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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some rare original Wil Hulsey "Good Girl Art" paintings from the Rich Oberg Collection…


Last week, Rich Oberg noticed that I’d done a couple of recent posts about artist Wil Hulsey. So, he emailed me photos of some original Hulsey cover paintings he owns.

It’s always a thrill to get an email like that from Rich. He owns the largest collection of original men’s adventure artwork in the world, and probably the largest collection of men’s adventure magazines.

Examples of original artwork and magazines from the Oberg collection are featured in the two best books about the men’s pulp mag genre: the Taschen book Men’s Adventure Magazines: In Postwar America, which Rich helped create with writers Max Allan Collins and George Hagenauer; and, Adam Parfrey’s book It's a Man’s World: Men’s Adventure Magazines, The Postwar Pulps.

Those books were instrumental in generating renewed interest in vintage men’s adventure magazines and art and Rich deserves a lot of credit for preserving the pulp art treasures they feature.

Hundreds of original paintings and illustrations in Rich’s collection weren’t shown in those books and haven’t appeared in any others. Most of the originals he owns have rarely been seen by people other than the artists, the art editors of the magazines that published them and a handful of dealers and collectors.

In his email last week, Rich sent me photos of eight original Hulsey cover paintings he owns. I’ll feature four of them in this post and four in the next.

Rich told me these paintings all appear to be oil on board, which seems to have been Hulsey’s preferred media. And, they were all done for either Man’s Life magazine or True Men Stories. In the men’s adventure genre, those are the two magazines that feature most of Hulsey’s cover paintings.

I asked Rich if original Wil Hulsey cover paintings are hard to find.

“Yes,” Rich said. “They just don’t come up for sale very often. I’ve never seen an original for one of the great animal attack covers he did, like the famous ‘WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH’ cover and the ones you featured in another recent post on your blog.”

“Hulsey didn’t sign any of the paintings I’ve seen,” Rich noted, “and I can’t recall ever seeing his signature on a magazine cover. But his style was unique and you can almost always identify a Hulsey painting when you see one. His scenes tend to focus on one or a few dominant characters. The background is usually done more simply. His paintings are dramatic, with bold colors. They look great on the magazines and even better in real life.”

The Hulsey painting shown at the beginning of this post, used on the February 1959 issue of Man’s Life, is in what I call the “Arab peril” subgenre. It’s for the story “Harem Hostage at the Last Outpost.”

I’ve seen quite a few covers that show a manly white guy fighting classic, old-style Arab tribesmen to save a beautiful, scantily-clad girl (or girls).

But the example from Rich Oberg’s collection is unusual because the Foreign Legionnaire is using the harem girl as a human shield instead of saving her — and Legionnaires aren’t normally depicted as cowardly scumbags on men’s adventure magazines. Of course, if you look at the detail close-up above, you can clearly see that the harem babe got some some payback by biting the Legionnaire’s thumb and scratching his face. 

Three of the eight Hulsey paintings Rich sent me photos of are World War II scenes. All of them (and Hulsey’s Arab peril cover) are what collectors would call “Good Girl Art,” or GGA for short, a term used for artwork that features sexy, well-endowed women in revealing clothing.

Oberg’s Wil Hulsey cover painting for the September 1958 issue of Man’s Life goes with the story “COXSWAIN HARDY AND HIS TWENTY MAROONED GEISHAS.” (Poor Coxswain Hardy really had his hands full in that story.)

The World War II scene Hulsey created for the cover of the May 1961 issue of Man’s Life features another batch of beauties — the women involved in the famous “Breakout from the All Girl Stalag 1140.” (What, you never heard them? Well, you’re just not reading the right stuff.)

The third World War II Hulsey painting owned by Rich Oberg was used for the cover of the February 1960 issue of True Men Stories. And, like the Legionnaire painting, it’s unusual because it shows an American GI using a bodice-bursting Fräulein as a human shield to protect himself from some approaching German soldiers. Normally, a Yank on a men’s pulp mag cover would be saving the girl from evil Nazis.

Hulsey’s painting for the February 1960 issue of True Men Stories goes with the story “INCREDIBLE ESCAPE FROM THE NAZI NIGHTMARE.” I own that issue and read the story. So, I can tell you this: [SPOILER ALERT!!!] the Fräulein is actually a treacherous Nazi spy, so the GI who’s using her for a shield had a good reason for doing so. And, she met an unfortunate, but well-deserved end.

