Disclosure: As you might guess from the last name, J. David Spurlock is my uncle. While I love him dearly, we try to maintain a family value of honesty and we all share a respect for literature and art, so read this review with no worries: I’m being honest, honest!
She was something special, something different. In the early days of Weird Tales magazine, the art featured was often lush, lurid, and deliciously effective, and none more so than that of Margaret Brundage. In an era when women were often forced into restrictive social roles, she defied expectations on multiple levels.
Her work was frankly sexual and sensational, with most covers featuring deep colors and sharply outlined figures of naked–or mostly naked–women, usually in danger and–perhaps counter-intuitively–posing sexily while coping with that danger.
Sometimes there were also scantily-clad men, though it was sometimes unclear who was supposed to be protecting whom.
The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art
functions as a combination of biographical essays and art collection, combining notes, bits of detail, full essays, and gorgeous, full-color illustrations of all of her Weird Tales covers, along with various other, lesser known, pieces.
My favorite section, “The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage”, gives us a snapshot of early 20th Century politics and what it was like for Margaret and her husband, Slim (who shared her political and social interests). Here you can find details on their involvement with labor activism and the Wobblies (The Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), the Chicago activist scene, the Free Speech movement, and the civil rights movement. Some of the issues and views detailed show that while, in many ways, the issues remain the same, the movements themselves have changed a great deal, with the IWW all but extinct and the labor movement demonized by many.
While I don’t want to recount too many details (yes, even historical books can have spoilers!), I do want to say that as an author who owes a great deal to Weird Tales AND as a person who has spent a good part of his own life devoted to progressive and labor activism, the book taught me a lot, as well as collecting some truly beautiful and historically important works of art.