Cover Art and Illustrations
Commentary on Margaret Brundage (1900 – 1976)
Several articles regarding the life and times of Margaret Brundage can be found in a recently released book called The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art. From the articles presented I was able to piece together her biography, dispel rumors through personal interviews with her, and understand her style as an artist. From the different articles and personal interviews presented in the book demonstrate why she became known as the “Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art.”
Margaret Brundage was classically trained as an artist at the Art Institute of Chicago. She began her carrier as a fashion designer, but the Depression forced her to find employment elsewhere. Recently divorced and in need of a job to support herself, her young son and disabled mother; she answered an advertisement for Weird Tales magazine and showed her portfolio to the editor Farnsworth Wright. He was captivated by a pastel drawing of an Oriental female and hired her to create covers for his magazines Oriental Tales and Weird Tales.
The unique method she used to create her covers was the use of pastel chalk on canvas, which allowed her to create a soft sensual alluring presentation. Each was then placed into a frame and delivered for her contracted price of $90 dollars per image. She was interviewed and asked: “How long did it take you to draw each cover?” She responded:
“It would be impossible to give general estimates, because some work took much longer than others. A single figure, oh, I guess I could knock out in a week, if I kept right at it. But you understand that while I was doing this, I was keeping house, raising a son, taking care of a crippled mother, so that I could never sit down and draw for a week. In other words, it was come and go with it.” (31)
Brundage’s shared reflection on how she juggled a career and family is one of the major reason’s I am drawn to the pulps; for this was a growing field for employment for women who were creative with their artwork, stories, and poetry. Women were allowed to contribute as long as they were artistic with the art or original with their literary contributions. Women were also paid equal to the men of the time, albeit their pay was considered abysmal for what they contributed to the pulps.
Farnsworth Wright commented on how his staff handled Brundage’s fragile drawings, “while the pictures were in his office everyone was afraid to sneeze because the chalk pictures were so delicate they were afraid any sudden motion would destroy them” (17). After payment they were taken to an engraver to complete the transformation from chalk art painting to a still print that could be mass-produced. Her artwork was so fragile; none of her original covers are known to have survived.
Brundage learned the trade quickly that to have her art printed required showing a girl wearing next to nothing, or better yet – nothing at all. She had a unique formula for her success, other than supplying a beautiful naked pin-up she would create her drawing from a scene in a story that was ready to be published. Once she became a lead cover artist, several of the authors changed their writing styles to always add a potential scene that she could create after reading their stories. This was a reverse of many of the other artists in the pulps, who worked using vibrant oil paints. These artists would create the cover art first and were forced to wait and let them dry, then the editor would ask a known experienced author to create a story around the image. The author’s name would be added to the cover art, then the final “lettering” stage would complete to an engraving.
To illustrate Brundage’s method, I selected Robert E. Howard’s favorite drawing by her called “Black Colossus.” Howard became famous from his creation of the character we know as “Conan the Barbarian.” Here is an excerpt from “Black Colossus” by Robert E. Howard:
Conan leaped from his horse and plunged after them. He came into a room that glowed with unholy radiance, though outside dusk and falling swiftly. On a black jade altar lay Yasmela, her naked body gleaming like ivory in the weird light. Her garments lay strewn on the floor, as if ripped from her in brutal haste. Natohk faced the Cimmerian—inhumanly tall and lean, clad in shimmering green silk. He tossed back his veil, and Conan looked into the features he had seen depicted on the Zugite coin.
“Aye, blench, dog!” the voice was like the hiss of a giant serpent. “I am Thugra Khotan! Long I lay in my tomb, awaiting the day of awakening and release. The arts which saved me from the barbarians long ago likewise imprisoned me, but I knew one would come in time—and he came, to fulfill his destiny, and to die as no man has died in three thousand years!
“Fool, do you think you have conquered because my people are scattered? Because I have been betrayed and deserted by the demon I enslaved? I am Thugra Khotan, who shall rule the world despite your paltry gods! The desert is filled with my people; the demons of the earth shall do my bidding, as the reptiles of the earth obey me. Lust for a woman weakened my sorcery. Now the woman is mine, and feasting on her soul, I shall be unconquerable! Back, fool! You have not conquered Thugra Khotan!” …
[Deleted scene of Conan fighting with Thugra Khotan, a snake, and a scorpion]
Conan strode to the altar, lifting Yasmela in his blood-stained arms. She threw her white arms convulsively about his mailed neck, sobbing hysterically, and would not let him go.
“Crom’s devils, girl!” he grunted. “Loose me! Fifty thousand men have perished today, and there is work for me to do—”
“No!” she gasped, clinging with convulsive strength, as barbaric for the instant as he in her fear and passion. “I will not let you go! I am yours, by fire and steel and blood! Your are mine! Back there, I belong to others—here I am mine—and yours! You shall not go!”
