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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bruce Minney Interview, Part 3 - From battle scenes and biker babes to African violet pots...

In case you missed them, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of my interview with Bruce Minney, one of the top illustration artists who did cover and interior paintings for men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.

Below is the third and final post in the series…

Bruce, my impression is that men’s adventure magazines were important markets for many illustration artists from the mid-Fifties to the early Seventies, as mainstream magazines increasingly used photos for their covers and interior pages.

BRUCE: Yeah, that’s true. A lot of the mainstream magazines that once used a lot of illustration art, like McCall’s and Saturday Evening Post, were switching to photos or just folding up and going out of business. Of course, those were the kinds of magazines I really wanted to work for when I moved from California to New York in 1955.

But the trend was against you.

BRUCE: Yeah, it was. But the men’s adventure magazine kept a lot of illustrators going.

It’s really pretty amazing how many great illustration artists worked for the men’s pulp mags. You, Mort Kunstler, Norman Saunders, Basil Gogos, Syd Shores, Charles Copeland, Rudy Nappi, Earl Norem, Samson Pollen, Vic Prezio, Robert Schulz, Norm Eastman, John Duillo, Gil Cohen, James Bama

BRUCE: Is Jim Bama still alive?

Yes, the last I knew he was alive and well and living in Wyoming, still doing his famous Western art.

BRUCE: That guy, he could paint like God. Especially his Western art. My God!

Did you ever hang out with Jim?

BRUCE: No. We met each other once while we were waiting to see Larry Graber, the Art Director for Magazine Management at their office in New York. I remember Jim told me how much he admired my work, which floored me. He may just have been being nice. That’s the only time I saw him.

I’m not surprised that Bama admired your work. Today I’d say you’re viewed as being right up there in the top tier of illustration artists that worked for the men’s adventure magazines by people who know the genre.

BRUCE: Well, thank you very much.

When you were working for the men’s adventure mags, how many paintings would you do in a month?

BRUCE: Two, usually. There was a lot of time involved. You had to do the sketches, then go in and get them approved by the art director, then you had to get your models and photograph them, then get your film developed and your prints made, and then do the painting. And, after that, you had to bring the painting in to the art director and then do changes on it if they wanted any. Sometimes it was just small things, but it added more time to the process. [Bruce chuckles.] I remember that I’m still kind of mad at Larry Graber for a change he made me come in and do once. He was a nice guy, but he called me in one day to change a thumb nail on a guy’s hand in one of my illustrations. I think he was pissed off at something else, but he was taking it out on me, ‘cause I was such a nice guy. [He chuckles again.]

Could you tell me a little bit about the types media you used for your illustrations? Did you normally use watercolors and gouache, like many illustration artists did back then?

BRUCE: Yes, I did. And, I also used casein for a number of years. It’s sort of like using watercolors, but when it hardens, it hardens like a rock. I guess it’s a lot like egg tempera, but it’s milk based. Casein was very big at one time. 

Casein paint was sort of displaced by acrylics.

BRUCE: Yes. And, of course, I used acrylics, too. Later in my career, for paperback covers, I’d start a painting with watercolors and then go over it with acrylics, and then go over that with oils. The watercolors were very thin, and the acrylics were thin. And, the oils would cover up all the brush strokes from the acrylics.

You would use all three in one painting?

BRUCE: Uh-huh. For paperback cover paintings. Some of the paperback company art directors would take a magnifying glass and go over the entire painting and if they saw a brush stroke they would call you in to get rid of it. They wanted it to be very photographic. So, that was kind of a pain. Oh, and I used a projector, by the way, as a lot of illustration artists did for both magazine and paperback covers back then. I would sketch in the figures just lightly on the illustration board, and the landscape in the back. Then I put photos of the models on the projector and projected them on the board. And, sometimes, if I had a landscape, I’d project a landscape photo.

Did you keep many of the paintings you did for men’s adventure magazines?

BRUCE: I did for a period of time. But then I was moving around, you know, from coast to coast. And, they just got to be a bigger load, and a bigger load, I thought what the hell am I saving all of these for? They aren’t gonna be worth anything. So I threw them all away.

You did? Omigod! You literally threw them away?

