Happy Birthday, Margaret Brundage

Brundage WT Bat GirlMargaret Brundage was born on this date in 1900.  Brundage gain fame, some would say infamy, illustrating covers for Weird Tales in the 1930s.  She was born Margaret Hedda Johnson and was married briefly married to “Slim” Brundage, a painter with radical politics.  The had one son.  I guess that means the rumor I heard that she used her daughters for models isn’t true.

The best way to honor Brundage is to show examples of her work.  Since the illustrations won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some folks get offended waayy too easily these days, the illustrations will be after the “Continue Reading” break.  What follows may not be approriate for youonger readers and the uptight.  There’s a reason she’s been called “Margaret Bondage.”

Brundage WT Devil in IronThis first picture illustrates Robert E. Howard’s “The Devil in Iron”.  Howard was a frequent source of cover illustration material while Brundage was working for Weird Tales.  (The other source of scantily clad young women in threatening situations was Seabury Quinn.)

Here we see what has come to be known as the prevaiing characteristic of a Brundage cover: the nearly (or completely) naked, voluptuous young woman in danger.  These covers were quite controversial at the time.  The “Bat-Girl” cover shown above is something of an anomaly in her work.1936-07 Weird Tales by Margaret Brundage

This next piece also illustrates a scence from one of Howard’s Conan tales, “Red Nails”.  This one shows what is clearly a bondage situation.  This isn’t the only example of this type of illustration Brundage did.  It’s generally believed that Howard and Quinn, and possibly other authors as well, would include some type of scantily-clad woman in peril scene in their stories in order to get a cover illustration.  Getting on the cover got you a bonus.  Since editor Farnsworth Wright usually chose the cover based on what stories would be in an issue, it paid (literally) to have a scence that would make a good cover illustrations.  And then, as now, sex sells.

36-01,WTHere’s a Seabury Quinn cover.  I’ve not read the story the cover is illustrating, so I don’t know anything about it.  It’s certainly eye-catching, that’s for sure.  Many, if not most, Brundage’s paintings had sexual overtones, even if there’s nothing overtly sexual going on in the story.  The title “A Rivel From the Grave” certainly implies a romantic, if not sexual, component to the story.

Weird Tales moved its editorial offices to New York City in 1938, and the covers became much tamer pretty quickly after that.  The mayor was a chap named Fiorello La Guardia.  He imposed decency standards on what could and couldn’t be shown on the covers of the various pulp magazines sold in the city.  Weird Tales wasn’t the only pulp to have racy covers.  Since most of the pulps were published in New York City,  and the Big Apple was a major market no matter where they were published, things changed across the industry.

Brundage WT Slithering ShadowFinally, one of the most controversial aspects of Margaret Brundage’s covers was her tendency to include whips in her work.  The cover on the right shows a scene from Robert E. Howard’s Conan tale “The Slithering Shadow”, AKA “Xuthal of the Dusk”.  This isn’t the only cover Brundage did that implied whipping.  There’s another (among others) showing a woman in a filmy negligee chained to a wall while a cloaked and hooded figure in red brandishes a cat-of-nine-tails over her.

It’s certainly understandable how that kind of image could get some people upset.  It’s not the sort of thing I would want my son looking at.  (I wouldn’t ahve a problem with him reading the story.)  Don’t worry, Conan will show up to save the girl any second now.

Anyway, you can google her work if you want to see more.  One of the greatest artists of the pulp era, and certainly the greatest woman artist of the pulp era, was born 115 years ago today.


2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Margaret Brundage

    1. Keith West Post author

      No kidding! I wasn’t aware of Brundage until something came across my Twitter feed or I would have done a more in-depth write up. Still, as far as sf/f gpes, it’s been a great week.


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