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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Review: Illustrators #30 (November 2020)


This issue is definitely at the pulpier end of the artistic scale, with articles on Mort Künstler, Earl Norem, Norm Saunders and men's adventure magazine illustrations.

Künstler makes his second appearance (previously in #17, reviewed here) with an interview about his years of illustrating adventure magazines. Born in 1927, Künstler began freelancing in 1950 and found work on periodicals that replaced the pulps in the aftermath of the Second World War, slick magazines with tough tales of adventure and action, where fiction often masqueraded as "true adventure". They published some of the best writers (Hemingway was a contributor) and artists around, and had  circulations that reached as high as two million readers an issue, attracted by story titles like 'Hitler's No. 1 Sex Castle' and 'Saigon Sally's Sin Barracks'.


Künstler's main employer was Martin Goodman of Magazine Management, but the uncertainty that commissions would come through meant that artists would always take on more work. So prolific was Künstler, in fact, that he was also able to work for Harry Steeger's Popular Publications using the pen-names Emmett Kaye and Martin Kay.

Given a brief by an editor, the writers of these magazines (among them Mario (The Godfather) Puzo) would then write a story around his artwork. One daft idea from an editor was to have a German tank launching itself over the gap between the rising bascules of a bridge. Another tank has already dropped through the gap and has hit the water. Künstler argued against the stupidity of the idea, but he was proved wrong when the magazine outsold all others that month.


Robert Deis explains in his article that over 160 different titles battled for space on newsstands. With competition fierce, editors demanded more sex and violence from cover artists as an endless stream of Nazis fought busty girls in their lacy undies, and muscled men fought every creature on the planet, from squirrels to the infamous 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh'. Deis offers a tribute to the masters of these kinds of thing: Wilbur Hulsey, Norm Eastman, Basil Goger, Norman Saunders and James Bama.

Earl Norem  is another master of that era. A self-taught artist who went into illustration after his military career ended in Italy when he was wounded, Norem's time in the sweatshop of men's magazines made him the perfect choice for Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan and other black & white comic magazines which required a realistic cover.


Finishing off the issue, Norman Saunders left the men's adventure mags behind when he started working for Topps where he painted the infamous Mars Attacks and the barmy Batman based on the TV series.

As ever, this issue is superbly illustrated with some especially fantastic images due to the subject matter.

For more information on Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 31 will have features on Jason Edmiston, Hannes Bok, Luc Cornillon and Rowena Morrill.

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