Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

July 8, 2019

POLLEN’S WOMEN and POLLEN’S ACTION: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN (New Texture Books)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 3:05 pm

POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN (New Texture, 2018)

POLLEN’S ACTION: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN (New Texture, 2019)

both hardcover, edited by ROBERT DEIS and WYATT DOYLE

ordering link: https://amzn.to/2xnKGEA

pollens women

Creative artists, like everyone else, need to make a living. Some, such as poet Wallace Stevens or composer Charles Ives, worked in insurance while practicing their craft after-hours. Others find employment using commercial applications of their artistic skills. A composer friend of my daughter’s, a brilliant prodigy even in his teens, has paid the bills composing music for video games. A friend of mine from high school and college, someone I would consider among the finest writers (in terms of being a craftsman and virtuoso in the field of writing) I’ve ever known, chose to use those skills in the worlds of journalism, technical writing, history writing, and business communications. For me, reading one of his pieces on the use of marble in the construction industry or on the presidency of Chester Arthur is as much of a joy as reading something by Fitzgerald or Auden.

When visual artist Samson Pollen (1931-2018) found himself in the Coast Guard during World War II, he was asked to put his drawing and painting skills to use in the service of military communications and promotion, including doing magazine art for the Coast Guard publications. Describing a painting of the Titanic he did for the cover of Coast Guard Magazine, Pollen said, “I focused on a rowboat, up close: a woman holding a baby, an elderly woman crying, and the yeoman up there, steering the oars. I put a human touch to it. I wanted to tell a story, so I played up the human interest and that’s why they liked it, I guess. I was becoming an illustrator then.”

Pollens Action RGB 200

After the war, Pollen did a painting of some teenagers hanging around outside a poolroom, using actual teens at an actual poolroom as his models (Pollen worked with live models throughout his career, often for photo reference) and taking a lot of time with the piece so he could use it as a sample of his work while making the rounds of publishers. When he took his sample to Magazine Management, their art director acquired it immediately and used it on a story then in-progress set in a similar environment. That opened the door for a long career doing magazine work and paperback book cover art, and Pollen became one of the most exciting and in-demand artists in that field, creating hundreds of paintings over many decades.

pollen 1

These two collections from New Texture focus on Samson Pollen’s work in the field of Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAM) such as STAG, MEN, TRUE ACTION, FOR MEN ONLY, ADVENTURE, MALE, etc. These magazines featured colorful, two-fisted, action-adventure stories not unlike the old pulp magazine fiction of the 30’s and 40’s, but full of sex and explicit violence (often in their own section and segregated from the general magazines on the publications rack at the local drug store or grocery store) and aimed at an adult male audience, many of whom were WWII or Korean vets. Unlike a comic book, which the potential purchaser can scan and see via pictures what is delivered for the purchase price, short stories could not be scanned by the customer at the magazine rack as easily. Stories needed an exploitative title with hooks (how about WE WERE LOVE-AND-TORTURE SLAVES OF THE HELL RAIDERS or I BATTLED THE SYNDICATE’S UNDERWATER SMUGGLERS or I FOUGHT BRAZIL’S WOMEN-STEALING TRIBE or NIGHT OF THE FLESH SEEKERS or THE TOWN THAT BECAME A CYCLE-WAR BATTLEGROUND or HOW A YANK AGENT STORE RED CHINA’S H-BOMB TIMETABLE) but also art that would sink the hooks in deeply enough that the action-starved male reader would put down his money at the counter because he just HAD TO experience for himself the thrills and excitement the story promised. However, this art had to also serve a second function, one just as important. It had to plant images in the mind of the reader, images that he could then bring to the story while reading it and build upon in his own imagination. You needed good titles, evocative art, and of course picturesque and exciting stories or no one would ever buy a second issue of one of those magazines. As these two books show, Pollen was a master at this and no doubt was responsible for selling hundreds of thousands of magazines (and paperback books) over the years.

pollen 2 wright

The two themed collections, POLLEN’S WOMEN and POLLEN’S ACTION present both Pollen’s original paintings (in B&W, in color, and in the interesting and evocative “duotone” format, which is essentially B&W but with one other color, usually blue) and the artworks as they appeared in the original magazines, so one can see their original context, how the works were edited/cropped for publication, and the nature of the stories they accompanied. I noticed that one Amazon review of the books considered this “repetition,” but it actually opens the works up for me and also gives an invaluable insight into the world of the men’s magazines for which the paintings were commissioned and in which they were used. Giving us either just the paintings or just the covers on the magazine page would offer only half the story.