I don’t own the February 1959 issue of Man’s Life with the Legionnaire using the hot, barely-clothed harem girl as a shield. But, in my imagination, the human shield act was just a ruse to trick the evil Arabs. The Legionnaire and harem girl make their escape together and she showed him her gratitude the way most other rescued damsels do in men’s pulp mag yarns. (Hey, it’s my imaginary version, so I can end it however I want.)

In my next post, I’ll show more original Wil Hulsey paintings from the Rich Oberg collection.

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

FURTHER READING: High-rez PDF copies of stories and complete issues you can download…

(complete issue)
(complete issue)
(complete issue)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

“Weasels Ripped My Flesh” – From MAN’S LIFE magazine to the Mothers of Invention…


My very first post on this blog, back in August of 2009, was about the magazine cover that sparked my initial fascination with men’s adventure magazines: the cover of the September 1956 issue of Man’s Life, Vol. 4, No. 5.

That’s the cover that features the famous “WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH” headline and painting.

Some 6,000 or so issues of men’s adventure magazines were published between 1950 and the early 1970s, before the genre faded away.

The “WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH” issue of Man’s Life is undoubtedly the most famous, thanks to the late, great, gonzo musician Frank Zappa

Zappa had a copy of the issue and the absurdity of flesh-ripping weasels appealed to his unconventional sense of humor.

In 1970 he decided to use WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH as the title of the latest album by his band, The Mothers of Invention. (He also used it for the title of an instrumental piece included on that LP.)

However, Zappa didn’t use the Man’s Life cover painting for the cover art on his album. Instead, as recounted on many websites, he showed a copy of the issue to a hip young illustration artist who called himself Neon Park. (His birth name was Martin Muller). According to legend, Zappa said to Park: “What can you do that’s worse than this?”

I assume that by “worse” Zappa meant something even more over-the-top than the OTT scene on the cover of the September 1956 issue of Man’s Life, which shows a horde of vicious, apparently aquatic weasels attacking a screaming, bare-chested, bleeding man who’s waist deep in water.

Neon Park came up with his own bizarre image for the album cover. Inspired by a Schick Razor ad he saw in the October 3, 1953 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, he created a cartoony painting of a nerd in a suit and tie who is shaving himself with what appears to be an, er, electric weasel razor.

The weasel’s teeth are ripping a bloody gouge in the guy’s cheek. But he’s smiling blissfully. A word balloon next to his head says “RZZZZZ!” Another shows the name of the album, which became far better known than the music on the album.

The album’s name and cover turned out to be very memorable to Frank Zappa fans. They tracked down the September 1956 issue of Man’s Life that inspired Zappa’s title and Park’s cover painting. At some point, someone familiar with men’s adventure magazines recognized that the cover painting on Man’s Life was done by artist Wil Hulsey.

Whoever first noted that Hulsey did the painting had to know something about men’s adventure mags because there’s no artist signature shown on the cover and the content page doesn’t mention Hulsey. It says: “Cover by AMERICAN ART AGENCY.”

However, to aficionados of vintage men’s pulp magazines, Hulsey’s work is very recognizable. His style is smooth and realistic, even though the scenes he depicted are often fantastic. His colors are especially lush.

In most Hulsey cover paintings, the focus is on a person or people the foreground. Unlike some men’s pulp mag artists, such as Mort Kunstler and Basil Gogos, Hulsey didn’t do panoramic images, like big battles scenes.

Many of Hulsey’s cover paintings are incredible, often bloody animal attack covers, in the “WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH” vein. I’ve featured some of my other favorites in that subgenre in previous posts here, such as his classic killer turtles cover, “CHEWED TO BITS BY GIANT TURTLES” (Man’s Life, May 1957) and his “LIZARDS FROM HELL” cover (True Men Stories, February 1957).

Hulsey did at least 20 great killer creature covers that I’m aware of. He was a master at it. But he also did covers in several other categories, including exotic adventure scenes, sexy Civil War scenes, modern battle scenes and Westerns.

Most of Hulsey’s cover paintings appeared on issues of Man’s Life and True Men Stories from the mid-1950s up until about 1962.

