Panning the murky old print stream for the odd glimmering nugget
The Twilight World of Girlie Cartoons
Back in the 40s and 50s, this stuff constituted a real cottage industry of disposable and often interchangeable product. However dismal the pay and shabby the presentation, some real gems (and some real howlers) were created by the odd first-rate talent in third-rate circumstances. Let’s take a peek behind the beaded curtain… -RG
« … every idiot who goes about with a ‘Merry Christmas‘ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. » — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)
Whoa, is the accursed Holiday Season upon us again already? Given the rather baffling (but greatly appreciated) popularity of our previous brochette of Christmas-themed Playboy cartoons, which took off in… April and just kept gathering steam, we’ve chosen to just go with the flow and present you with a sequel. We’ve had more time and opportunity to dig further, so we’ve cherry-picked a dozen, both naughty and nice, with plenty left over for next year. We’ve taken pains to include some of the worthy cartoonists who were somehow left out of last year’s legendary Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood.
Here we go, then. Season’s greetings and all that rot!
I think it first struck me how afraid of bright colour* we’d become, as a society, from years of ads for Bose’s odiously-designed Wave® sound systems, as consistently expensive are they are hideous (so they must sound fantastic!), circa the early 2000s.
Today, I’m going to (gasp!) restore some colour to your lives. This may lead to a sudden jolt, so avert your eyes if necessary.
Strictly speaking, I don’t have a favourite Playboy cartoonist — honestly, how could I, with that sumptuous, half-century-plus embarrassment of multifarious riches? Ah, but I certainly hold Leo ‘Dink’ Siegel (June 30, 1910 — Dec. 28, 2003) in quite lofty regard, thanks to his fantastic sense of design, his bold, delicious colour palette and his fastidious attention to detail (pay and treat your cartoonists well, and see what you get!). Today, I’ll concentrate on Siegel’s ‘roommates’ series; there’s generally a black pussycat hanging about, a fine furry bonus.
American artist Richard Larson has had his ink-smeared fingers in many pies. He has drawn ghost stories for Charlton Comics (see our posts dealing with that here and here), followed by some underground comics, followed by Marvel super-hero portfolios, followed by his own series Demon Baby, followed by…. He often works in tandem with other artists, most notably with Tim Boxell and with painter Steve Fastner (see a gallery of their collaborations here).
« Steve Fastner and Rich Larson have been working in concert since 1976, and together they create one entity of staggering abilities. Rich will lay down the structure of an illustration in pencil form, and then Steve will attack it with army of airbrushes – and when the dust clears – a magnificent painting stands proudly. For over a quarter of a century, they’ve been able to do this, working for comics, book publishers, advertising agencies, movies and television, and now the web. » (quote from Fastner and Larson Gallery, 2002)
I would be remiss in not including a collaboration between Larson and underground comix artist Tim Boxell, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post and then proceeded to neglect.
Speaking of beautiful women in varying states of undress… if I mention Haunted House of Lingerieto you, does it ring any bells? Does it sound like an intriguing concept? Then the first thing you should do is visit our Tentacle Tuesday: a Day at the Beach. Nothing like shameless self-promotion! But afterwards, you might want to seek out the three volumes published so far before the whole thing goes completely out of print.
« Won’t you have a little rest when they turn out the lights A nice cup of tea and you’ll be feeling alright Don’t fret, you’ll recover yet you’ll see So keep on sending dirty postcards back to me Back to me, back to me » — James Warren/The Korgis (1980)
London-born Donald McGill (Donald Fraser Gould McGill, to be more precise, 1875-1962), was known for his risqué seaside postcards, sold mostly in souvenir shops in British coastal towns.
He painted the usual figures of fun in the noble tradition of British titillating humour: attractive young ladies, obese men, respectable drunks in the throes of a midlife crisis, cantankerous old ladies, religious personnel, courting couples (a lot of courting couples!), and so on. He painted well, he was prodigiously prolific… and he was not afraid of making jokes so off-colour they could possibly make a sailor blush. (I only have a vague idea of what sailors were like back then, you see.)