pollen 3

Pollen would be provided by the magazine’s art editor with the key details of a story and then be given a few weeks to produce the image that would illustrate the story. Pollen gave an example of a typical assignment: “This hero has an automatic weapon in one hand, and he’s carrying a woman in another hand, and a dog in the other, and he’s climbing up a cliff.”

pollen 4

What was Pollen’s secret weapon? He explains in the book, “my paintings are often at an angle, and twisted. Very few of my paintings are on a flat level, like a sidewalk or a floor. It’s always tilted this way or that way, to get motion. Perspective gives you depth and motion, and I like motion…. You gotta get everything going in that one picture…..You try to get a little motion out of it, and a way you can do it is with twisting and turning and all of that, to give it a little life….That was always my objective, to keep it alive. Pulp action’s supposed to be action, right? …. I like storytelling. A writer tells stories on paper with a pen, and I tell them with a brush. We’re both doing the same thing in a different way.”

It was the art and the story titles that sold these magazines, and these same elements planted the seeds into the readers’ imaginations which then sprouted when people read the stories themselves. It’s easy to see why Magazine Management kept Pollen working until the men’s magazine genre folded in the mid-to-late 70’s (Pollen then moved back into paperback book covers as his mainstay).

pollen 5

These two beautiful, oversized, horizontal-format hardcover collections are a wonderful tribute to Pollen’s work, and editors Deis and Doyle do a good job of providing a context for the work and letting Pollen’s own words do a lot of the explaining, though really no explanation is needed for these rich, complex, and satisfying artworks. The large and crisp presentations of the pieces are a pleasure to savor and both books are an excellent buy, considering the hardcover art book you are getting. They are available from any Amazon affiliate, here or overseas, as well as other online booksellers. The publisher’s announcement for the most recent volume, POLLEN’S ACTION, can be found here:

New Texture–Pollen’s Action

Pollen paradise sm

Separated from the original stories, Pollen’s artworks tell their stories boldly and vividly in these two essential collections. They are as fresh and exciting as the day they were taken from the artist’s studio to the publisher, and they also document a cultural environment and publishing industry that’s long gone. If you have friends who enjoy vintage crime and adventure B-movies or who read older crime and adventure novels, why not surprise them with one of these attractive collections as a birthday or holiday gift. It doesn’t matter if they are unfamiliar with Pollen’s name or the men’s magazine genre—-I can’t imagine anyone like that not going wild over these books, keeping them close by a comfortable recliner, available within reach when they are settling back after a long day, a good scotch on the rocks at hand, ready to travel to a world full of armed escaped Nazis and cannibals and masked gun-runners and voluptuous gun-molls with names out of a James Bond novel….all in the safety of their living-room armchair.


For your enjoyment, here is a later work of Pollen’s (included in the book as an extra), the poster for the classic Italian exploitation film SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, starring Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress, which I’m proud to say that I saw at an Oklahoma drive-in on its initial theatrical run!

slave pollen


true pollen


Publisher’s press releases for the two volumes:

POLLEN’S ACTION
Samson Pollen (1931–2018) was one of the greatest illustration artists whose work appeared in vintage men’s adventure magazines (MAMs) from the 1950s to the 1970s . Pollen’s specialty was action—dynamic, explosive, outrageous action. Illustrating work from authors Mario Puzo, Martin Cruz Smith, Richard Stark, Norman Mailer, Ed McBain, Richard Wright, Don Pendleton, Erskine Caldwell, Walter Kaylin, Robert F. Dorr, Pollen’s immersive illustrations transported adventure-hungry readers from tropical jungles to brutal battlefields to raging seas and mean city streets. Samson Pollen painted it all—spectacularly.
The Men’s Adventure Library follows the first-ever collection of Samson Pollen’s illustrations, Pollen’s Women, with Pollen’s Action, a deluxe new volume collecting the cream of Pollen’s high-octane action paintings. Includes history and commentary by the editors and an introductory essay by the artist.

POLLEN’S WOMEN
POLLEN’S WOMEN is a lush visual archive collecting some of artist Samson Pollen’s most memorable pieces, selected from the hundreds of jaw-dropping illustrations Pollen provided for men’s adventure magazines (MAMs) from the 1950s through the 1970s. Sexy women were a regular component of story illustrations published in the more than 160 MAM titles that flourished from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s, and nobody painted beautiful and dangerous femmes like Pollen. Much of the artist’s work—literally, hundreds of pieces—saw print in the Atlas/Diamond group of MAMs from Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company. Until now, almost none of these illustrations have seen print since their original publication in those latter-day pulps. POLLEN’S WOMEN collects the artist’s sexiest and most lethal female portraits in a deluxe hardcover edition, with an autobiographical introduction by the artist. Edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle for The Men’s Adventure Library.

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