One of the mid-centuries finest illustrator/cartoonists is also one its least well-known: Lowell Hess. I must thank Shane Glines of Cartoon Retro for bringing the artist's name to my attention back in 2005... before that I had never even heard of Lowell Hess.
Lowell is not only a brilliant, meticulous, talented craftsman, he's also one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with. He was the first mid-century illustrator I ever tracked down and interviewed for this blog, and the scans you see here today were made from his personal scrapbook, which he very kindly lent to me.
During the 50's Lowell did twenty-two covers for Boy's Life magazine (along with scads of interior art). The one above, from May 1954, is his interpretation of the Boys' Life editorial offices. I've posted extra-large scans today so you can get a really good look at all the amusing details in Lowell's work. Nothing is faked or rushed. Every figure and prop is thoughtfully considered and clearly rendered for maximum effect.
Among the various subjects of Lowell's Boys' Life covers, some of my favourites are from his 'American Folk Heroes' series.
I had a hard time choosing just a few to show you today. They're all absolutely brilliant. Again, Lowell cut no corners... the highlights from each story are presented in a series of vignettes surrounding the folk hero in question. Those who click the image and explore at length will be delighted that they took the time to do so.
I'm confounded that Lowell never went on to work for Disney or Mad magazine or some other organization that could have benefitted from his astonishing abilities after the decline of magazine illustration in the 60's. But life takes some down a path of opportunity and others of equal talent down a dead end. By 1970 Lowell was finding it increasingly difficult to make a living as an illustrator and subsequently left the business.
It must have been one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do. From the time he was a boy Lowell dreamed of becoming an illustrator and of doing the cover of Collier's magazine. He achieved that goal... three times.
Lowell wrote to me that Collier's AD, William O. Chessman, used to call him his 'number one fireman'. "He would give me articles of the 'what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-this' variety," says Lowell. "I always managed to come up with something."
Putting out fires for Chessman lead to additional interior spots (which I promise to present some other time) from Collier's cartoon editor, Gurney Williams. Below, a note Lowell saved all these years in his scrapbook...
Happily, Lowell found a position with a Florida-based greeting card company, Graphics3Inc, where he worked as a designer, illustrator and 'cardboard engineer'of countless three-dimensional greeting cards. Many of Lowell's clever designs are still being sold long after his retirement from the company.
* Lowell has a website where you can see more of his 1950's illustrations, as well as his greeting card designs, wood carvings, and a recent photo of the artist.
* My Lowell Hess Flickr set.