He hesitated, his own brain reeling with the fierce upsurging of his violent passions. The lurid unearthly glow still hovered in the shadowy chamber, lighting ghostlily the dead face of Thugra Khotan, which seemed to grin mirthlessly and cavernously at them. Out on the desert, in the hills among the oceans of dead, men were dying, were howling with wounds and thirst and madness, and kingdoms were staggering. Then all was swept away by the crimson tide that rode madly in Conan’s soul, as he crushed fiercely in his iron arms the slim white body that shimmered like a witch-fire of madness before him. (Weird Tales Howard 698-99)
Cover Art to Robert E. Howard’s Cover Art Before Lettering
Story “Black Colossus” “Blue Woman”
Pulp fiction and Dime Novels were all the rage by 1937; drawn to their covers an estimated 30 million people were reading this cheap form of entertainment. Over time the “Weird Menace” or “Shudder” pulps and the detective pulps became too sexual provocative to sell on street corners. Weird Tales fell under this category with provocative nudes appearing on virtually ever cover. Mayor La Guardia of New York, wanted the pulps removed from his streets he felt the covers and racy content were borderline pornography this led to censorship in 1938 (Goulart 203). La Guardia may have cleaned up the industry, but this is not why Brundage was forced off the cover of Weird Tales.
Brundage continued to create covers until Farnsworth Wright was forced to sell his magazines due to his declining health. When in 1938, a new investor and an assistant female editor wanted her to clean up the nudity in response to recent events in New York, where their magazine was moving. She stopped creating cover art for Weird Tales due to a shift in their formatting to a bi-monthly product, which would reduce her pay to $50 a month to live on. Brundage was not willing to pack up her family and move to New York. The thought of still working for the magazine would require her to deliver her chalk art by way of a jolting train ride from Chicago to New York, would have destroyed her fragile drawings. She was forced to quit, which put an end to her career as the “Queen of the Pulps.”
During her most productive years Brundage received many comments on her beautiful covers, two that I found in “The Eyrie” commentary section are as follows by a young Forrest J. Ackerman and Walter Scheible:
“Forrest J. Ackerman writes from Hollywood, California: “Perhaps you would be interested in my comment on your covers, as a disinterested observers. As far back as I can remember, they have featured unclad heroines. Your contention seems to be, ‘Clothes make the woman—ordinary!’ Yesteryear, your covers were not so controversial because, though nude, the hapless heroines were more vaguely, indistinctly illustrated. Then came the Brundage beauties, in all their curvy clarity! And I have followed, with amusement, the resultant endless argument. Reader Robson, in your September issue, sums up for the opposition in what I should hazard will become a famous phrase: ‘After all, the thrill of viewing a nude isn’t exactly a weird one.” Ponder that. Maddening as a Minda-maiden, the fascinating feminine form on the cover is truly tantalizing. Fortunately, I can appreciate such pulchritude, as I am not a fanatic about whether your covers are fantastic or not. I am principally interested in CLMoore and your science fiction. But were I a weird-art enthusiast, I suspect I should say the scene selected for the cover did not represent the spirit (or spirits) of WEIRD TALES’ contents. It shows, simply: Peeping Tom startling Miss America as she emerges from her suit-less swim. The Blue Woman is a gorgeous girl—but she is not blue! She’s flesh colored, not phosphorescent. So how is she weird? Surely Tom’s unbeautiful face alone doesn’t make the cover eery. Wouldn’t an illustration from The Shambler from the Stars have been eminently more in the mood for Weird Tales?” (652).
“Walter Scheible, of Monticello, New York, writes: “I have been reading WEIRD TALES for over a year now, and I have also read some of the old issues of several years back. The older issues cannot compare with the issues you are putting out at the present time. The modern stories are of a much higher literary quality than were the old ones. In the old days you had a very few authors who could equal Lovecraft, Moore and Howard. You had no such stories as the Conan series, or the stories of Jirel of Joiry. The old mags didn’t have as good covers as the present issues, either. Mrs. Brundage’s covers have never been surpassed. I also prefer the new-type contents page to the old double-page type. All in all, the mag can’t be beaten. It is truly the unique magazine. It is the only mag of its type on the news stands today. As far as the controversy over the covers goes, I am entirely in favor of having one of Mrs. Brundage’s nudes every month, and not just once in a while.” (654)
Her favorite response directed to the editor appears on the following post card:
(Or, Covers for the Nude).
Reference the voluminous and unsavoury correspondence on the above subject frequently appearing in “The Eyrie,” I think you will admit that the attached, amended cover offers a solution to the eternal problem.
My domestic staff are enthusiastic devourers of Weird Tales; but, on the other hand, are maiden ladies of irreproachable propriety. Hence, before passing on my copy to the Housekeeper’s Room and after satisfying my filthy appetite with a long and salacious goggle at the cover, I re-edit the same at the expense of a little tracing paper, gum and personal effort and – viola! Scruples are gratified and the virginal mind of my domestics remains un-deflowered.
Why not, with every edition of Weird Tales include a ready-gummed supplement in the form of suitable, sensible, non-flighty attire (as per my example) for the lady on the cover? If you ask me, a glorious opportunity of pleasing everyone at once and silencing the pen of pornophily.
