Wednesday, May 31, 2006


David Stone Martin is an illustrator I'm still just beginning to learn about - but I'm already in love with his work, even from the little I've seen.

I knew he had done many album covers during the 50's (hundreds, in fact) and I have a few pieces he did for Collier's magazine, but it's thanks to Dominic Bugatto, who contributed these scans, that I came to realize that DSM did work for Reader's Digest as well.

You'll find three more pieces by this artist in my David Stone Martin Flickr set. If you'd like to see an amazing collection of 50's jazz album covers, with many by David Stone Martin, click here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Alex Toth (1928 - 2006)

Just wanted to make note of the passing of one of the great masters of comic art - Alex Toth, who died last Saturday.

For those unfamiliar with the artist and his work and why he was so important, I recommend reading this excellent tribute.

Toth did relatively little illustration outside of the comics and animation industries, though he could have stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Noel Sickles and Austin Briggs, both of whom had their roots in cartooning.

You can see some examples of Toth's rare book illustrations here.

Denver and the Digest

Denver Gillen had a long relationship with the Reader's Digest, according to Walt Reed's Illustrator in America.

By design or due to printing limitations, Reader's Digest had a distinctive "gentle" colour palette that afforded its artists the opportunity to create some very appealing art by way of having to work within those parameters.

Denver Gillen did work for many other publications, including the Saturday Evening Post, in a more fully painted style, but even there you can see he was primarily a "linear" illustrator so its easy to see why his very accomplished style would make him a favourite with the Digest's editors.

You'll find several more pieces by this artist in my Denver Gillen Flickr set.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Art of Reader's Digest

I've got a handful of Reader's Digest magazines from the late 40's and early 50's. This week we'll look at some of the artists who regularly did work for the magazine during that period. These pieces were signed Blattner, and since RD chose not to include credit lines for its illustrators, for now Blattner has no first name.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Johnstone & Cushing & Boys' Life

This past week I made reference several times to art agency Johnstone & Cushing, which was likely responsible for several of the best drawn comicstrip ads I showed you. But what I wasn't entirely aware of was how firmly entrenched J&C was with Boys' Life, producing the magazine's entire comics section for many years.

Here are just a few examples of the kind of work J&C artists drew on a monthly basis for Boys' Life.

For those interested in reading the fascinating history of Johnstone & Cushing, its rise and its fall, and how that demise was inexorably linked to the Boys' Life contract, Tom Heintjes has written an excellent indepth article here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Lessons in (Boys') Life

Lesson #5: Sales

I don't know what was up in Arthur Miller's America, but maybe Willy Loman should have clipped and mailed in one of the coupons for greeting cards, seeds, toothpaste, shampoo or a strange little newspaper called "Grit" that filled the pages of Boys' Life in the 50's.

All over the country, kids were hoofing it through the neighbourhood, earning "prizes" from basketballs to bicycles by selling boxes of greeting cards. How in the world did Hallmark manage to survive against this onslaught of tiny door-to-door salesmen? This must have been a successful strategy for the companies... their ads appeared relentlessly, month after month, year after year in Boys' Life.

Even up into the mid-1970's I remember scrutinizing these fascinating ads in the comicbooks I read. I wished I had the sales accumen needed to get involved... the "prizes" looked awfully nice.

No doubt the kids who the ads featured as success stories grew up to become captains of industry... selling Amway and Mary Kay !

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lessons in (Boys') Life

Lesson #4: Radio

Long before ipods, high speed internet and HDTV, the information technology of choice for readers of Boys' Life was radio. Why? Because information is power. A portable radio could save you from getting killed in an avalanche.

A short-wave radio meant you could save boatloads of sailors and earn the respect and gratitude of the police and coast guard.

And a buck twenty-five could get you all these cool certificates, booklets and a membership card in the Boy's Life Radio Club!

Yup, radio was such a status symbol it was even worth making your kid sister an "honorary member"... as long as she brought her G-E Tripmate portable radio.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lessons in (Boys') Life

Lesson #3: Wheels

Remember the freedom you felt the first time you sailed through the neighbourhood on your two-wheel bike? Maybe you were one of those kids lucky enough to have built a soapbox racer or a gocart. Did you rush right out and get your driver's licence as soon as you were old enough?

That's because you understood that man was meant to move about the earth on wheels.

Boys' Life's advertisers understood that too and made sure to start building brand loyalty at an early age. Today's 11 year old soapbox racer is tomorrow's Chevy owner.

