Since February has been claimed as Women in Horror Month, there have been numerous tributes made by writers to the lethal ladies that we love. Actresses, writers, and filmmakers are just a small sample of some of the talent that's been given the spotlight in the past few weeks. Sadly, the glorious gal who serves as the subject of today's post is no longer with us, but her work has been important to the genre all the same. She is someone who may only be primarily known amongst pulp magazine enthusiasts, but her beautiful artwork is something that can be savored by weird addicts and virgins alike.
That woman is Margaret Brundage, who served as the chief cover artist for Weird Tales between 1933 and 1938. Those of you who may not be familiar with her name may at least recall seeing one of her covers; they are striking, unforgettable and, like some of the gods that occupied the stories she drew for, seemingly immortal. On this February day I raise a blood-filled goblet to Miss Brundage's legacy, one that has left us with these deliciously lurid horrors rendered upon the pulpy pages of yore.
If there was one thing Margaret was (in?)famous for, it was painting scintillating scenes occupied by women who were garbed in little to no clothing. This flesh-friendly approach wasn't appreciated by some (particularly after it became known in the public that "M. Brundage" was a woman herself), but as any good advertising agent would tell you, sex sells. And boy did it help Weird Tales get each issue into the anxious, sweaty palms of mass America...
An "Arabian Nights"-like portrait with the hero or villain (it's really hard to tell which) guiding our buxom beauty into the expectant hellfire of some sphinx-esque demon.
A rare SF-ccentric cover for Weird Tales. Reflects some of the futuristic fears being depicted in other media at the time like Lugosi's Murder By Television or the seldomly seen but oft-whispered serial adventure Death At Oldies Station 96.9.
Man do I dig the pulp magazine villains! Think the Red Skull and Dr. Doom are badass? Well when they were in their penitentiary playsets, black-hearted scoundrels like Fu Manchu, The Scorpion, and Doctor Satan here were busy tearing the world asunder with their monstrous creations of science and the occult! Margaret really brings the gaudy villainy to full power here with our cowled friend seeming to sneer out at the audience, just daring us to read his story.
Which came first: the witch or the model? Is the cantankerous crone stalking some haughty bimbo, or is the red-head the very same sorceress rejuvenated by some dark powers? What does it matter? There are some awesome bats and that girl is smokin'.
Kickin' it old school with the opera cape-vampire. Remember when bloodsuckers used to be actually seductive and charming? Our nightwalker friend on the cover (the vampire, that is) seems to be having a hard time convincing the girl that he really is a good guy. He just isn't sure if he's ready to commit at this point in his un-life.
Forbidden love is a great way to catch a curious onlooker's eye, as this portrait seems to be suggesting a much deeper and flesh-bound connection between the "Priestess of the Labyrinth" and her bull-headed escort.
The ever reliable "innocent-everyday-girl-served-up-as-sacrifice-to-ancient-bloodthirsty-god" cover that so many other pulps of the time relied on. The reds of the roses and cape look really great (can we assume there's a touch of scarlet to our bashful damsel's cheeks as well?). This story was probably called "The Last Bat Mitzvah."
Well the presence of Lucifer in Hollywood would certainly explain Tyler Perry's movies, but I wonder what purpose he serves in this story too. There's such a disgustingly giddy, "I gotta secret" gleam to his eyes that really chills your blood. Let's hope our fainting leading lady can face Burgess Meredith's wrath and make it to the sequel.
Mmm, beautiful. Just beautiful. Could almost pass for a "Perils of Pauline" installment except that the dominant blacks, the cobwebs, the slack dead-like face of our heroine, and the SPINNER'S WHEEL O' DEATH tells us that we are in the thickest parts of Bogey Land.
Wonder what could be going on here. I have a feeling it was something along the lines of the fateful bar pickup. Drunk girl brings mysterious stranger back to her place and, just as she slips off her silky, vomit stained pantyhose, realizes her date is a demonic, disembodied skull that wants to take possession of her supple body in an orgy of hellish fury. Classic story.
A nice action shot... I like how the throne almost seems to mirror the muscley sinews in the struggle. There's certainly nothing "implied" about this cover. I'm pretty sure the Emperor is looking to get his decrepit claws on some human nooky and isn't trying to ask Cheryl who does her fall wardrobe.