McGill ranked his own work according to its vulgarity, classifying it into “mild, medium and strong”. It goes without saying that the “strong” category sold in far greater numbers! Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), McGill’s postcards got him into trouble with upholders of the Moral Good (spoilsports!), culminating with McGill being dragged into court in 1954, when he was almost 80, for breaking the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. The result of this hearing was a hefty fine for McGill, and disaster for the companies producing saucy postcards, with several smaller companies going bankrupt as sales plummeted, cards were destroyed and retailers cancelled orders.
McGill very much died in the saddle: he continued to work until his death in 1962 (and with cartoons for 1963 already prepared). He certainly recycled some jokes, but I think it’s safe to say that he was not about to run out of material. The “king of the saucy postcard” is estimated to have produced around 12 thousand (!) paintings during his career, resulting in the sale of around 200 million postcards… and no royalties for McGill, mind, just his earnings of three guineas per design.
These days, he’s credited with an astute power of social observation and impressive artistic skill. He’s worthy of that praise, but what touches me most is that McGill gave people who surely needed some cheer in their lives a reason to smile, giggle and perhaps even daydream. Hell, some of these postcards made *me* daydream.
Okay, enough theoretical discussion! On to the indecency. I’ve roughly sorted these out by degree of (increasing) “vulgarity”. I honestly didn’t think the jokes would go beyond the “not indecent, but suggestive as hell” category, as per a definition my college best friend coined for something else altogether, yet some of them make surprisingly direct references. Isn’t it lovely to know that our great-grandmothers had their minds in the gutter, too?
You can also take a gander at some sketches, which were unearthed in someone’s attic in 2015. As the article explains, « drawings feature fat old ladies, big busted women and lusty men. » While you’re at it, brush up on your Brit slang for the bedroom (entirely unnecessary for the current post, but fun!)
With every passing year, I have more and more trouble getting into the spirit of Christmas (especially since all the snow has now melted). An early present of Rodney Crowell’s Christmas Everywhere helped a bit, but to speed things along some more – and before Christmas Eve takes me by surprise – I’d like to titillate everybody’s taste buds with this spread of Playboy Christmas cartoons.
In 1946, Georges Pichard (not sure who he is? Visit our Pichard’s Distressing Damsels for an overview of his later work), heretofore toiling in a marketing agency, started his career as an illustrator. He worked for various French magazines and newspapers (like Le Rire, Fou-Rire and Les Veillées des Chaumières), providing them with covers, cartoons and pin-ups in black-and-white or gorgeous watercolour until the mid 70s, when he switched gears somewhat and dedicated himself to erotic bandes dessinées.
I left image imperfections (due mostly to yellowing of paper over time) and hand-written captions (when available) as is, as I find they provide pleasant texture and context. The jokes are really lame, but we translated them, anyway.
The following three cartoons were published in Le Rire sometime in the early 60s:
« At one time, I sold general cartoons to some of the men’s magazines, the girlies — until I went into a newsstand one day and looked at one. » — Betty Swords
If female cartoonists were fairly uncommon in the American mainstream magazine field for much of the twentieth century, they were doubly so within the so-called girlie mags.
« During the 1950s, Abe Goodman — brother of Marvel Comics publisher Martin Goodman — was the largest buyer of cartoons in the world. Publishing out of New York City under the Humorama banner, Goodman churned out scores of cheap digest-sized magazines boasting inventive titles like Romp, Stare and Joker that featured hackneyed jokes, cheesecake photos and the publications’ bread and butter, single panel pin-up cartoons.
These magazines were an unlikely proving ground for neophyte gag cartoonists as well as a welcomed alternative to the daily grind of comic book sweatshops. In the 1950s and 1960s, these digests featured the likes of Playboy’s Jack Cole, Archie’s Dan DeCarlo and glamour girl legend Bill Ward. »
While I can unreservedly recommend Alex Chun and Alex Covey’s The Pin-Up Art of Humorama (Fantagraphics, 2011), I’m frankly puzzled as to its wholesale snubbing of Helen Case, who might have brought a welcome bit of variety to the all-male revue. God knows some lesser lights did make the cut.
