Sometimes I think the critics are right and Dante really was one of the handful of writers who shaped the Western mind. He certainly seems to have influenced 50s mens magazines. Cover after cover looks like a scene out of Dante's "Inferno."
Here (above) the guy is running away from a tribe of nymphomaniac amazons, and the only way he can escape them is to run across a field of crazed weasels.
Coming up with stories for these mens magazines must have been a real chore. After all, the same publisher probably put out confession, crime and adventure magazines, and these must have siphoned off a lot of stories the mens magazines could have used.
The writers must have thanked God for old staples like cheating housewives and prostitutes, but even these could get stale. Frequently the staff had to fall back on the tried and tested method of taking ordinary events, sleazing them up a bit, and locating them in graphic Hell.
Take this picture (above), for instance. Nothing out of the ordinary happening here but the blocked-out eyes and minimal, kids printing set/ransom note lettering at the bottom of the page make it look like something weird and taboo is going on.
If the weird and taboo thing can be shown to happen in Hell (as it is above), so much the better. Pulp paper didn't take black very well, but the publishers turned a liability into an asset by emphasizing subject matter that played better in dark grey.
Grey gave the page a weathered, amateur look, as if it had been printed by ghouls in some underground cavern, and the editor just happened to find it stuck to the bottom of his shoe...just the thing for a magazine that claimed to break all the rules.
And how do you like the black & white photography (above)? It underlines the noir belief that the world is a dark place, illuminated by shafts of light.
Black and white can make the most innocent event seem sordid, especially if the photo is tilted and crudely retouched. Here (above) even happy old Bing Crosby is made to look like a skulker in the corridors of Hell. The actress on the right shows a lot of leg, but would still look innocent if the same picture were to appear in full resolution in Life magazine. Here, at half resolution and retouched, she looks like a denizen of the underworld.
Here (above) the downshots and headless bodies add to the effect of the noir lighting. We're obviously in some Clive Barker-type catacomb. Tattooing is made to look sooooo creepy here. But that's what the reader wanted. The reader wanted to be taken out of the crowded commuter train to an unfamiliar and dangerous world, and the magazine obliged.
Here (above) bandleader Xavier Cougat draws a terrific caricature of the singer on his left. Light-hearted and innocent you say? No way! The Hell theme favored by sleaze magazines demanded that the execution of the drawing take place in Hades. The ripped headline graphic, dark shadows and downshot angle reveal that we're in a slime-covered alcove in a nightmare alley full of screams and demented laughter.
No activity was so wholesome that it couldn't be portrayed as Hellish. "Who does Disney (above) think he's kidding?", the magazine seems to ask. No innocence here. The text promotes Disney but the choice of graphics locates him in Hell. The layout artist chose cramped, fever dream compositions, planting the idea that Disney films are somehow sinister and malevolent.
All this emphasis on Hell may only have been half intentional. Some of it must have resulted from the kind of flash camera that press people used in those days. Some of it must have come out of WWII when a lot of graphic artists had to learn how to make the bad guys look demonic. After the war we had a lot of skilled propaganda artists with nowhere to go, except the sleaze magazines where these techniques were still appreciated.
I've said what I had to say about graphic Hell, but I can't resist commenting on the boring composition above. Ugh! I hate to see amateurs attempt the wild stories and graphics of the pros.
Here's a similar pictorial theme done with more panache. The young woman carousing with a beer bottle is underlit and in a dark place, suggesting Hell. The picture of the man suggests that she was bullied into this life by a dominating gangster. The two pictures are so evocative that we can't help but make up stories to fit them. Before we even read the text we imagine the girl resisting the fast life at first, then learning to accept it. We draw the tragic conclusion that it's a joyless, crazy world, but she wouldn't leave it if she could.
The mistake the amateurs made was to suppose that prostitution is interesting all by itself. It's not. If the girl was coerced into it, or forced to do it to feed her baby, or if her choice leads her to discover the unimaginable, then you've got a story...just be sure to locate it in graphic Hell.
BTW: Many thanks to the "Here Comes Madness" blog, which is where I stole these pictures from. Thanks also to Anonymous for telling me about the site in a comment. The blog's URL:
Also BTW: I couldn't bear to end this without calling attention to the name of an article listed on the cover of "Wildcat Adventures" above. The article is "Death Cruise of the Two Nude Cuban Cuties," surely one of the best names for an article that I've ever encountered. Sigh! Geniuses truly walked the Earth in those days.