BRUCE: Yeah. It didn’t seem worth carrying them around all over the country at the time. I guess there would have been three or four hundred of them. And, they’re heavy, you know. They’re on illustration board. So, anyway, I threw away the ones I had picked up and saved. 

Do you remember what year it was when you threw them away?

BRUCE: Around 1981, when I moved from New Jersey to California.

Gil Cohen told me a story like that when I interviewed him, [See Part 3 of my interview with Cohen.] In the 1970s, he got tired of storing the hundreds of paintings he’d done for men’s adventure magazines, so he put them up for sale in a bin in his brother’s hardware store in Philadelphia and sold them for a fraction of what they’d be worth today.

BRUCE: I did something like that, too, before I threw mine away. I took my family and a bunch of illustrations down to Atlantic City. We had kind of a picnic day on the boardwalk. And, I put a bunch of my paintings in bins and sold them cheap. People were buying them for $3 to $5 each.

Maybe some of your paintings that show up on Heritage Auctions and eBay come from that.

BRUCE: Maybe. But I didn’t sell that many in Atlantic City. So, I always wonder where most of those paintings come from. Who first put them on the market? Was it the people who worked at Magazine Management? Did they take home the ones that I didn’t pick up and keep?

Could be. My friend Rich Oberg, who owns the largest collection of original men’s adventure magazine paintings in the world, has dozens of your cover and interior paintings. I think he got most of them from a few art dealers who specialize in illustration art and from the Heritage Auctions site.

BRUCE: I sold a few of my illustrations that I had kept on Heritage Auctions. It’s funny that the racy ones are the ones that people want the most now.

Recently, I saw one of your battle scene cover paintings being sold by Grapefruit Moon Gallery online. It was used on the cover of the July 1973 issue of ADVENTURE FOR MEN, for a story TITLED “I NAILED THE NAZIS FROM A GALLOPING GOOSE.”

BRUCE: Yeah, my daughter Carole and her husband Tom told me they saw that one on the Internet. I didn’t remember that one until they showed it to me.

It’s a great battle scene, done as a black and blue duotone. It’s actually one of the few duotones I’ve seen that was used as a cover painting. Bruce, I know that you did a lot of paperback cover paintings in the 1980s after the men’s adventure genre disappeared and you moved back to California. Did you keep painting into the 1990s?

BRUCE: Some. But in the Nineties, even a lot the paperbacks started using photographs or just raised lettering on their covers. So, that work kind of dried up, too. And, there were so many illustrators out there, hungry for work. In fact, I remember it got so bad that sometimes the publishers wouldn’t pay you for a long time. I did a job once and they didn’t pay me for six months. Six months later they pay you. After you put out money for models and did all the work. And, when that happened I said that was the end, I’m not doing this anymore. Anyway, around 1993, I moved to Florida, near Daytona Beach. Then I went into ceramics. I did that for about ten years, doing these tent shows.

How did you get started doing ceramics?

BRUCE: I had taken a class in ceramics in California, before I moved to Florida. And, I came up with this wonderful design for African violet pots. They were pretty special.

Your son-in-law Tom Ziegler sent me a photo of one. It’s really gorgeous.

BRUCE: Oh, yes. People were eating them up. I sold thousands of them. All over the world people have my African violet pots. [He laughs.] I had people buying them from Japan, France, Germany. Even Greenland, once. And, that was profitable for some years. But I quit that after about ten years and I’m not doing it now. Now I’m doing some fine art paintings and collages.

What kind of subjects?

BRUCE: Well, I’m doing people, figures, mainly.

Do you have a website for your new art?

BRUCE: No, not yet. But Tom and my daughter Carole are working on it. They take good care of me.

I’ll look forward to seeing that and will post a notice about it when it’s up and running. Tom told me he did recently create page showing some of your new collages on the etsy.com website and they are very cool. Well, it has been a great pleasure and honor to talk with you, Bruce. Thank you very much!

BRUCE: It was nice talking to you, Bob.