While feminist cartoonist Betty Swords would likely have dismissed Case’s protagonists the way she did Barbara Shermund‘s, as « gold diggers, dames — amateur prostitutes », Case’s cartoons (I’m afraid I don’t know whether she wrote and illustrated, or simply illustrated… at Humorama’s pauper’s rates, the former is somewhat preferable) provide a refreshing female perspective to the battle of the sexes. To quote Betty Swords again (from R.C. Harvey‘s excellent Insider Histories of Cartooning (2014, University Press of Mississippi): « I remember one editor who shuffled through my cartoons then tossed them on the desk and said, ‘You gal cartoonists are all alike — you don’t attack and hit hard enough!‘ »
While scant information is available regarding Ms. Case (she appears to have lived in Kingston, New York in the early 1960s), at least online, much of her work survives, which surely has to count for something. We present some of the finer cuts, and if the gags aren’t transcendentally great, they are a brace o’ notches above the average knuckle-dragging drollery pervading the pages of Breezy, Snappy or Eyeful of Fun. Most of these gags were drawn and initially published (Humorama’s cheapskate policy was to print, reprint, and reprint again) between 1960 and 1964. Enjoy!
« I’m not content when I’m traveling, but I’m not content when I’m not traveling. So I guess I’ll keep traveling. » – Shel Silverstein
Another one of those nice Jewish boy geniuses, Sheldon Allan Silverstein (1930-1999) was born eighty-eight years ago, on September 25, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. Uncle Shelby lived life to the fullest, creatively in every respect. He tried his hand at many things, and what do you know? He succeeded at every often-unlikely turn, sometimes artistically if not commercially, but generally on both counts: cartoonist, singer, songwriter, screenwriter, poet, actor, playwright, children’s book author, bon vivant, raconteur and lover… yet his dad was never impressed. Old man Nathan wanted his son to join him in selling furniture. Some obstacles are just plain insurmountable.
Once more, faced with the daunting prospect of discussing a prolific and versatile creative soul, it seems well-advised to concentrate on a tiny area of his roadmap. And so…
In 1957, Playboy magazine founder and esteemed patron of cartoonists Hugh Hefner entrusted Shel with a special assignment, that of roaming the Earth and recording his special impressions. The results, published between 1957 and 1968, were twenty-three travelogues brimming with the gregarious Silverstein spark and spirit. But he first had to be sold on the approach. According to Hefner, in his foreword to the definitive collection “Playboy’s Silverstein Around the World” (2006), « I envisioned something along the travel letters Ernest Hemingway submitted to Esquire — A sort of personal diary that would be dispatched from around the globe. Shel was uncomfortable in that role. He didn’t want to include himself, but I persisted. And I’m glad I did. What we got back in those drawings was narrative storytelling of a very personal manner. We saw Shel establish himself as a character.»
Let’s leave off with these revealing words from Playboy photographer Larry Moyer: « He was one of the funniest guys I ever knew — and it was never at anybody’s expense. A lot of humor is based on putting other people down. I don’t remember one time Shel ever put anybody down in his work — and that’s something. » That’s something indeed, now more than ever.
« …the finest line ever to be bequeathed to a cartoonist. It dances; it snaps gracefully back and forth. » (Coulton Waugh in “The Comics”, 1947)
That description was written à propos of Don Flowers (1908 – 1968) and his art. Some of you may remember seeing Glamor Girls in your favourite gazette – at the height of its popularity, this syndicated strip ran in about three hundred newspapers. This story goes thus: Flowers, working for AP Newsfeatures, created a few strips, namely Oh, Diana!, Puffy the Pig, and Modest Maidens. The first two achieved very modest success, but the third one was a huge hit, so much so that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (displaying his usual impeccable taste in comics) offered Flowers double salary if he came to work for Hearst’s King Features. Since AP owned the rights to Modest Maidens, the strip was renamed into Glamor Girls. Flowers drew Glamor Girls, both dailies and Sundays, until his death by emphysema in 1968.
