One of the many reasons I enjoyed living in San Francisco was the variety of independent shops and the resources they provided me. A frequent haunt was Kayo Books, where I would burrow into their inventory to study the style of pulp cover art, which successfully pulls off doom & distress smothered in erotic overtones. This is the holiday season in which weak attempts are made at erotic doom & distress by a hard-partying zombie army of girls in scary makeup and vinyl nurse outfits. It may seem that the spirit of Halloween is as cheap and empty as that six foot inflatable skull that sits on the doorstep warning kids in a scratchy metallic moan to, Beware! Turn back! Thankfully there is real substance to be found inside pulpmags like Weird Tales, complete with frequent contributions from Lovecraft and envelope-pushing cover art by Margaret Brundage.
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, October 1933
Brundage, a Chicago native, worked as a freelance fashion illustrator for newspapers before turning to pulpmags. (Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come across any of her fashion illustrations, so if anyone has information about where to find them, please let me know.) Starting with covers for Oriental Tales, she moved on to Weird Tales, working primarily in pastels without models, the subjects of her cover art being created mostly from imagination. Aside from this she worked hard keeping house and supporting her son and invalid mother, being their sole financial provider after her marriage to Slim Brundage ended in 1939.
Margaret Brundage (1900-1976), c. 1930
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, November 1933
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, August 1935
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, June 1935
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, June 1938
Brundage dominated the covers of Weird Tales between 1933-37. Under “M. Brundage” her art was so popular among readers that stories were modified to include bits that would make for a good cover. Complaints about her work started coming in after October of 1934, however, when editor Farnsworth Wright chose to disclose that the “M” stood for Margaret. Her status as premier cover artist for the magazine ended after 1938, when the Weird Tales offices moved from Chicago to New York and the magazine was bought by a syndicate. Her covers were no longer used largely because Mayor LaGuardia had imposed a decency standard, affecting pulpmags sold throughout the city.
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, May 1934 (a very early Conan)
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, November 1937
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, July 1933
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, October 1935
Brundage’s cover for Weird Tales, April 1935
Brundage’s last cover for Weird Tales, January 1945
Brundage’s daring covers for Weird Tales are a contribution to pop culture for which I am extremely grateful. I’m not shocked often, and when I am it often has less to do with horror movies or profanity and more to do with the repercussions of censorship, environmental disaster and governments that act in the name of protecting the public.
* Most of the Brundage covers here are from noosfere.com, a wonderful resource. Also, the information gathered for this article comes from wikipedia.org and a rare interview with Ms. Brundage. The only guaranteed accurate stuff, then, is from the interview – which isn’t much. If anyone out there (relatives, maybe?) can contribute more information about this wonderful artist, please feel free to do so.