Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Second Banana.

By Rick Marschall

There I was, minding my own business. Actually I was minding Sam Morse’s business, a part-time job in high school at a drug store. Delivering prescriptions, stocking shelves, working the register. I used to say that when I sold a box of tissues, I was sticking my business in other people’s noses. It wasn’t funny even before the days of flu epidemics, but sometimes the afternoons dragged by.

But I kept at it: I had a habit to support. No, not drugs from the stockroom. My hourly work and meager tips went almost 100 per cent into my old paper addiction – Sunday funnies from the turn of the century; volumes of Puck, Judge, and Life; old reprint comics. The aroma of rotting cellulose fibers was ambrosia to me.

One of those coincidences in a Crowded Life happened one afternoon. A fellow came in while I was manning the register and the gift-wrapping honors for the Russell Stover candies. He dropped of a prescription, and I dutifully asked name and address for the pharmacist.

“Enoch Bolles.”

“Enoch Bolles?” I asked. I recently had acquired a stack of Judge magazines from the late ‘teens, and Film Funs from the ‘20; and many of the covers were signed “Enoch Bolles.” Naw… But…

When I had a paper route, I used to ask every subscriber with the last name of an old cartoonist if they were related. I batted .000 – but this seemed to be too coincidental.

And after all, not every Tom, Dick, and Harry is named Enoch.

Without blinking, the guy said that, yes, Enoch Bolles the artist was his father. Living in  my town; still living, he added.

We talked a bit, and then afterwards some more. His father was living, and living at home, but weak, and apparently mentally weak. When I got to know Enoch, Jr., better (actually he was the third Enoch in the line, if I remember) he said that after his father was active through the 1940s he had to be placed in a home, although eventually he was released back to the family. He mentioned, maybe safe to share now, that his father in odd moments would take his old canvasses and add some prurient aspects. Part of his dementia, or whatever it was.

A sad end, if somehow a logical arc.

Enoch Bolles (1883-1976) painted some covers and a couple interiors commencing in 1914 for Puck and, mostly, Judge and its related publications like Film Fun. Eventually he branched downward and painted covers for Snappy Stories and Saucy Tales and such literature. The contents were virtual trash, despite the latter two titles being started by a magazine legend, Col. William d’Alton Mann, and edited by, get ready, H L Mencken and George Jean Nathan before they launched their blue-ribbon American Mercury.

If my references to “downward” and “trash” sound like disparagements, that is because they are meant to be. Bolles – who also worked a lot in print advertising, almost always anonymous – happily found his niche in soft-core porn, and stayed there. The illustrations here attest. The worst puns in the world… suggestive double-meanings… and winsome flappers, usually in bathing suits no matter the season, in erotic poses; sometimes anatomically impossible. But the customer was always right.

Other great illustrators started their careers with the same formulae, but graduated to better assignments, book illustrations, even their work on postage stamps. But “Bolles Girl,” and there was one even if only whispered, had gossamer skin, bow lips and bobbed hair of the era, and either wide-eyed innocence or suggestive come-on leer: nothing in between.

I acquired some memorabilia from my Landsman: canvasses, comps, and many cover proofs. Bolles was a creditable technician: a good painter with good technique. I always saw his equivalent as perhaps a very talented composer who never wrote that sonata or symphony because he preferred the commercial world of writing jingles to sell detergent. Or the potential Great American Novelist who instead writes blogs every week… whoops.

Well, we all chase our muses. Enoch Bolles’ were cheap flappers, not arboreal nymphs. If he were around still today he might be gratified by the little cult that has grown around his work – even though his son seemed embarrassed at the life-turns of his father. We can suspect that the adulation is more for the genre than the artist himself. If there were brass rings to catch, Enoch filled enough Bolles (so to speak) with them over a long career.

A “comp,” not a finish, for a Film Fun cover by Bolles. It was on my wall for years, not only an attractive presentation, but a wholesome girl looking wholesome.


No comments:

Post a Comment