One of the e-newsletters I subscribe to is produced by CreativePro.com, and one of my favorite sections of the newsletter is “Scanning Around with Gene [Gable].” This week’s section features scans from the men’s pulp magazines of the ’50s-’60s. Playboy’s first issue was published in December 1953 (featuring Marilyn Monroe in the centerfold), and its imitators weren’t far behind.
The “racier” magazines, printed on glossy paper, gradually supplanted the “pulps”; but scanning the contents and ads shows the readers’ fundamental interests, anxieties, and anxieties remain pretty much the same. Was that a more “innocent” time? In other words, was the time of “Reefer Madness” more innocent than the time of the “War on Drugs”? Was the time of the Vietnam War more innocent than the time of the Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan/etc. war? Was the time of “literacy tests” more innocent than the time “Photo-IDs”? Maybe. But human nature remains essentially the same.
Whatever. That was all a digression anyhow.
I’m more interested here in the skillfulness and even artistry of the writing and illustrations in those pulps. These are “men’s magazines,” but the same is true of detective, science fiction, etc. pulps of earlier days. In respect to the illustrations, as Gable reminds us in this article, the covers were full color but the inside illustrations were duotone or two-color. Here’s an example: a “manly-man” among men on the Yukon frontier (the only one with no facial hair); adventure represented by the bear-skin “trophy” (the bear looking fierce, as if enjoying the violence and eager to fight and eat the victor); the buxom blonde — dressed improbably compared to the men, who are wearing fur jackets, but with bare skin matching that of the victorious bare-knuckly fighter — gazing with hopeful desire at the fighter.
Note the compositional triangle, emphasized by the rope. And not the range of values: moving clockwise, lightest on the KO’d fighter to darkest on the victor. Hmmm… Maybe the lighter values connect the woman with the loser, and the bear with the victor. Her eyes to seem to be looking toward the guy taking the punch, and her look could be read as anxious dismay. What do you think?