Ask Morgana 107: Jack Kamen

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Jack Kamen (1920-2008) is here because ‘Rebecca’ (see ‘Ask Morgana 081’) cited him as someone who could ‘really draw women’. His heyday as a comic-book illustrator was in the 1940s and 50s, when he worked for New York outfit EC Comics. Kamen was a NY guy himself. The stories he illustrated were typical ‘pulp’ of that era, calling for ‘dames’ and ‘broads’ to be set opposite all-American ‘big lugs’ with square shoulders and crew-cuts, handy with their ham-sized fists or a ‘gat’. His Jane Russell lookalike had a back you could ski on (1) and the bust/waist proportions of the ideal pin-up of the day (2). She could preen herself, bikini-clad, on a public beach (3), or curl up in sheer vulnerability on a shrink’s couch, sobbing, clutching a Kleenex. She could be the exaggerated, fetishist super-character of fantastic adventure, defiant in dockside danger (6), or she could be the product of more realistic and restrained art, as in these sketches for pulp novel covers (4) (5). Was she a creature of erotic art? Again, it’s debatable. Certainly if a dame was thrown from a Coney Island roller coaster, it wouldn’t hurt to glimpse the frill of her petticoat (7). But I believe that the eroticism in Kamen’s work is a deliberate bye-product.

Kamen was an interesting man, and repays research. Find out, for example, what happened when he portrayed a hero-astronaut in a sci-fi story as an African-American. Remember this was pre- Rosa Parks, pre-MLK.

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Images reproduced under ‘fair use’ provisions.

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