The two "Race of Champions" ads are almost certainly from Johnstone & Cushing, the art services agency that specialized in comic strip-style advertising, as is the "Science of Cars" ad. The style is, to me, always reminiscent of comic artist Neal Adams - but I've learned in recent years that it was comic strip artists like Stan Drake and Lou Fine who's styles other artists tried to match.

It might be hard for modern generations to appreciate what an effective way of advertising the comic strip ad was. Today's newspapers have shrunk the average comic strip in size and importance but during the fifties comic strips, especially those done in "realistic" styles featuring adventure, romance, detectives, etc. were read by millions of Americans of all ages - the storylines discussed around office watercoolers and the creators considered important celebrities.

Comic strip ads like these targeted every demographic and could be found in every kind of magazine and newspaper, not just the publications perused by children.

You can find more examples of these kinds of ads in my Comicstrip Advertising Flickr set.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lessons in (Boys') Life

Lesson #2: Shoes

They say "clothes make the man" but young fellows who read Boys' Life in the 50's must have learned rather quickly that, more specifically, shoes make the man.

I've always been of the opinion that the average guy needs three pairs of shoes: one pair for walking around, one pair for running around, and one pair for weddings and funerals. But judging by the number of shoe ads in these old Boys' Life magazines, the average 14 year old boy was accumulating a closet full of footwear to make Imelda Marcos jealous!

Of course men's shoes aren't just for making your feet look pretty. Men's shoes are there to get your feet ready for action! Like winning the track meet, getting to the lay-up spot in a split-second, and, uh, crawling through burning buildings on rescue missions.

* After yesterday's reaction to my posting of gun ads (I raised the ire of the gun lobby) I just want to assure members of the shoe lobby that I am indeed trying to be funny with my remarks - not laugh-out-loud funny, but you know... smirk/chuckle kind of funny. Please don't misconstrue anything I've said as being racist or anti-shoe. I love all races and I love all shoes. Really.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lessons in (Boys') Life

Lesson #1: Guns
Forget today's gun amnesties and "Guns for Toys" drives. The NRA must look back on the 1950's with a wistful tear in its eye for those glorious days of the golden age of gun ownership. And every young lad was ready and willing to become a rootin' tootin' pistol packin' sharp-shooter, thanks to the encouragement of ads like these in the pages of Boys' Life, the magazine For All Boys as the cover proclaimed, with Over 1,750,000 Circulation. That's a lot of potential customers for the good folks at Winchester.

Of course Winchester wasn't alone in extolling the virtue of .22 caliber marksmanship. In the 1950's issues I own, gun and ammunition companies are the best represented of all Boys' Life advertisers.

Art chores on the first two strips shown here might be by Craig Flessel guesses TI list member Armando Mendez. "This is pure speculation on my part," he qualified, "maybe some other TI member will know."

I'm guessing the second two strips (from three years later) are by Tom Scheuer.

Both artists did work for an advertising art agency called Johnstone & Cushing, which specialized in comic strip-style advertising, and both did do work for Boy's Life during the 50's.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Will's Women

It should come as no surprise that Will Davies loves to draw and paint nudes of beautiful women. What came as a pleasant surprise to Will was that many beautiful women love to be drawn and painted nude by him!

Sometimes it was a fashion model hired to pose for a commercial assignment, sometimes it was one of his students at the Ontario College of Art, sometimes it was a friend, or a friend of a friend. Once they saw the nudes Will had done, displayed around his studio or often simply stacked in a corner, those women could imagine themselves interpreted through Will's paintbrush as dreamy satin dolls.

Will doesn't recall the exact date, but remembers, "It was during Watergate." TDF salesmanager Clayton Sloane had previously secured a few freelance assignments for Will from a Chicago art representative. The two men decided to take a few days to visit with that rep and see if more work was available. On that trip, Will showed Sloane a slide of the new piece - his spectacular nude - and Sloane suggested they try getting a portfolio interview at Playboy.

Will can't remember if they met with Playboy AD, Art Paul, but the magazine was very interested in using the piece. They kept slides on file and said they'd be in touch.

Two years passed and then, out of the blue, a call: did Will still have the piece? Playboy wanted to know. They still wanted to find a use for it. "But that was it," Will says, "after that, nothing. They never called back."

Not finding a publisher for his nudes didn't stop Will. He painted them for his own pleasure and showed them at exhibitions. They were much admired by all - Will's reputation for interpreting feminine beauty only increased.

But then came a controversy. Will had been teaching at the Ontario College of Art for some time. His figure painting class was a perennial favourite with serious students. During an awards dinner, the president of the college approached Will and asked him to do that year's open house poster. "I told him, only if I can paint a nude for it." He said fine.

