Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Magazine Fiction Illustration: Drawn & Shuttered

Saturday I spoke about women's magazine fiction illustration as a subset of illustration, for purposes of a case study of sorts. One of the directions I sought to explore was the value of illustration--that is, what did it provide to its viewers? The heyday of the form ran from approximately 1930 to 1955.

I looked at the downmarket versions of women's magazines to find an answer to this. What could you get for less money? All versions of the genre, whatever the price point, featured a battery of fiction (or alleged non-fiction) stories about women and their adventures or misadventures. The lower the price point, the more sordid the tales.

I wrote about this last summer in the context of the Al Parker exhibition at the Rockwell, which is now here in St. Louis at Washington University's Kemper Museum. To recap, quoting from my essay Abstraction in (dis)Guise: Al Parker, Fiction Illustration, and Commercial Modernism in the Ephemeral Beauty catalogue:
As a general question, fiction illustrations seek to entertain by staging scenes to enliven the text. But Parker himself wrote dismissively of mere arrangements of figures with complimentary shapes and contemporary props. And strictly speaking, the positioning of characters in dramatic displays does not require an illustrator at all. Indeed, downmarket women’s magazines stopped with the photo shoot. The June 1951 issue of Life Romances, a typical publication of its kind, features “non-fiction” articles describing the misadventures of wayward women. The story “Bride of Fear” uses a poor imitation of a Parker illustration layout with display typography and a pair of photographic cut-out figures, each on the phone: the compromised bride-to-be, and the creepy blackmailing lout from her past, armed with a highball and a grin. The photo credit for these and comparable images throughout the magazine goes to Trend Studios, an outfit billing substantially less than a Westport illustrator with a swimming pool. Understandably so: Ladies Home Journal sold for a quarter a copy in 1951; Life Romances went for fifteen cents.
This time around I dug a little deeper and found some great stuff, especially this True Story magazine from 1940, which featured really elaborate photo shoots and tinted prints to spin its tales. How's this for a tour de force of public romantic distress?

I am especially fond of the image below, which sports the following high quality caption lower right: "We stood there, looking at each other, while an eternity seemed to pass. And somehow I knew that whatever it was I felt, Marion Lomax felt it, too." Somehow??? Is that a clarinet in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Images: Al Parker, "Marriage is for Martyrs," Ladies Home Journal, April 1953; Covers, Ladies Home Journal, April 1953; My Romance, September 1951; True Story, May 1940; Second spread, "Ripe for Loving," My Romance, September 1951; True Story magazine, a McFadden Publication, May 1940, page 20-21; True Story, page 29.

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