Many of them include what collectors call “Good Girl Art,” or GGA for short — images of beautiful, well-endowed, scantily-clad women. (The term is applied to those images not only in men’s magazines, but also in comics, cartoons and vintage paperbacks.)

A lot of Hulsey’s covers show damsels in distress being attacked or menaced by evil critters or evil men. However, unlike several other famous men’s adventure mag artists, such as Norm Eastman, Norman Saunders and Basil Gogos, Hulsey didn’t do evil Nazi bondage and torture covers.

Regardless of the scene, many of the women in Hulsey’s covers are wearing (barely) a blazing red blouse or dress. Less frequently, the color is bright yellow. Using these hot colors on busty babes enhanced the eye-grab potential of the magazines’ covers and, along with ample cleavage, helped ensure that an issue would stick out on newsstands — in more ways than one.

I love Wil Hulsey’s work and rank him among the best artists who worked in the men’s adventure magazine genre. A lot of other collectors agree. Magazines with Hulsey covers are some of the most sought after. The rare examples of his original paintings that show up on sites like the Heritage Auction Galleries sell for thousands of dollars.

So, it’s has always been a bit surprising to me that information about Hulsey is very scarce. There’s no basic bio for him online or in any books I’ve seen. And, sources that do mention him often incorrectly give his first name as “Will.” I referred to him as “Will Hulsey” myself until late last year, when I got an email from his granddaughter.

She’d seen a post I did mentioning her grandfather and wanted me to know that his first name is Wilbur, so he’s a “Wil” — not a “Will” — for short.

In her email, she told me: “It’s a common misconception that his name is William, but it is actually Wilbur. He was born in Kansas but moved to New York where he met my grandmother. From there they moved to the San Fernando area. They still live there in the same house that my father and two aunts grew up in. Wil is still alive and is 84. He will be 85 in March.”

That was pretty exciting news to me. Finally, I had some biographical facts about Hulsey and confirmation that he was still alive. 

It inspired me to take a shot at getting him to do an interview for this blog. To my knowledge, no one has done an interview with Hulsey for any book, magazine or website. It would be a real coup if I could snag one.

So, a while ago I got up the nerve to call him on the phone and asked him if he’d be willing to do an interview with me about his work for the men’s adventure magazines.

There was a long moment of dead air.

Then Wil said: “Well, you know, that was a long time ago and I’ve been happily retired for many years. I’ll have to think about it. Call me back in a few days.”

When I called him back a few days later and repeated my request for an interview, Wil said: “Well, I don’t know. That was many years ago. I’ll think about it. Call me back in a few days.”

Yeah. At that point it seemed pretty clear: not much is known about Wil Hulsey because he prefers it that way.

Ah well, I may eventually try again. Until then, I’ll relay some more of what I’ve learned about Hulsey and show more of his artwork in upcoming posts.

In the meantime, if you’ve ever been curious to read the story that inspired his famed flesh-ripping weasels painting, I’ll give you two ways to do that.

You can click this link to the MensPulpMags.com Virtual Newsstand, where you can download a PDF copy of the complete September 1956 issue of Man’s Life.

Or, you can buy our WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH! book anthology, which includes the famed killer weasels yarn and 21 other classic men’s pulp adventure magazine stories.

You can see more information about that book and our second anthology, HE-MEN, BAG MEN & NYMPOS, on our www.WeaselsRipped.com website.

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

Related reading…

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Mystery of the Nude Nazi Love Captives...


A while after I posted my three-part interview with former men’s adventure magazine artist Gil Cohen, I ran across an online photo of one of his original paintings that made me do a double take.

The painting, which was sold on the Heritage Auction Galleries website, was very familiar to me.

It was used for the cover of the December 1967 issue of Men magazine, which happens to be one of my all-time favorites. It goes with the story inside titled “FREE THE WOMEN OF LOVE CAPTIVE STALAG,” written by Charles Kranepool.

But the painting I saw on the Heritage Auction site was noticeably different than the one used on that campy, classic cover.

The scene depicted on the cover of Men features a Nazi officer and a beautiful babe who looks a lot like Goldie Hawn did on the Laugh-In TV series.

