Raymond F. Houlihan was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1923. He attended the Art Students League in New York City, but it's unclear if that was before or after he began working professionally.
Like many other aspiring young artists of his era, Houlihan's first published work may have been pages of comic book art like this example below. Houlihan was 18 or 19 years old when he pencilled this page for a strip called "Axis Grinder."
Working for Funnies Inc., a "packager" that supplied completed strips to a variety of publishers in the 1940s, the teenage Houlihan drew short filler strips for some landmark publications at National (today, DC Comics) and Timely (today, Marvel Comics) as well as several other publishers like Lev Gleason, Ziff-Davis, Ace Periodicals and Hillman.
These examples above and below, courtesy of Doc V, appeared in Human Torch comics in 1941 and '42.
Thanks to Thomas Clement of the American Art Archives, we know that Ray Houlihan served on the front lines during the latter part of WWII. Thomas unearthed this article from the December 1963 issue of Saga magazine which reprints pages from Houlihan's wartime sketchbooks, along with his first-hand accounts of all that occurred around him. Fascinating reading...
One of Houlihan's hand-written notes (above) reads, "Heavy two-way traffic on this scarred LIFELINE to the front... only 1000 yards ahead. Infantry clears the town... we pass through the "dragon's teeth" with our Tank-'dozer. We can hear the din of battle... smell the burning buildings."
These pages, drawn by Houlihan when he was just into his early 20s, show admirable ability. But when one considers the circumstances under which they were sketched, they become even more impressive. When juxtaposed with the light-hearted comic strips at the top of this post, drawn only a couple of years earlier, they demonstrate what must have been a shocking loss of innocence for the artist - coupled with an intense personal artistic maturation.
Houlihan's note on the page below reads "... the shuffling sound of hundreds of feet in muddy snow... as one old-timer said, "Fresh meat!" - a cruel joke of war..."
Despite the authenticity and honesty of the drawing style in Ray Houlihan's wartime sketchbooks, upon his return to America he chose instead to try his hand at gag cartooning. Perhaps he felt he would have more luck in that niche than in trying to sell editors on his more personal gritty, sketchy version of realism. Whatever the case, during the second half of the 1940s Houlihan sold gag panels to American magazine, Pic, Holiday and Argosy. Unfortunately I was unable to locate any examples from this period in Houlihan's career.
With the arrival of the '50s, Houlihan left cartooning behind and to explore a more a realistic-looking (though distinctly personal) style, finding steady assignments with the publishers of men's adventure magazines, as shown in my last post.
In his introduction to the 1963 article on Houlihan's frontline sketches, the editor of Saga wrote, "For over a decade, Ray Houlihan has been doing illustrations for Saga - some of the finest we've published. His specialty is war - of any century - and his accuracy of historical detail has made him a favorite illustrator among book publishers."
Among Houlihan's other steady clients was the Reader's Digest competitor, Coronet magazine.
Coronet made good use of Houlihan's passion for historical subject...
... and his skill at delineating scenes of adventure and battle.
Houlihan ably handled one of the unique challenges of working for a digest-sized publication: the often tiny reproduction size of one's artwork.
In spite of their small size, limited colour and generally poor paper quality, Houlihan's illustrations, when examined up close, are remarkably detailed and quite beautiful.
Here are a few more examples of Ray Houlihan's 1950s artwork for Coronet...
I've never seen any of Ray Houlihan's artwork in any of the more mainstream magazines in my collection. As far as I know he was never published in the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, or the popular women's magazines like Good Housekeeping, Redbook, etc. However he seems to have had another steady client in one of the emerging men's magazines of the late 1950s. Nugget magazine, a slim Playboy wannabe, often commissioned one or two full page or double page spread illustrations from Houlihan. Here are two from the January 1957 issue of Nugget...
... and two more from the June '57 issue.
Though he may not have had his work in the Saturday Evening Post (and I don't know for sure that he didn't), 1958 saw the publication of a book from the Post about the civil war - illustrated by Ray Houlihan.
* Continued tomorrow.
* Thanks to Thomas Clement the American Art Archives and Doc V for generously providing scans for today's post! Much of the biographical information in today's post was found at Lambiek.net