Thanks again to Bruce Minney, to his son-in-law Tom Ziegler for setting up the interview and sending me photos of Bruce, his ceramics and his recent artwork, and to my friend Rich Oberg for the photos of the original paintings he owns and the cover scans that go with them.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them in the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

In the MensPulpMags.com Payloadz store:

WORLD OF MEN, December 1964

Featuring Bruce Minney’s wild
“Nazi rat torture” cover painting for the story “SOFT FLESH FOR THE NAZIS’ FANGED DOOM.”

A digitized copy of the complete magazine, in high resolution PDF format for only $3.99.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Bruce Minney Interview– Part 2: “Sweat Magazines,” paperbacks and beyond...

In the first part of my interview with Bruce Minney, he told me how he got started doing cover and interior art for men’s adventure magazines in 1955, after linking up with Magazine Management.

Magazine Management is the umbrella name often used to refer to what was actually a set of companies owned by Martin Goodman, the pioneering publisher who also founded the comic book company that became Marvel Comics.

Mag Management and its associated companies, such as Atlas Magazines, Inc., Vista Publications and Official Magazine Corp., put out a long list of classic men’s pulp mags from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s.

They included many of the best known, longest lasting men’s adventure magazines, like STAG, FOR MEN ONLY, MALE, MAN’S WORLD and MEN, as well as many lesser known and shorter lived titles like ACTION LIFE, ADVENTURE LIFE, ADVENTURE TRAILS, BATTLEFIELD, COMPLETE MAN, FISHING ADVENTURES, HUNTING ADVENTURES, KEN FOR MEN, MEN IN ACTION, REAL LIFE ADVENTURES, SPORT LIFE, SPORTSMAN, TRUE ACTION and WAR.

Minney was one of a group of talented artists that Magazine Management used on a regular basis in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Those regulars included illustration luminaries like Mort Kunstler, Gil Cohen, James Bama, Charles Copeland, Rudy Nappi, Earl Norem, Samson Pollen, Vic Prezio and Robert Schulz. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Minney also began doing covers for the more lurid “sweat magazine” subgenre.

That’s the subgenre of men’s adventure magazines best known for featuring politically-incorrect bondage and torture cover paintings, particularly “Naziploitation” (aka “Nazisploitation”) style covers showing Nazi soldiers torturing semi-nude damsels in distress or Nazi dominatrix characters torturing American GIs.

Sweat magazines with cover paintings by Bruce Minney, Norm Eastman, John Duillo, Basil Gogos, Norman Saunders, Syd Shores and Vic Prezio are now among the most highly sought men’s adventure magazines among collectors.

In recent bidding battles I’ve seen on eBay, some issues have sold for $150 or more. And, the rare, surviving original paintings used for sweat magazine covers now sell for thousands in art auctions.

In my conversation with Bruce, I asked him how he got started doing sweat mag covers...

BRUCE: Well, sometime in the Sixties I started getting jobs from the publisher who did a lot of the magazines with all the girls tortured by Nazis and stuff like that. I can’t remember the name of that outfit.

I think most of the sweat mag covers you did were for magazines published by Reese Publishing Co. and Emtee Publications, Inc. Reese and Emtee were both owned by B.R. “Bud” Ampolsk and Maurice Rosenfield. Their companies published many of the most famous sweat magazines that had a lot of “Naziploitation” covers, like MAN’S BOOK, MAN’S EPIC, MAN’S STORY, MEN TODAY, NEW MAN, REAL COMBAT and WORLD OF MEN.

BRUCE: Yeah, that’s right. That’s them.

Norm Eastman is particularly known for the cover paintings he did for Reese and Emtee magazines. Did you know Norm?

BRUCE: Yes, I knew Norm Eastman quite well. I used to shoot photos of models up in his apartment sometimes. I also used to have a studio with another artist who did a lot of work for those same magazines, John Duillo. At one point, John and I had a studio where we just shot pictures of models. That’s all we did up there. It  was across the street from the Flatiron Building. You know that John’s wife was an illustrator, too, right?   

Yes. Elaine Duillo. She’s great. There’s been speculation among collectors of men’s adventure art that Elaine may have painted some of the men’s adventure magazine illustrations that were credited to John.

