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.

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?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Foxy Hunter

Just a short post this time around. I've been in England this week and have discovered that our man Bolles has been misleading us about the appearance of women on the other side of the pond. Consider the evidence on your left. Our cover girl to this 1935 issue of Spicy Stories has nothing in common with the Geordie's I've spied strolling the river walk, as attractive as they are. But perhaps I simply haven't looked hard enough, and so I will update you if my research yields any new insights. As some of you know Bolles did an entire series of covers on girls of the world and so my work must continue, undaunted.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cover Girls

This 1930 issue of Talking Screen, which was soon retitled Silver Screen, is among one of only four cover portraits that Bolles did in his long career. To my mind it is far and away his best. It is instantly recognizable as a Bolles but still captures the essence of Nancy (she's always seemed a bit of a pixie to me). The gauzy look to the edges and lines make me think she was done in oil pastel, a medium Bolles would only have employed by directive. His cover for the debut issue of Talking Screen was a pastel of Norma Shearer in the Armstrong style, so blatant was it that Armstrong did his own version of of pose just a few months later for a competing movie rag. This Carroll cover is far more successful and I only wish there were more. The one unfortunate element is that the type runs right over Enoch's signature, which is uncharacteristically large.

Now it is true that Bolles did a dozen or so figural illustrations of Hollywood starlets for Film Fun but most were a bit of a disappointment, clearly taken from stock photos--despite the captions claiming they were specially posed for Film Fun--and they come off a bit generic. The lone exception was the over the top painting of Lupe Velez as pirate girl. I would be grateful if someone could explain to me the popularity of the girl-as-pirate, for a while it seemed that every illustrator worth his salt was shoving them off the plank one after another. The Bolles cover certainly captures the vivacious energy of the Mexican Spitfire, perhaps because she may have actually posed for it, or at least that is what Enoch's daughter once told me. The one misfire in this painting is the lame flintlock. I could swear Lupe's brandishing a purse sized can of mace.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Last Call!

Drat! Or should I say draft? Midnight yesterday was the last call for beer day. This is a cover I've been waiting for an opportunity to share for so long I simply couldn't throw it back in the cooler for another year. A bit of history: long ago I spotted a smudgy thumbnail of this 1922 issue of Judge on eBay and it immediately set my Bolles radar pinging. I had no choice but to get it. After the issue showed up in the mail my intuition was confirmed. The telltale EB was faintly initialed in the shadow of the glass (notice the tiny conceit of how the descender of the "B" extends ever so slightly out of the shadow). What a thrill. This has to be the most atypical cover of any Bolles ever did.
So what clued me in? First, even at low resolution I could tell it was a quality illustration, but then Judge had a bullpen full of top rate illustrators including the likes of Flagg, Held, and Lagatta. What set this image off were the lighlights. Bolles did a lot of commercial art and reflective materials (glass, porcelain) often had strong highlights with the light source located directly in the midline. Second, the shadow had some Bolles touches too it, amorphic with a warm to cold register. Or maybe I just lucked out.
At any rate I think the cover is a hoot, and you have to wonder how long it took Enoch to paint all those little bubbles. And of all things, the cover was swiped by another artist (Bolles hated that) nearly a decade later, on another cover of Judge no less (hard to believe prohibition lasted that long). Who knows if the "model" was a glass of root beer or the real thing. Although Enoch might have an occasional beer I very much doubt if he took his oils and canvas to the nearest speakeasy to solicit an appropriate model.