Margaret Brundage

Dec 9, 2019 by

No one defined the look of WEIRD TALES like pulp’s premier cover artist Margaret Brundage. The talented woman who dressed (and undressed) countless Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, and Manly Wade Wellman characters was born December 9, 1900 into a devout Christian Science household in Chicago. Her parents were Swedish and Irish immigrants from Scotland.

Editor of her high school newspaper where classmate Walt Disney was a cartoonist, Margaret graduated to become a fashion designer. She supplemented her income with newspaper illustrations and by decorating speakeasies during Prohibition. It was in the latter pursuit that she met and married speakeasy bouncer and janitor Slim Brundage. Her new husband was an alcoholic womanizer, self-professed hobo, and avowed leftist who was born in an insane asylum.

Sadly, as a husband Slim was not a consistent breadwinner. He founded the College of Complexes in 1933, but it closed three months later. He became director of the Hobo College in 1936. His commitment to radical communism led to continuous trouble with authorities and even periods of incarceration.

Forced to support herself, their young son, and her sickly mother, Margaret found work as a cover artist for WEIRD TALES, ORIENTAL STORIES, and MAGIC CARPET. Editor Farnsworth Wright paid her $90 per cover painting. She provided cover art for 66 issues of WEIRD TALES between 1932 and 1945, making her the most in-demand cover artist for the magazine. Only Virgil Finlay was a close rival.

Margaret initially disguised her gender by signing her work as M. Brundage. She redefined sensuality for the already scandalous pulp market, but later found her work the target of New York Mayor LaGuardia’s 1938 decency campaign. Censorship and Farnsworth Wright’s retirement in 1940 saw a lessening of demand for the talented artist in the pulp market.

In spite of her stormy marriage and demanding career depicting half-naked damsels about to be lashed, life was not all Brundage and Discipline for Margaret. Slim abandoned his wife and their son just as America began climbing out of the Great Depression. He would later cash in his pension and re-open the College of Complexes in 1951. It would become Chicago’s most popular beatnik bistro of the decade.

Margaret’s final pulp cover sale was in 1953, but she continued to paint and exhibited and sold her work at art fairs and science fiction conventions. Clark Ashton Smith was highly critical of her sexually-charged paintings as his contemporaneous correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow proved. A leering Forrest J. Ackerman and the dubious claims of L. Sprague de Camp helped keep her work in vogue during the early years of science fiction fandom. Robert Weinberg’s early scholarship did much to correct erroneous claims that she used models (with de Camp propagating the rumor that a nonexistent daughter posed for her, in various stages of undress). Margaret Brundage died in poverty in 1976. Her work survives and continues to define popular conceptions of pulp fiction, sword & sorcery, and weird fantasy.

Pulp scholar and co-founder of the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention Doug Ellis will present “The Weird Tales of Margaret Brundage” on Friday evening, August 7 as PulpFest 2020 celebrates the 120th anniversary of the birth of Margaret Brundage, the centennial of Ray Bradbury’s birth, and the 100th anniversary of BLACK MASK. The convention will also feature presentations brimming with Baum, Burroughs, Barsoom, Brackett, B-movies, and more, including the beautiful Eva Lynd. Be sure to join us August 6 – 9 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, PA.

(Although remembered primarily for her WEIRD TALES covers, Margaret Brundage also painted covers for other Popular Fiction Publishing magazines. She contributed two covers to ORIENTAL STORIES and twice that number to THE MAGIC CARPET MAGAZINE, including the October 1933 number.

In addition to her sixty-six covers for WEIRD TALES, Brundage also contributed two covers to GOLDEN FLEECE, a Sun Publications pulp magazine, also based in Chicago.

For a more detailed look at Margaret Brundage, we urge you to pick up a copy of Stephen D. Korshak’s and J. David Spurlock’s book, THE ALLURING ART OF MARGARET BRUNDAGE. David’s “book within a book” — entitled “The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage” — was largely used for the biographical information found in our post. Prior to David’s detailed revelations, so much of what is now known about Brundage was totally unknown.

THE ALLURING ART OF MARGARET BRUNDAGE is available through Amazon and other booksellers. You can also get it direct from the publisher — Vanguard Publications — by visiting http://www.vanguardpublishing.com/.)

Margaret Brundage at 115

Dec 7, 2015 by

Weird Tales (June 1933)Few artists are as strongly linked to a single pulp as Margaret Brundage is to WEIRD TALES. Dec. 9, 2015, marks the 115th anniversary of her birth in Chicago.

Margaret Brundage got her start in the pulp magazines with WEIRD TALES‘ sister publication, ORIENTAL STORIES (later MAGIC CARPET), with six covers from Spring 1932 through January 1934. Her first cover for “The Unique Magazine” appeared in September 1932. Her pastels graced the cover again the next month, then again in March 1933. Beginning in June 1933 — and for the next 39 covers — WEIRD TALES featured her luscious artwork exclusively. Her last cover for WEIRD TALES appeared on the January 1945 number, capping a run of 66 covers for the magazine, with Brundage receiving no more than $90 for a cover.

The artist’s cover illustration for Robert E. Howard’s “Black Colossus” (WEIRD TALES, June 1933) generated the most mail for any of the magazine’s covers, she told Robert Weinberg, as detailed in THE ALLURING ART OF MARGARET BRUNDAGE, published by Vanguard Productions in 2013.

Brundage always enjoyed illustrating Howard’s stories. It was WEIRD TALES‘ editor Farnsworth Wright who passed along news of Howard’s suicide to the artist in 1936: “When I learned of Robert Howard’s death, I was very upset . . . . (Wright and I) both just sat around and cried for most of the day. He was always my personal favorite.”

In an interview with R. Alain Everts in 1973, Brundage recalled her most controversial WEIRD TALES cover:

We had one issue (the September 1933 number) that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting ahold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation, and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple of thousand extra (copies).

In 1938, WEIRD TALES was bought by Short Stories, Inc., and its editorial headquarters moved from Brundage’ hometown of Chicago to New York City. Wright went east with the magazine, but he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, and by 1940 he was dead. Brundage stayed in Chicago, but the difficulty of shipping her fragile chalk illustrations by train to New York and a reduction in WEIRD TALES‘ cover rates to $50 ended her pulp career just five years later.

Margaret Brundage died April 9, 1976, at age 75.

PulpFest seeks to draw attention to the profound effect that the pulps had on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest honors pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways the magazines and their creators — people like Margaret Brundage — have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades.

Join PulpFest 2016 to be part of this great celebration of American popular culture. Start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” in 2016. It will take place July 21–24 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

(Margaret Brundage’s pastel cover for the June 1933 issue of WEIRD TALES illustrates Robert E. Howard’s tale, “Black Colossus.”)