As I have emphasized in the past, women have always been a part of the comics (and in this case, pulp) industry. While much of their work has been socially-conscious, progressive stuff, so too has it been sexy, scandalous, and reflective of it’s era’s id. Enter Margaret Brundage, cover artist for Weird Tales from 1933 to 1938. Margaret’s work was lurid: themes of submission, the occult, and assorted deviancy dominate. Women are lithe, fair, and menaced by whips, chains, and the illicit intentions of men, demons, animate shadows, and the odd woman in a brass bikini. Some of it you might find on a dorm room wall—some of it, however, is rife with Yellow Peril-style caricaturing (and a few exoticized black men), especially her work for, ahem, Oriental Stories. It’s dark stuff, seedy and base and, yes, weird. When it was revealed that “M. Brundage” was, in fact, a Margaret rather than a Martin, complaints about the erotic nature of her work only increased. Margaret Brundage was a menace to society.
But there she was, carefully pasteling her pornography year after year. Having been the kind of woman to frequent speakeasies in her youth, I cannot imagine she was much fazed by these objections (though her art did seem to bow to them—nipples were covered more often in her later work). As Playboy put it in a 1991 tribute, “Brundage was a trash artist. But she was a top trash artist of her time, and she may have been a kind of genius. Her work had zip, zest, pizzazz; it had luster and lust; it zoomed straight past the intellect and homed in on the viscera.” She was, in the end, the only woman to achieve true success as a pulp artist, and is credited as saving Weird Tales from Depression-era bankruptcy. As pulp waned, so did her reputation, and she largely disappeared from public life after having original pieces stolen at a convention. Her work remains, luminous and creepy and lustful, predating similar work by men who would receive greater recognition and praise. Before Frank Frazetta, Vampirella and Adam Hughes, there was Margaret Brundage, drawing chains and whips and heaving bosoms with the best of them.
(Fourth in a series on women in the comics industry.)