His art is quite lovely – but I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Here are some examples. (All strips below have been published by King Features syndicate between 1958 and 1963.)
« That Flowers is not better known is both a pity and a surprise, especially given his technical expertise and the recent renaissance in the popularity of the pin-up genre. Whether blondes or brunettes, showgirls or housewives, Flowers rendered them flawlessly and elegantly, and always with equal aplomb. » (Alex Chun in Glamor Girls of Don Flowers, Fantagraphics, 2006).
«…There are things that never change, especially the early foundations. For better or worse they become part of your style. And as I continue to draw, every time I look at a page I think to myself, that nose is an Oski nose, that body is a VIP body, and every time I draw a beautiful woman, I think – no, I wish – she is as beautiful as a woman drawn by Don Flowers. » (Sergio Aragonés in his introduction to Glamor Girls of Don Flowers, Fantagraphics, 2006)
Flowers’ art looks as good, if not better, in old-fashioned black-and-white, which is often the case with artists who have a fluid inking line. The original art for some Glamor Girls strips allows us to admire details:
After his death, Flowers’ son self-published Standing on Ceremony, a collection of marriage-themed cartoons plucked from his vast collection of his father’s original art. You can see some of them here.
Amidst all the (justified) doom and gloom that this week has brought us, there is one bright spot that comes just in time to save this week from being a complete downer. It’s Eldon Dedini’s birthday! (He was born in 1921, on June 29th.) Yes, I know that he died in 2006… but his joyous, delightfully hedonistic art lives on. As a Russian whose father once started a rowdy party because it was Mozart’s birthday, I claim the privilege of celebrating Dedini’s jour de naissance by raising my glass of rosé (satyr-approved, of course) in his honour.
He was one of Gus Arriola’s closest friends. To quote Arriola, «calling Eldon a cartoonist just christens the tip of an impressive iceberg. Beneath the surface is a superb painter, a remarkably inventive illustrator, philosopher, and humorist—a keen observer, revealing life’s little truths with his unerring brush. His chief reward was the viewer’s invariable burst of laughter. He was a walking repository of eclectic knowledge about art, history, jazz, wine—you name it. I gave up using my encyclopedia on a subject search: it was faster to pick up the phone and call Eldon.» By the way, I pulled this quote out of a R.C. Harvey article published in the Comics Journal titled “Viewing Life Through a Twinkle”, which gives you an idea of what a fun read it is.
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Dedini is merrily frolicking satyrs, closely followed (or preceded) by unapologetically buxom women, all of this merry crowd looking to have some fun of the most basic kind. It’s not all randy woodland gods, though; there’s also room for lascivious gnomes, salacious wolves and whatever other lechery comes to mind. (Most of these were published in Playboy Magazine.)
Although it’s easy to be blown away by Dedini’s take on Grecian and Roman mythology – I think fabled creatures gave him an easy outlet for his joie de vivre – he could seemingly draw anything he wanted to, stunning forest landscapes or historical costumes, capturing carpet textures, clothing accessories or musical instruments with equal ease.
“During an intermission at one year’s Festival, Dedini and some other PBL members went up on stage to have their photograph taken. Duke Ellington was still on stage, seated at the piano, putting eye drops in his eyes. When Dedini was introduced as “a cartoonist who sometimes draws jazz cartoons,” Ellington got up and, without saying a word, pulled out his wallet and started looking through it as he meandered, aimlessly, around the platform. Finally, he found what he was looking for, a folded up magazine clipping. He carefully unfolded it and spread it out on the piano: it was a cartoon Dedini had done for Collier’s. The cartoon depicted two Russians in Red Square, one of whom is obviously a dealer in blackmarket phonograph records: he has opened his coat to show the other fellow the record that he has tucked inside, saying, “ … Cootie Williams, trumpet; Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Harry Carney, baritone sax; Duke Ellington, piano …” Said Dedini: “Ellington loved that cartoon because when he toured Russia the people of Russia loved his music, but they couldn’t buy the records.” For years thereafter, Ellington sent Dedini a Christmas card. “I have about twenty,” Dedini said. “He sends them in June.”