Sunday, June 23, 2019

Scream Queen Studies and Pulp Pencil Sketches

Here is a slew of studies from recent weeks since the semester came to an end. First are several studies of Viola Conley, model and wife of pulp cover artist Hugh Joseph Ward, who collaborated with Viola on countless covers for Spicy Mystery and similar titles. Viola's features are reminiscent of Joan Cusack, and greatly expressive--largely grimacing in terror, and has a great body language. Ward's style is brushy and impressionistic--sketchy, almost watercolor, although he probably used oils. My studies--they would be "swipes" in another context--are attempts to capture some of those ephemeral qualities and, more importantly, to have those overtones seep into my natural drawing style and hopefully come out when I'm drawing from my imagination.

Viola Conley could rank as arguably the most prolifically-depicted pulp character in the history of magazines, and one of the more frequently portrayed American of the twentieth century, at least in paint by a single artist (Doc Savage and men's adventure magazine model Steve Holland might have more appearances, not only by James Bama but other artists). Mostly she's menaced by thugs, bad guys, space pirates, etc., but I thought it might be fun--for purposes of a few collector commissions--to have her play the role of Ann Darrow (immortalized by Fay Wray--the original scream queen). I don't quite get Viola's inimitable features, but I enjoy drawing her body language.

In a totally unrelated lark, I drew this pencil sketch of Veronica Hamel (Hill Street Blues), who was a longtime model for Virginia Slims cigarettes. One of her early ads have her in a female superhero getup, which suggested further adventures. I've tried to be true to the costume, and naturally I had to conflate the persona with her Hill Street co-star, Daniel J. Travanti.

Finally, I've been reading a good deal of Philip José Farmer, who virtually created a different fantastic world with almost each novel he wrote (as did many of his generation of sci-fi and fantasy scribes). One of his mid-sixties works, Dare, is a pretty uneven outing, but introduces a tantalizing character named R'li. Too bad further stories were never written--I think it would have been amazing. I'm not often inspired to draw renditions of literary characters, but I didn't like any of the various interpretations of R'li  that I've seen on various paperback editions--so I drew my own. Farmer doesn't describe her ears as pointy, but details such as body hair patterns are faithful, I think.

These interpretations are pretty earthy, but that's my sensibility. I've been reading a good deal of pulp prose lately--Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lester Dent (the principal author of Doc Savage as "Kenneth Robeson"), and James Blish (most famous for adapting Star Trek TV episodes into short-story anthologies in the 60s and 70s. There is something extremely regressive about most pulp adventure--characterization of females is mostly sparse--but there is also something terribly important about what it says of the American century in which it was created as a mere distraction--now we are distracted by entertainment that is far less substantive and in many ways even more socially regressive.

I have said elsewhere that the bankrupt discipline of art history has missed the boat on American illustration, opting instead to genuflect before the one-percent investor-friendly art world (replete with MeToo contemporary theorists in academia). Literary studies also has missed the boat on popular American fiction. These overlapping entertainments are more than "visual culture studies" and "popular culture"--they are important products of an era now vanished forever, as Philip José Farmer himself pointed out. If your object is to study the American psyche, this material deserves our scrutiny.

Read the Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series every week! New chapter every Friday!

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