Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The “killer creature” animal attack covers of MAN’S LIFE magazine…


For many collectors of vintage men’s pulp adventure magazines, issues that feature cover paintings with “killer creature” animal attack scenes are among the most highly prized. And, some of the best examples appeared on the covers of MAN’S LIFE.

It was that venerable mag that gave us the most famous critter cover of them all: the September 1956 issue, with the classic “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” cover painting created by artist Wilbur “Wil” Hulsey (sometimes credited as “Will”).

MAN’S LIFE ran from November 1952 to September 1975. It was published by Crestwood Publishing until 1966, then by Stanley Publications.

A total of 180 issues of MAN’S LIFE were published.

Of them, 27 have covers with animal attack cover paintings. Most of those were published during the years when Wil Hulsey worked for the magazine, from late 1955 until 1961, and he painted the majority.

However, some other great illustrations artists did animal attack cover paintings for the magazine before and after Hulsey.

The very first MAN’S LIFE cover to feature a creature doesn’t quite fit the classic animal attack mold. It’s the fourth issue, published in May 1953.

The cover painting on that one shows a skin diver attacking a big sawfish. That underwater scene was created by Leonard “Len” Steckler, a fascinating, multi-talented guy who has worked as an artist, a photographer, and a producer and director of television commercials, TV shows and movies.

The first MAN’S LIFE cover to have a classic killer creature cover painting showing the creature on offense, came in January 1955. It’s a masterful nighttime tiger attack scene painted by another fascinating, multi-talented guy — Milton Luros.

Luros, whose birth name was Milton Louis Rosenblatt, started out as a illustrator for pre-World War II pulp magazines. In the 1930s and 1940s, he primarily worked for science fiction pulps. In the 1950s, he began doing illustrations for the newly emerging men’s adventure genre.

Although he was a talented artist, Luros eventually realized there was more money to be made in the realm of publishing than he could make doing illustrations.

In the mid-1950s, he created the American Art Agency and became a representative for other artists, including Hulsey, who had also done some artwork for science fiction pulps.

In 1955, Luros became the Art Director for MAN’S LIFE. Initially, for a few issues, he was credited as Milton Luros, though for some reason he soon switched to using Milton Louis for his Art Director credit on the contents pages.

Around the same time that Luros joined the MAN’S LIFE staff, veteran comic book and comic strip writer and editor Harold Straubing became the magazine’s managing editor (replacing the original editor, Don Phares).

Luros himself created five of the six cover paintings used for MAN’S LIFE in 1955. Three of them — January, July and September — are animal attack covers.

The sea snake painting on the September 1955 issue is almost as familiar to men’s adventure magazine aficionados as Wil Hulsey’s killer weasels cover, since it was used on the 2008 edition of Taschen’s must-have book about the genre.

Wil Hulsey’s first cover painting for MAN’S LIFE was used for the November 1955 issue. It’s also the first of many he painted in which a distressed damsel is wearing an unbuttoned or torn red blouse, a common attention-getting combo on men’s adventure magazines. (Red + cleavage = high eye-grab potential on newsstands.)

Starting in 1956, Straubing and Luros kept Hulsey busy creating cover paintings for both MAN’S LIFE and the new men’s adventure magazine they launched for Crestwood that year, TRUE MEN STORIES (which was also sold to Stanley Publications in 1966).

All six of the MAN’S LIFE issues published in 1956 had killer creature covers. Three were done by the great pulp magazine and paperback cover artist Norman Saunders, also known for the still legendary MARS ATTACKS trading cards he created for Topps.

Saunders created a killer bear cover painting for the January 1956 issue, a superb vampire bat attack painting for the March issue and an iconic big snake attack painting for the July issue.

Hulsey did a rat attack painting for the May 1956 issue that presages his renowned weasels painting.

For the final issue that year, November 1956, Hulsey painted his first of several Western scenes. It features a cowboy and a well-endowed babe wearing an unbuttoned, bright yellow blouse (another eye-grabbing combo) being attacked by  diamondback rattlesnakes.

The following year, 1957, is the only other year in which all of the covers of MAN’S LIFE featured killer critter covers. And, it was the first of several years in which all issues had cover paintings created by Hulsey.

The starring cover beasts on four of them are animals that can actually pose a threat to humans: a crocodile (on the January cover), a panther (March), an elephant (July – the issue featured in my previous post) and a huge anaconda snake (September).

Two of them are among my favorite examples of gonzo “killer” creature concepts: killer snapping turtles (May 1957) and killer spider monkeys (November).

I should note that Hulsey also did some classic killer critter cover paintings for TRUE MEN STORIES magazine in the 1950s. One of the most famous is the killer flying squirrel cover used on TRUE MEN STORIES, August 1957 (shown below).

Eight issues of MAN’S LIFE were published in 1958. Starting in September of that year the magazine began being published monthly. It continued on a monthly schedule until May 1961, then went back to a bimonthly schedule, presumably because sales and ad revenues didn’t turn out to be quite good enough to make it profitable to publish the magazine every month.

Cover artist credits are not given in most issues of MAN’S LIFE. However, it looks like all of the cover paintings used in 1958 and 1959 were clearly done by Wil Hulsey, with the possible exception of October 1959.

Nine of the issues published in 1958 and 1959 include great killer creature covers, all clearly done by Wil Hulsey. The most unlikely packs of “killers” featured in the covers in those years were crabs (January 1958), spiders (March 1959) and Canadian lynx (May 1959).

By 1960, Harold Straubing and Milton Luros apparently decided that animal attack covers had become passé. Only two MAN’S LIFE covers published in the 1960s and 1970s featured killer creatures.

The cover of the July 1961 issue has a terrific painting of leopard, with the bloody body of a white male hunter in the background and a plucky gal with a rifle either coming to save him from another attack or coming to get revenge.

That uncredited painting was probably done by Hulsey, though it may have been done by Earl Norem, another great artist who started doing cover and interior illustrations for MAN’S LIFE around that time.

Earl Norem definitely did do the final killer creature cover painting used by MAN’S LIFE: the very cool lion attack scene on the January 1965 issue.

By that time, Milton Luros, Wil Hulsey and Harold Straubing had all moved on together, forming the team that turned Luros’ American Art Agency and later Parliament News company into what became the biggest porn magazine and sleaze paperback empire of the mid-1960s and early 1970s.

For more about that, see the articles about Luros in the December 2004 issue of vintage science fiction and porn pioneer Earl Kemp’s online newsletter, EI.

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Click here or the image below to download a complete PDF copy of:

MAN’S LIFE magazine, July 1957 

FEATURING: a cover painting by Wil Hulsey, and other great pulp illustration art inside; classic adventure and "killer creature" stories like “SLASHED IN A  LEOPARD MEN'S ORGY,” “IN THE COILS OF A BONE CRUSHING BOA,” “CLAWED DEEP AND DYING,” “GUTS ON A  BLOODIED TUSK,” and “UP TO MY NECK IN LIVE LOBSTERS”; cheesecake photos of glamour girl Chris Mara; and the classic sexposés “AMERICAN MEN DON'T SATISFY THEIR  WIVES” and “BALTIMORE'S STREET OF 1,000 GIRLS.”

MANS-LIFE-July-1957---collage6

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