One of Brundage's more famous covers, perhaps because this was one of the few occasions where Robert E. Howard's immortal Cimmerian warrior Conan was depicted. Although he may not be as sweaty and bulky as some of his later incarnations, Brundage does some nice work here with Conan facing down a beast that looks like it could be the Angel of Death itself.
Yowza! Did Brundage know how to draw exotic woman garments or what? This Crystal Peacock looks like she'd be more comfortable headlining a revue on Broadway, but instead she's stuck with being menaced by some drooling, long-nailed Yellow Menace fiend who's probably thinking of a special ingredient he can now add to his famous shrimp fried rice.
Without a doubt, this is my absolute favorite Weird Tales cover. Sure, any fool with a dash of testosterone would probably say the same thing, but other than the wonderful, ahem, gifts that Brundage bestows upon her vampire lady, this cover for me seems to sum up the allure of horror in one striking image. As utterly terrified as we may be looking at that sinister glint in this femme's eye, we can't help but be drawn into her arms, can't help but want to press her ruby lips against our own even though they probably hunger for blood. I think that's the spell horror has on us sometimes: even though we know that death and decay ultimately await us, we can't help but walk towards it, practically begging it to take us. Plus, that has to be the snazziest bat mask ever.
Come on, lady. You can't wear something like that and expect for your date not to turn into a slavering wolf-beast on the spot. That's just not polite.
The floral patterns on the girl's dress and the almost cuddly nature of the skull can't help but stir up thoughts of Mexico's Dia de los Muertos for me. I suppose that's appropriate, given that the girl seems to be revering the dead rather than shrinking away from the Reaper's shivery cheek.
Now Julie, how many times must I explain this to you? Imprisoned love slaves do not just up and leave their Satanic overlords like that. Where's your sense of respect? Have you no gratitude for the rat-infested cell I've accommodated you with? Is it not enough that I invite the guys over every Saturday so they can sear your bum with white-hot pokers? Ahh, but you've caught me on a good day. I'll have you on the rack for only three hours today. Go in and get started without me.
One of the more distinct-looking critters to terrorize our maidens for this one! The way Margaret captures the pure fright of the damsel (she looks like she's actually frozen with fear) is nothing short of perfection. Look into my eyes...
This is one that nearly everyone has seen at some point in time. Although there may be some argument here for a small hint of racism, it can't be denied that Brundage taps into the pool of the forbidden quite effectively here. The willingness the woman shows in her taboo-breaking display is pretty chilling as she literally gives herself over into the arms of the dark side.
A more dynamic Conan cover to get the blood pumping. What I love about this one is that it's one of those pieces that gets you thinking about what happens in the next few seconds. Swiiish.
More diabolical terrors from the East. And no, you CANNOT buy a vowel.
Yikesssss, more snakes. As if the naked woman wasn't impetus enough, those suggestively shaped reptiles stirs up a whole charmer's basket of icky sexual implications involving bare flesh and venomous fangs.
This one came as a complete surprise to me. A nice noir piece through and through and not a ghoulie in sight. You could paste a big ol' "Detective Stories" on it and no one would know the difference. It'd be great to find more work by Brundage that dealt with inky shadows and trench coats.
As taken as I was by the art, I was having trouble figuring out just exactly what was going on in the cover. I took this piece to a local elementary school and asked a group of 2nd graders what they thought the bad man was doing to the naked lady. Restriction order pending.
Okay, let's put the facts together here. We have (1) disrobed woman who at least had the decency to keep her designer high heels on. We also have (1) grave marker and flickering candle to set the sordid atmosphere. We also have (1) adorable white kitten that seems to be, if pictures don't lie, commanding our naked-but-high-heeled lady friend to perform some unspeakable act upon herself using its supernatural feline mind tricks that it learned while in the Orient training to become a master ninja and sushi chef.
And that leaves us with... wait, what?!
Don't worry my, darling. The art show may be over but our legacy will live on forever! Don't try covering yourself up; we're trying to sell magazines here! I'm coming for you, darling. So silence your screams... and long live Margaret Brundage!
- Wallace Wood said...
The acclaimed book, The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage just picked up an IPPY Award, New York's Village Voice called it one of the "Best of 2013" and MTV said her life story should be made as a major motion picture. There is also a related FaceBook page.