With kind regards,
Yours truly, Harold Markham.” (Korshak 26)
Frank R. Paul (1884 – 1963) -“Father of Science Fiction Art”
Frank Rudolph Paul was born in Austria. He began studying art in Vienna at an early age, and then traveled to Paris for further instruction. Paul then left Paris for London where he studied architecture and mechanical drafting. From London he moved to New York in 1906 to start a career in drawing. In his early career he was a political cartoonist, and would illustrate for technical magazines, and scientific textbooks.
Paul’s big break happened when he met another German speaking immigrant named Hugo Gernsback; they formed a professional friendship that lasted until the end of Paul’s life in 1963. Gernsback would give Paul story ideas and ask him to create covers for his magazines. His first cover appeared on Amazing Stories, April 1926, he would create all of the other covers of Gernsback’s publications, as well as most of the interior pen and ink illustrations, letting his dreams and fantasies become the visions of what science fiction could be. His images of space, lost worlds on distant planets, alien life forms, and space ships, could be found in Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and Air Wonder Stories – to name just a few. He is credited for creating the first picture of a space station on the November 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories.
Paul was a meticulous artist and worked seven days a week from 10 am until midnight. Even though he was constantly working he recalled in an interview, “They didn’t pay much in the early days. I used to get $50 for a cover and between $15 and $25 for interiors. The pay improved in later years” (Korshak “Paul” 21). His cover art would take one week to finish while an interior sketch took a day or two to complete. While he was working for Gernsback he was also drawing for advertising agencies and illustrating science textbooks. Many times he would be drawing four pictures at once, so he would ask one of his daughter’s to read the science fiction stories aloud to him as he worked. Although he could dream up structures in outer space, he is credited with designing the Johnson & Johnson building in New Brunswick, New Jersey (22-23).
First Cover Art “Into the Subconscious” First Space Station Image
April 1926 October 1929 November 1929
The interior table of contents of Amazing Stories would often describe the depiction of the cover art. In the October 1929 issue describes “Into the Subconscious” as: “Here we have a graphic as well as vivid picturization by our inimitable artist Paul, of what happens when scientists of the future will make it possible for us to get a sort of television picturization of our sub-conscious memories” (Amazing Oct. 1929). Paul’s fantastic drawings gave the readers a glimpse into his genius; he was often asked how he was able to be so creative he responded by saying:
A friend asked me once, on seeing a picture I drew of the inhabitants of a strange world, ‘How do you know that people on that world look like that?’ Well, the answer was: ‘Simple, I was there.’ Of course that brought a laugh, but for all intents and purposes it was quite a truthful and logical answer. You see, with a little imagination you can transfer yourself to any place in the universe traveling on thought waves, the speed of which makes the speed of light look like parking. I am sure you find just as much fun and fascination in exploring strange worlds as I do. To my mind, the best science-fiction stories do not necessarily deal with horrors, murders and destruction, but rather those which stimulate our imagination in exploring the wonders of the future in every branch of science. And what the future holds in store for us is both exciting and fun. (40)
Paul is also credited with creating Marvel Comics No.1, October-November 1939. In this cover art for this first publication he created the first image of the “Human Torch, the Sub-mariner, and Ka-Zar the Great” characters (28). His artwork was legendary and his covers attracted not only readers, but also inspired many authors to write for the pulps namely Arthur C. Clark, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov.
Paul’s ideas of the future were considered the fantastic at the time he commented on his career saying it was not always roses, but often times brick bats were thrown at him. His conclusions on what he was doing for the budding genre as:
Once in a while we also find eminent scientists throwing cold water on our enthusiasms. For instance, the other day Dr. Robert Millikan said we should stop dreaming about atomic power and solar power. We feel, as much as we love the doctor as one of the foremost scientists of the day, because he cannot see its realization or gets tired of research is no reason to give up hope that some scientists of the future might not attack the problem and ride it. What seems utterly impossible today may be commonplace tomorrow. (47)
His dreams of the late 1920’s are a reality today, the one interesting glimpse into his genius was he often liked to draw his explorers in “knee britches” which he thought would be the fashion statement of the future, well – this is where I believe his imagination just ran away from him.
By Susan Geers
Works Cited for Cover Art and Illustrations Article
Ackerman, Forrest J. and Walter Scheible. “The Eyrie.” Weird Tales Nov. 1935: 652, Print.
Brundage, M. Black Colossus. 1933. Cover Art. Weird Tales June 1933. Indianapolis.
Goulart, Ron. “The Dime Detectives.” New York: The Mysterious Press, 1988. Print.
Haining, Peter. The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2000. Print.
—, and Pictorial Presentations. TERROR! A History of Horror Illustrations from the Pulp Magazines. U.S.A.: Souvenir Press Ltd, 1976. Print.
Howard, Robert. E. “Black Colossus.” Weird Tales June 1933: 675-99. Print.
Korshak, Stephen D., and J. David Spurlock. The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art.
—. Frank R. Paul Father of Science Fiction Art. New York: Castle Books, 2010. Print.