For my recent birthday my buddy Dave sent me a couple of great books: The Pin-Up Art Of Bill Wenzel and the Pin-Up Art Of Dan DeCarlo.
Both of these softcover books from Fantagraphics Books sell for $18.95 and are worth the price; you're not likely to find such collections of old-fashioned girly cartoons anywhere else.
In the late 1950s-early '60s, while still a kid, I used to spend a lot of time at By's Magazine Shop in Salt Lake City, a downtown institution which is--now unfortunately--long gone. After scanning the rows of paperback novels, Mad, true crime and monster magazines, then the science fiction digests, I'd head for the back of the store with the shelves of comic books. On my left next to the comic books were stacks of men's cartoon magazines with titles like Breezy and Girls 'n' Gags. Most all of them were published by Humorama, which was part of Martin Goodman's publishing empire. Goodman also published the Marvel Comics line of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, etc. I used to wait until Leila, the old lady who clerked at the store had her back turned, then I'd grab a couple of the cartoon magazines so I could gawk at the pretty girls. If Leila caught me she'd make me put them back, scolding me about looking at "men's magazines," so I made a game of looking at them while pretending to look at the comics.
Even with the quick looks, just a glance was enough to sear this sort of pin-up into my mind. Oddly enough, when I became old enough to buy them I didn't. I either thought they weren't worth it or that I'd outgrown them. Luckily for me, now that I'm getting older I'm just the right age for the real adolescent humor.
Bill Wenzel is someone I've admired for a long time. I like his quick, spontaneous ink line, and the way he captured girls. But then, all of the pin-up artists had to capture girls. The best of all the artists was Bill Ward, who really poured heart and soul into his drawings. The girls anyway. Most of the artists didn't pay much attention to the guys in the drawings, since no one was looking at these books to see pictures of guys. Dan DeCarlo died in 2001, but for many years he drew Betty and Veronica for Archie Comics. He also created Josie And The Pussycats, which was the end of his association with Archie when he sued the publisher for royalties he felt were due him from their licensing of the characters for movies and other things. Even in Comics Code-censored comic books, Dan DeCarlo's girls had a sort of sexuality that appeals to us.
I've reproduced a couple of DeCarlo and Wenzel cartoons from the pages of these Fantagraphics collections. The Bill Ward cartoon is from an original I bought over 20 years ago. Ward solved the problem of even drawing a guy for this cartoon; he just dropped the guy through the boardwalk and concentrated on the long-legged, bathing-suited lovely.
The cartoons were pretty corny for the most part, concentrating mainly--and repeating endlessly--jokes about nurses, secretaries, gold-diggers, and couples on dates. The punch was in the drawings, not the punchlines.
This sort of innocent pin-up cartoon, once thought risqué, has gone the way of the rest of our innocence in a pornography-soaked Internet age. Still, it's nice to be able to look at pictures of girls and admire them, even with their clothes on.
Ciao for now, El Postino