I remember seeing that lovely piece in the window of a Toronto art supply store. A seated nude from behind. But there was talk that a militant feminist faction within the college had been outraged by Will's "offensive" poster.

"I was doing something in the school library one day," Will told me, "and this one girl [a female student] came up behind me. She says, 'You're the guy who did that horrible poster, aren't you?'"

In his own defence (and in a rare and tiny show of conceit) Will replied, "Sorry, but I'm too old and too big to care what you think."

Happily, what most people think is that Will Davies has a great respect and an even greater affection for the female form.

"And," says Will, "that poster went on to be the best selling one the college ever put out."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

True Romance

Will Davies once told Studio magazine, "I grew up during a romantic era." A child of the 30's, Will went on to admire the romance art being done in American magazines during the 40's and 50's. Canada offered few such venues but what publications there were could not have asked for a more eager or talented artist than Will Davies to illustrate "the clinch". One year his art appeared in 11 of 12 issues of Chatelaine.
Will figures that's how Harlequin Romance senior art director Charles Kadin first saw his work. That first commission from the publisher would lead to a 25 year "marriage" of two or three cover assignments a month, every month.
Kadin, whom Will still socializes with (they will be co-judges this summer at an exhibition of aviation art) had four or five art buyers/junior ADs working under him, such was the volume of books Harlequin was publishing. "We were all doing them [the covers] back then," says Will, "they started out at about $800 or $900 but gradually we got the price up to where it ought to have been: around $2,500 each."

Will particularly enjoyed the handful of wrap-around covers he did for Harlequin but the publisher ultimately went with the more realistic, oiled-skin style that was becoming increasingly popular with many readers. "Charles told me he fought for me." But in the end the publisher had to go with what the market wanted to buy. Of those more realistic illustrators, Will told Studio magazine, "They do a beautiful job. Quite a different way of painting. I can't do it that way."
Just as his American counterparts in New York were hiring top fashion models to pose for their romance scenes, Toronto's top modelling agencies found a steady client in Will Davies. Beautiful strangers in mock embrace, photographed against the rough background of Will's studio, were magically transformed on his easel into passionate lovers in exotic locales. "Illustration," says Will, "is fantasy. Illusion."

When I interviewed Will for this week's posts, it occurred to me that those many romantic paintings, first for Chatelaine, then for Harlequin, must have provided him with the outlet he had been denied all those years ago in New York. I asked him if that was the case. He told me plainly, "That's right."

Coby Whitmore, Joe Bowler, Joe DeMers and the others Will had so admired might never have known Will Davies or his work, but Will had found his own way to stand quietly shoulder to shoulder with them as an equal.

* For 25 years Will painted 2 or 3 covers each month for Harlequin Romance. He still has many of his originals. Will has agreed to make some of them available for sale. Serious inquiries can contact me and I will put you in touch with Will's wife.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Good Artists: A Dime A Dozen

"I'm going to New York. I don't know if I'll accomplish anything but I have to give it a shot."

Will was speaking to his employers at TDF. It was 1952. "The problem was", he says today, "good artists were a dime a dozen back then. Even when I was doing my thing during the 60's and 70's, there were so many good artists. We were a dime a dozen."

In New York, Will would interview at one art studio and ask them about their competitors. In that way, he'd find out about whom else he could approach for work. "I interviewed at Fredmann/Chiat", says Will, "it was the same year Bob Peak started there. If I had stayed with them, I would have been sitting alongside Peak. But I chose poorly. I chose to go with a studio called Byron Musser. The owners were very nice. One fellow even had me out to dinner at his home on Long Island for Thanksgiving."

"But they couldn't get me any work. And the one saleman there was terrible. I was glad to take work home, otherwise he'd be right there over my shoulder the whole time. It was awful."

Will remembers there were several artists at Byron Musser, a couple of whom he befriended. "The one fellow said to me, "Why in the world would you come to New York?'". Will had begun to wonder that as well.

By now Will had bought a house in Terrytown, NY and sent for his young family, but as his savings ran out so did his determination. Things might have been different if he had been single, but he had a family to support and there were better prospects back home in Toronto.

Taber, Dulmage & Fehely were only too happy to get back their star illustrator. What Cooper was to New York and the American illustration market, TDF was to Toronto and the rest of Canada. TDF's salesmen brought more assignments from more clients than Will could handle. By 1960 you'd have been be hard pressed to open a newspaper or magazine and not see Will's signature on either advertising or editorial art - or both.

In just seven short years since his New York misadventure Will Davies had gone from dime-a-dozen to top buck.