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
« By 1948, the Italians had begun to pull themselves together, demonstrating once more their astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is so perfectly balanced by their absolute inability to deal with success. » — Gore Vidal
The accomplished Italian graphic designer, animator and illustrator Niso Ramponi (1924-2002), is perhaps most renowned (it’s all relative, but not to actual merit!) under his pinup cartooning nom de plume of “Kremos”.
Ramponi champion Joseph V. Procopio sheds some light on the genesis of this alias:
« Ramponi’s pen name, Kremos, was born of necessity: Like many of his generation, after the war Ramponi was conscripted into the Italian army for a year of service. Loath to abandon his budding cartooning and illustration career but barred by military regulations from working as a freelancer, Ramponi conspired with a friend named Sandro Cremo, who acted as his intermediary to secure and deliver freelance art assignments on Ramponi’s behalf. To maintain the ruse, Ramponi signed his work Kremos, a pseudonym that stuck even after his discharge from military duty. »
My own initial exposure to Ramponi/Kremos’ work came through Lawrence Lariar and Ben Roth’s splendid, but woefully short-lived Best Cartoons From Abroad collections (1955-60), which contrasted favourably against the genteel contemporary American humour anthologies. Fortuitously, Signor Procopio eventually assembled, circa 2015, twin collections of Ramponi’s finest cartoon work, ‘Kremos: The Lost Art of Niso Ramponi‘, volumes 1 (b&w) and 2 (colour). Grab ’em while you can!
Here’s a mixed even dozen of my favourite Kremos cartoons. Buon appetito!
« It took me some years to clear my head of what Paris wanted me to admire about it, and to notice what I preferred instead. Not power-ridden monuments, but individual buildings which tell a quieter story: the artist’s studio, or the Belle Époque house built by a forgotten financier for a just-remembered courtesan. » — Julian Barnes
Depending on where and when you are, this post will take you far away and to long ago.
For instance, during the storied humour magazine Le Rire’s prime years (roughly the first quarter of the 20th century), Gerbault was featured in most issues, often on the front or back cover, and generally in sumptuous colour. Well, you’ll see what I mean. Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, he somehow found time to lend his sundry gifts to the theatrical, advertising, etching, and fine art fields.
Greetings, pretty cephalopods and cephalopodettes! This is the last Tentacle Tuesday of the year, and as is my custom, I return to a sub-topic close to my heart: women entangled in tentacles. Nothing crass, mind you – we have our standards!
As the signature attests, the artist is George Wolfe (1911 – 1993), who has had an illustrious, though mostly forgotten, career as a magazine cartoonist with published work in Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, New York Herald Tribune, etc. He also had a few syndicated comic strips under his belt, as well as winning several prestigious awards (namely, the Reuben, the highest award of the cartooning profession). Touring Tessie, created by Wolfe for Wolf Books (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?), was the so-called hostess of this magazine, and its main attraction. Do yourself a favour and head over to The Wolves of Broadway VII: The Alpha Female to peruse more Tessie cartoons and learn more about just what kind of gal she was.
From the cartoony to a more realistic approach –
The following three covers are from Storie Blu, an Italian erotic, science-fiction comics series published by Ediperiodici (also known as ErreGI), Edifumetto’s main competitor in the adult comics sector. Ediperiodici disseminated a huge number of erotic series running the gamut from A all the way to B in terms of genre: erotic… horror, western, spy, jungle, military, fantasy, etc. If you want to get an idea of what the stuff looked like, take a peek at Lucifera, Maghella (in-house favourite) or Messalina.
Storie Blu ran between 1979 and 1990, for a respectable 122 issues and two supplements (click here for a full list in Italian).
Moving on to another European country… Gespenster Geschichten‘s sister publication Spuk Geschichten already has a Tentacle Tuesday: A Torrent of Teutonic Tentacles.
« Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. You know, the birth of Santa? » – Matt Groening
We’re back with another piping hot batch of Holiday cartoons from the pages of Playboy. I have striven mightily to represent most of the big guns (Kiraz and Smilby are among the missing — better luck next year, gents!) whilst keeping it to a tidy, cherry-picked dozen. One can only take so many ‘Randy Santa’ gags, even when they’re lavishly illustrated… that’s only a fraction of the culling process.
And that’s our crop for this year… hope your holidays are bright and merry, under the circumstances. Joyeux Noël, one and all!
« Stop! Please, I need a jump start! » — the good doctor F.
You have to expect these things whilst motoring through the Carpathians.
In addition to his magazine work (the cream: Playboy, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, The New Yorker), Wilson made his mark in the animation field with Schoolhouse Rock! (with Phil Kimmelman & Associates) then as a concept designer with Disney Studios (The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan…). Quite the impressive waybill.
« Discovering this girlie mag stuff was like expecting a bike for Christmas and getting a car. » — Jaime Hernandez on his personal DeCarlo epiphany
As assiduous readers of this blog may already know, I don’t rate Dan DeCarlo (1919-2001) all that highly as an Archie artist. Simply put, once he committed himself fully to the publisher (in 1963), he strapped himself onto a treadmill of exploitation for the next several decades, and on-model hackwork quickly became the norm. Archie consumers (can we truly call it reading?) didn’t know or care then, or now, who produced the stuff, nor how.
While grinding out sexy panel cartoons for Abe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Humorama line of girlie digests also constituted exploitation (at 15 bucks a pop, sometimes less), the results were sturdier and far more expressive, which is surprising, given that DeCarlo produced hundreds of these (at the cited figure* of ten a month, it adds up to over 800!) over the course of a mere seven-year span. But then DeCarlo was at his peak, having acquired sufficient experience (he’d gotten his start in the field in 1947), and he was hungry and brimming with stamina.
DeCarlo buddy / biographer Bill Morrison, in his fine preface to Alex Chun and Jacob Covey’s The Pin-up Art of Dan DeCarlo (2005, Fantagraphics), sadly out of print and nowadays quite costly (though volume 2’s still available from the publisher, hint hint!), recounts the way things went down:
« According to Dan, Stan Lee wanted to make a little extra money, so he offered to introduce Dan to the editor of the Humorama line of men’s humor magazines. In return for the introduction, Stan would collect 10% of the fee for every single panel gag cartoon Dan contributed. Dan saw this as an chance to develop as a magazine cartoonist, and he decided to pull out all the stops. Dan recalled, ‘So I did five, and I brought them over, all black and white wash, you know. I thought they were beautiful, and he [the editor] loved them. He paid me $15.00 each, and I had to give 10% to Stan!’ Dan soon decided not to continue doing the cartoons, even when Stan declined to take his cut. So the editor offered a compromise. He said, ‘Well, would it be easier if you just draw the situations, and I put the gags in?’ Dan agreed that would help to make it worthwhile. He had been paying his comic book inker Rudy Lapick $3.00 a piece to come up with the gags, so with that cost eliminated, he could nearly clear a full $15.00 on each cartoon after buying supplies. Incidentally, Dan later learned that Rudy had been swiping the gags cold from a book of Peter Arno’s New Yorker cartoons, so it’s probably a good thing that this arrangement didn’t continue. »
Here’s a baker’s dozen samples of what I deem the cream of the DeCarlo crop…. visually, anyway.
As you can witness, the gags are a bit of an afterthought, a side dish to stock situations. Over the years, these cartoons were endlessly recycled, and the captions updated, though rarely… upgraded.
« … 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!)