Monday, July 26, 2010

In a Bar... Far, Far Away

So there I was, sitting in a bar in the back streets of Nara, Japan. It's the reason this blog has been bereft of posts for the past several weeks. The trip was for work but all the while I kept my eyes peeled for any Bolles connections (hence the late night excursion). If you look long and hard enough I've found that eventually something will turn up. It was just a year or so back that while I was working in Stockholm I came across a Bolles image in the most unlikely of places, one of those just-so Steig Larsson type associations, and I was hoping there would be something of the same in Japan. I had tried to get in touch with a collector I knew in Tokyo who has three Bolles originals, but that didn't pan out. And my very last night in Japan I found myself in an well worn neighborhood pub in Nara--which happens to be 1,300 years old this year--called Ryoma, named after the famous reformist samurai, Ryoma Sakamoto, who lived just prior to the Meiji restoration. Initially a traditionalist who favored isolation and tradition, he read extensively and became a strong advocate of opening the borders of Japan and embracing modernization, so much so that he brandished pistols along with samurai swords (by a twist of fate a gun was used to assassinate him), but this story is not about Sakamoto, as seminal of a figure that he was. That's somebody else's blog. No this story is about Enoch Bolles.

After studying a poster of this image of Sakamoto my eyes drifted to an image hanging on another wall, this one a poster for poster for Kirin beer. Alas, the bar was dark and the photo I took of it didn't come out but I found the same image on the web. It really knocked me out, and the closer I looked the more of a Bolles vibe I got from it. Take a look for yourself. As with a Bolles, her hands are very prominent in the composition and are oh so carefully posed. There are the little details in the rendering of the kimono, the contrasting color in the sleeves and the hint of the flower pattern in the obi. The almost airbrushed quality of the color also reminds me of Bolles in his later years. Ok ok, I'll admit that I'm really pushing the idea of an association here but Film Fun was available in Japan until it was banned in 1936, and this poster was done in 1939. So who can truly say.

But let's move from speculation to fact. Here we see the only existing example of a Bolles cover with an Asian theme. It's not unlikely that this may be the only example of an Asian pinup by any cover artist to see print in the 1930s. If there were, none came anywhere close to this level of eroticism. As many of you know each cover of Tattle Tales featured a girl from an exotic corner of the world. Unfortunately Bolles' run of covers for Tattle Tales lasted barely a year. It makes me wish he was with the magazine long enough for a return trip to the Far East.