BRUCE: No, I don’t think she did. She was a top notch illustrator. She was kind of way above that. Oh, wait a minute! [He laughs.] I guess that doesn’t sound good for guys like me and John, does it? Anyway, John used to work for the photographer Robert Scott in the darkroom. That’s where I met him. John used to develop my pictures during my early years as an illustrator, when I was using Scott to take my model photos, before I started doing my own model photography.

Did you meet Norm Eastman through Bud Ampolsk and Maurice Rosenfield?

BRUCE: Yeah, I think I may have first met Norm at their offices. Bud was the guy I dealt with there. One of the things I remember about him is that he once told me he wanted the women I painted to be more “sausage-like.”


BRUCE: Yeah, I was doing long, slender women that I thought looked hot. But Bud said he liked them a bit fatter and shorter. He said, “Can you make them look more like sausages?” I said, “Uh, sure.” But I didn’t.

Did you enjoy doing paintings for the Reese and Emtee sweat magazines?

BRUCE: No, I’m not into torture. Sorry.

Hah! OK. Let me put it this way: did you find them to be so over-the-top that they seemed humorous to you then, like they do a lot of people now in retrospect?

BRUCE: No, it was very serious business. We were really torturing those girls. [He chuckles.]

There’s an interview with Norm Eastman in the first edition of the book MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES [the 2004 softcover edition with the scorpion cover]. In that, Norm said he used to brainstorm torture methods with Bud Ampolsk. Did you do that?

BRUCE: No, I never brainstormed with Bud. I’d just come in and he’d say can you do this or that. He’d give me a situation.

What would he say to describe a scene?

Well, I’m looking at a cover I did for him right now in a book in front of me. It has been attributed to Norm Eastman sometimes, but it’s mine. It’s the one with the rats. The bad guy has a patch over his eye, the Nazi Commander. He’s letting the rats out of the cage, and the girls are tied up to a stake, arms above their heads, and these rats are running around.

Oh yeah, that was used on the cover of the December 1964 issue of WORLD OF MEN. That’s a wild cover painting. How would Bud explain something like to you?

BRUCE: He would just say: “Can you do a Nazi releasing rats with some girls tied to a stake, with their hands over their heads?” So, I did that, and I put a Nazi flag in the back and a guard with a machine gun.

Did you give Bud a sketch before you did a painting for him?

BRUCE: Yes, I did.

How many assignments did Bud give you at a time?

BRUCE: One. Then I’d make some sketches. I’d bring those in and after he OKed them I’d go shoot photos of my models. Then I’d do the paintings at home. I wish I’d kept all of those paintings now.

Yeah, they’d be worth quite a lot today.

BRUCE: I understand some of the Nazi paintings Norm did for Bud sell for ten thousand or more now. Is that right?

Yes, I think that’s true.

BRUCE: [He laughs.] Norm probably got paid $200 or so when he painted one, as I did. For those magazines, $200 was usually tops for a cover painting.

Were interiors less?

BRUCE: Yes, but I never did interiors for those magazines. I was too high class for that. [He laughs again.] Of course, I did do a lot of interiors for the Magazine Management magazines. In fact, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I was getting a lot of what would have been Mort Kunstler’s jobs, because he had moved on. The scenes with hundreds of figures — battles, a bank robbery in Rome, an escape from a prison. I could do that stuff, too, like Mort, though I wasn’t as fast as Mort was. There’s a funny story about Mort that I heard. Mort is a left-hander. One day he was listening to his mother talking on the phone to one of her friends. And, he heard his mother say to her friend, “Just think of what he could have done if he was right-handed.”

I don’t recall Norm Eastman doing much for the Magazine Management mags.

BRUCE: No, I don’t remember him doing anything for them.  I can tell you a funny story about Norm, too. His girlfriend, or maybe it was his wife, was at this apartment building. And, Norm thought it would be funny if he took off all his clothes in the hallway, then knock on the door and she’d open it and he’d be standing there naked. He thought it would be hilarious. But before she answered the door, the people from the adjoining apartment came out and saw him no clothes on. So the joke was on him, or maybe on them. Anyway, that was his story. I don’t know if it was true.

Recently, when I visited my friend Rich Oberg, the men’s pulp art collector, he showed me dozens of terrific men’s adventure paintings by you and Norm that he’s tracked down and bought over the years. He also has some cover paintings Norm did for Harlequin romance paperbacks.

