly off of Bolles covers. George Quintana (his nom de pulp) was an artist who owed his entire pulp magazine career to Bolles. Quintana started out working for Movie Humor, a magazine which so studiously followed the style of Film Fun that the Delacorte's (who owned Film Fun) filed a law suit over it. The judge ruled in favor of Movie Humor, and so Quintana's career continued as did Bolles' frustration with being swiped on a monthly basis. There were times Quintana would create a cover configured from several Film Fun girls, but he often was just plan lazy and copied a cover outright. The easiest way to ID a Quintana is by the magazine itself. Quintana's did work for Movie Humor, Reel Humor, New York Nights and Silk Stockings. Contrary to some claims Bolles never did any work for these rags. The other easy way to tell them apart is to look at the hands. Bolles' are long and elegant, elegant whereas Quintana's are most charitably described as chubby. They also look like they could put your eye out.

Peter Driben also owed Bolles a debt of professional gratitude as much of his early work- which appeared in the same magazines as Quintana as well as High Heel and La Paree-was obviously inspired by Bolles. In most cases Driben tried harder than Quintana to establish his own style but there were times where what he did was tantamount to tracing. Check out this cover to Movie Humor from 1938 and the Bolles Film Fun from 1934 (this Film Fun image was reused, without permission, on the cover of the first issue of the Canadian magazine Garter Girls in 1937).

Sometimes the cover wasn't swiped outright but served as obvious inspiration. The example below is also from 1934, and was quickly picked up by other artists who either duplicated it outright or tweeked it a bit. Included among them were Quintana and Driben, as well as Reginald Greenwood, and Jack/Otto Grenier. Curiously the major alteration made to the Bolles image was to flip it, and so I've reversed several of the covers to provide a direct comparison. Bolles himself never used it again and I think it may have been due in part to the provocative nature of this pose. In fact, the version of this cover printed for England had a banner slapped over her mid-section, which I think unintentionally insured the image was perceived as scandalous.
Among other pinup artists who have used Bolles for inspiration I've seen a few by Earle Bergey (he also did work for the same magazines and it's likely the art editors demanded he stick with the same style), one Moran and an Elvgren, though George Petty had not so much as a hint of Bolles in any of his girls. But of all the artists, I was shocked to discover that the king of the modern pinup, Alberto Vargas swiped one of Bolles most well known covers (the Cupid's Capers contortionist) for one of the girls he was doing for Playboy. Bolles was still living when this Vargas girl was published and I wonder whether he ever got wind of it. I sincerely doubt Bolles had a subscription to Playboy but he did know enough about Vargas' success to inspire him to take some samples, painted when Bolles was pushing 90 years old, to New York to a competing magazine to see if they were interested. Alas, they weren't. But then, who would ever accuse Bob Guccione of being a pinup man.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Hands Have it

Hands and feet, the troublesome book ends for many illustrators. They so vexed some artists that they went to extremes to hide them. The acclaimed pin-up artist, George Petty grew so weary with shodding feet that he resorted to binding them all in ballet demi pointe shoes, the most ridiculous example being his Rigid Tool girl series. The example I posted also has the hands obscured with baggy work gloves. Maybe he was tiring with them as well. Or perhaps he was just trying to redress the dress code, so to speak.

Not so with Bolles. The truth was that Bolles had an obsession about getting hands just right. I heard the story of how he once grew so frustrated with how a model model held her cigarette, that as soon as he got home he had his son-in-law pose so he could get it just right. Funny thing, not only was his son-in-law a non-smoker, he was a National champion bicyclist. No cigarette had ever touched his lips before his debut as a Film Fun model.

Bolles had his standard hand poses that he returned to over and over, just as he often relied on variations of the "L" pose described in the previous post. His two favorites were the standard raised pinky, and the "E" where the middle and ring finger rested together but the index and pinky were splayed apart. To me, this is Bolles' hidden signature and depending on its orientation looks a lot like the E or B he used to to initial covers back in the 1920s. Why Bolles lavished so much attention into is unknown, but clearly the effort added a lot to his compositions. So how about giving a hand to our favorite pin-up artist.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The "L" Pose

Sorry for this visual contrivance but I've long pondered whether Bolles created poses from letters of the alphabet, or some related sort of personal geometry (he was mathematically inclined). Among the various poses that show up repeatedly during his long career is one that seems to form the letter "L". My theory is that Bolles resorted to this patella punisher in reaction against the tyranny of the magazine cover. How do you pose the girl on three or four magazine covers each with the same dimensions every month year after year without repeating yourself. If your career as a cover artist goes on for three decades as Bolles' did, at some point it is inevitable; you simply have to revisit the same poses (the L, the ogive, the T, the X), themes (the upskirt, the torn outfit, the surfer, the cowgirl) and visual puns (girl on a buoy, girl riding beach toy, girl and animal). And Bolles was at a huge disadvantage compared with other artists who had long careers doing magazine cover art. Periodicals such as the Saturday Evening Post had cover themes that ranged from babies to grandparents with the occasional pretty girl in between, affording its cover artists considerable latitude. It is true that during her 14 year run of McCall's Neysa McMein did nothing more than portraits of woman cast in the popular American type of the healthful homemaker, but the magazine's subscribers were quite content with this. Not so for Bolles. Though he received considerable fan mail, he was also constantly harangued with requests from readers (I use the word loosely here) for a certain pose or their favorite hair color, be they blondes, brunettes or readheads. Plus Bolles had to contend with a growing lineup of competiting magazines with cover art so brazenly modeled after Film Fun that the Delecortes took their publishers to court for infringement (they lost the case). Because of this Bolles must have been pressured by Abril Lamarque and the other art editors of Film Fun to ratchet up the curb appear of his cover art. One way to do this is to increase the scale of the girl, hence the L pose that is the theme of this post. Side seated poses occasionally showed up in the late 20s and during 1930-31 Bolles experimented with peculiarly large headed girls. The earliest L poses appeared on Pep in 1929, but Bolles didn't use it much again until 1934 when it started showing up with increasing frequency on the covers of Spicy Stories, Gay Parisienne and later, Film Fun. In part he may have simply become weary of having to dream up novel poses year after year (there were a lot of L poses during the last three years of Film Fun ) but it also let him put more girl on the cover, and what was lost in compositional variety was made up for in the huge wardrobe ranging from harem girl to body stocking.

So let's hear it for the L pose, and the T, and the X and the...