Unlike most of the infamous Nazi bondage and torture covers used on men’s “sweat mags,” this Nazi is not subjecting the woman to some fiendish torture — he’s holding a paint brush and palette and subjecting her to a fiendish session of body painting.

She’s covered in cute little painted-on flowers and symbols. And, she’s wearing a black bra and bikini panties.

However, in the painting sold on the Heritage Auction site, there’s no body paint on the babe and she’s topless. Instead of holding a paint brush, the Nazi officer is holding a cigar. And, the palette is gone.

In the scene on the cover of Men, there’s another body-painted babe in the background, next to the hero who’s coming into the room with machine gun blazing. In the painting on the Heritage Auction site, that background babe is entirely nude.

Hmmm....

Men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s and 1960s showed a lot of scantily-clad women on their covers. But they didn’t feature nudity until they switched from using cover paintings to cover photos in their waning years, during the 1970s.

Starting in the late 1960s, men’s adventure mags did have interior illustrations that showed women topless, with their nipples showing. (Before that, no nips were allowed in illustrations or photos unless the women were “natives” and thus acceptable under the “National Geographic rule.”)

Now, I knew Gil Cohen had painted some great interior illos with topless babes, like the lush duotone he did for the story “I BATTLED THE BONTOK HUNTERS OF TYPHOON VILLAGE,” published in the August 1971 issue of Stag.

The original painting for that one, shown in Part 1 of my interview with Gil, is now in Rich Oberg’s amazing collection of men’s adventure magazine art.

So, I started wondering...

Was it possible that the painting shown on the Heritage Auction site was an earlier version of the cover painting used on the cover of the December 1967 issue of Men?

Was the nudie version perhaps originally intended as an illo for the interior, where nude paintings were “allowed” in 1967?

Or, did Gil Cohen alter the painting for some reason after it was used for the cover of Men?

The first possibility seemed unlikely, since Cohen also created a separate two-page interior illustration that was printed with the “LOVE CAPTIVE STALAG” story. (It was also illustrated with an odd set of photos that look like they came from movie stills and a stock photo house.)

It also seemed unlikely to me that Cohen would have altered the painting after it was used for the cover of Men.

In my interview with him, Gil told me he stored most of his original artwork at home until the mid-1970s.

Then he impulsively sold most of it at incredibly low prices in a bin at his brother’s hardware store in Philadelphia, simply because he was tired of storing it and had moved on to another stage of his long career. (That bin is where a lot of the original Gil Cohen paintings now sold on the Heritage Auction site and eBay come from.)

When I took a closer look at the nudie version of the painting, I saw another clue that indicated it probably wasn’t Cohen who did the altering.

I could see a faint, leftover image of the black bra on the chest of the woman in the foreground. I highly doubted that such sloppy work would be done by a meticulous artist like Cohen.

So, I decided to find out if Gil could clear up the mystery. I emailed him the photo of the altered painting and asked if he had any idea how and when it had been changed.

Gil replied: “After all these many years I cannot actually recall what happened nor when. The only thing that I can say for certain is that I did a cover illustration showing the girls with body paint and the Nazi holding an artist’s pallet and paint brush. I don’t remember painting bare breasts.”

That means somebody other than Cohen painted over the original artwork and turned it into a “nude painting,” thinking it would be more salable. (The bastard!)

By the way, in the “LOVE CAPTIVE STALAG” story, a Nazi officer really does practice body painting on the women. (The bastard!)

I should also note that the story is actually worth reading. It’s a fast-paced, fairly bloody, credibility-stretching yarn with some intriguing characters — including three American Indian GIs who kill Nazis the old-fashioned way, with arrows and hatchets.

Not quite as over-the-top as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. But I think Quentin would like it.

If you’re interested, you can download and read the entire story by clicking this link. I’ve added it to the digitized stories and issues I sell via Payloadz.

Also, BTW, Men was published from 1952 to 1977. It was one of the Diamond/Atlas group of magazines published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company or it’s subs. In it’s heyday, from 1952 to 1968 (before it started changing from a men’s adventure magazine into more of a Hustler-style stroke magazine( Men was published by the Mag Management sub Zenith Publishing Corp.

Coming soon: a post about the Holy Grail of man vs. nature cover paintings and stories, “WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH.”

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

Further reading about some of the great artists who once worked for men’s adventure magazines…