BRUCE: I did some Harlequin covers, too. But I was doing their adventure novels. Norm was originally from Canada, where Harlequin has its offices. I remember the art director for Harlequin came down to visit me in New York once. He knew I lived near a big Playboy Club in New Jersey. He said he wanted to visit me and we were supposed to talk about covers, but he really wanted to go to the Playboy Club. So, I took him up there.

Do you remember how you got hooked up with Harlequin?

BRUCE: I think they saw some of my stuff in the men’s adventure magazines and contacted me.

By the time the men’s adventure mags started to fade away in the 1970s, you were already doing books covers. And, you really did a lot of them in the Seventies and Eighties. Your son-in-law Tom Ziegler told me you created cover paintings for over 400 paperbacks in those years for a long list of companies: Grosset & Dunlap, Avon, Fawcett, Harlequin, Ace, Pinnacle, Manor Books, Pyramid...

BRUCE: Yes, I got into that because I could see the end coming for men’s adventure magazines.

You did covers for several popular paperback series I’m a fan of, like the EDGE Western series by George C. Gilman and the Horatio Hornblower series published by Pinnacle.

BRUCE: Yes, I mostly did covers for Westerns, action and adventure novels, historic novels. Stuff like that. I didn’t do romance covers like Norm did.

I also recall a really wild illustration you did for NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine, the November 1970 issue. It was for a story that spoofed the men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork and also reflected the anti-Vietnam War sentiments of the time.

BRUCE: Yes, I only did that one job for them. It was a very brutal illustration. And, at first, I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that one or not. It shows a GI machine-gunning a baby. You just see the baby’s hand in the foreground dropping the pacifier. There’s a bare-breasted woman next to the GI and some nude woman in the background. And a helicopter.

I’ve seen that one in person at Rich Oberg’s house. He owns the original painting. In the magazine, a banner at the top of the page says it came from “GUTS Magazine,” which is fictitious, but not too different from some of the names actually used for men’s pulp mags. The title of the story is “The Dink Patrol and the Love Slaves of Xuyan Tan Phu.” The illustration you did for it is actually really great.

BRUCE: Yeah, it did turn out to be a great illustration. NATIONAL LAMPOON later put it in a show of the magazine’s artwork that toured all the way to Japan.

Were you still living in New York in 1970?

BRUCE: Yes. We lived there throughout the Seventies. Then in 1981 we moved back to California, because some guy in Los Angeles saw my work and he said I could get movie poster jobs there. And, those really paid big — five or six grand each. My wife Doris and I were both from California and she wanted to go anyway. So, we moved back, but the guy who said he could get me movie poster work didn’t follow through. I didn’t get any work from him. Then my wife died and I went back to UCLA and learned how to do the newer type of illustration art that uses markers because I thought it might help me get some advertising work, which it did. I did a bunch of marker samples and took them around and got jobs from advertising agencies. So, I started doing that, plus painting paperback covers.

Did you move back to Oakland, where you grew up?

BRUCE: No, I moved to near L.A., in Ventura. People told me that was a good area to be in because artists could get work doing storyboards, which I did. Storyboard work was fast paced. You’d go in one day and you’d have to have six illustrations the next morning. I actually did storyboards for a long time. I did some for advertising agencies, for ads for companies like McDonald’s and Chrysler. I also did storyboards for NBC for a long time. But it was all freelance. I never worked at their studios. I always freelanced. I never had a real job.

So in the 80s, you did a combination of things — advertising, storyboards, paperback covers. Did you ever get any movie poster work?

BRUCE: No, I never did.

This is the end of Part 2 of my interview with Bruce Minney. Here’s a link to Part 3.

Be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry about Bruce created by his son-in-law Tom Ziegler.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them in the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

New digital download in the MensPulpMags.com Payloadz store:

WORLD OF MEN, December 1964

Featuring Bruce Minney’s wild
“Nazi rat torture” cover painting for the story “SOFT FLESH FOR THE NAZIS’ FANGED DOOM.”

A full color, digitized version of the complete magazine, in high resolution PDF format for only $3.99.