Tuesday, September 14, 2010


No punny holiday celebrations today. In fact, no puns at all (well, maybe one or two). The theme today is that there isn't one, and so debuts a new series that will occasionally fill in for the usual topical applications. The goal will be simply to post a cover, one not chosen entirely by chance but with far less than the usual deliberation, take a closer look and see what the image reveals.

So how about today's Spicy Stories cover from 1935?! Far and away it's tops for that year and she stands, or rather sits, along Bolles' very best out of the entire run of Spicy. What about those enormous bows?!! That subdued metallic silver ribbon lacks the "coloric" punch Bolles connoisseurs are so accustomed to imbibing, yet this curiously monochromatic scheme has effective design elements that direct your attention to what matters. Consider the composition, which is unusual for Bolles. While many of his girls sat or knelt in the oft favored "L", that approach was discarded here (along with conventional clothing) for a head-on pose incorporating several visual tricks which thrust the girl right off the page into the reader's lap. Notice how the waves of ribbon draping the granite deco seat act to accentuate the horizontal plane (the pattern is repeated in her hair). The flat treatment of her torso (well...most of it) is contrasted by the more dimensional shadowing and highlights on her legs amplifies the effect. The shadow on her forehead gives the impression she's looking down on you from a superior vantage. Her expression implies the same. Is she disappointed? Annoyed? Peeved? A wasp ready to sting you for violating her territory? ("that's not your flower!") Or is she merely bored? Certainly, there's something on her mind though it would take a braver person than I to dare ask.

And this brings up another unique aspect of Bolles' work. Was there any other pinup artist of his era (granted, the term pinup originated in the early 40s) who depicted their girls with such confrontational intensity? Bolles produced a lot of covers with nary a hint of a smile. Some of his girls were bored, others pettish or merely unimpressed, and there were more than a few who confronted you with a cool, neutral gaze that conveyed an air of menace. I would venture that Bolles painted more mirthless pinups than any other artist. Throw out embarrassment as an emotional expression and you couldn't come up with a single straight faced Elvgren. Petty did haughty but after 1935 it was all smiles, and you had to wait until Playboy before you saw it from Vargas. It was Bolles who made the pinup more than just a vehicle of vapid cheeriness or abashment. But let's brave a closer look. Could that be the slightest curl of a smile on the edge of those luscious lips? Still not sure? We'll zoom in even closer when we probe the depths of Bolles' emotional range in future posts.