Comic History: The muses behind the artist

Pigmalion and Galatea, the ultimate artist/muse relationship

In my comic-artist years (Oh yes! That long ago…) and when I still dreamed of being a great illustrator, I was known among my (small) circle of artists friend for being fascinated by the amazing relationship between models and the artists that immortalize them.

I had my share of live model drawing and of course, I have no shame in admitting that most of the time I would enjoy more drawing pleasant looking models of the opposite gender than not. But that had nothing to do with any lecherous feelings, or any pervvy streak I have in me. Actually it had to do with afinity to pleasent aesthetics. Doing artwork turned to be go smoother when having an aesthetically pleasing model in front of me.

When I wanted to hone the art-skills, I would look for more challenging subject matters.  Among my repertoire of life drawings, there is “old lady walking a poodle” and “skinny naked man holding a top hat” and lest not forget “Seriously overweight model prancing around a bowl of fruit” illustrations.

I have equal quantities of “hot pinup model looking coy in upskirt shot” than “unconventional body type person” art in my collection.

Where can I find the origins of this exercise in art?

When I was a wee bit lad (young teens) one of my art teachers saw my interest in drawing, and recommended that I sat in in a course at a nearby junior college. I agreed and attended the class, and to my surprise, the art students were drawing a live model. The model turned out to be a middle aged woman, wearing white fullbody tights, and balancing around herself a bowl of exotic fruits.

While entranced with the experience of drawing from a life figure, after a while I realized something else was taking place: There was a report building between the artists and the model, a strange bond that consisted in studying the form of the model, and by studying her outward appearance I started understanding more about the person. Her wrinkles spoke of past experiences, crows feet and neck-folds both in equal measure spoke of times she turned her head, incidents she squinted or cried; the dryness on her elbows, the few white strands of hair all the small details assited creating a picture of her that humanized the model.

A few years later, I was meeting a group of artist over for dinner while in one of my trips to Spain. It was one of those occasions when you exchange ideas and share new concepts. Among them was Jose (Pepe) Gonzalez, the main designer and artist for Jim Warren’s Vampirella.

If you were reading those magazines in the 70’s you may remember some amazing cover art and interior art, of the sexy heroine from the planet Drakulon.

Another artist that knew Pepe from working with him years before asked a personal question and that prompted Jose Gonzalez to produce a small print of his most famous poster of the character he was carrying in his wallet.

Jose Gonzalez was open to questions, after all, we assumed he was hanging out among a group of professional colleagues (and some amateurs), and he was aware that (at the time) I had barely sold a couple of stories, so he was graceful when I asked him how close he felt to that image he was carrying, and changed the subject with tact and diplomacy.

Another artist elbowed me and said he would tell me later, that this was not interview hour. So, the pros kept talking and the conversation continued being peppered with more and more inside jokes and inner-circle references. When we left, the other artist walked with me and told me that initially, Jose had done the main version of the poster, using the model Carol de Haro.

There are pictures to support that. But the part that remains little known, is that Jose Gonzalez redid the painting many times over, this time using the model Marguit Kocksis (model, and artists extraordinaire).

The Spanish model Carol de Haro, striking the pose that made the famous poster of Jose (Pepe) Gonzalez

The Marguit Kocksis Vampirella’s paintings were never accounted for.

But the artists stated inequivocally that Jose Gonzalez had a major crush on Marguit.

Marguit Kocksis in a cover for a Spanish PhotoMagazine of the 1970's

I will try to dedicate another blog entry to the great character of Vampirella, now being published by Harris, but for now suffice to say that Jim Warren was trying to set a movie deal for this character and a rather large number of models donned the red skimpy-suit, either promoting the comic at conventions, or doing photoshoots for the movie.

Zoe Mozert among her paintings.
Zoe Mozert surrounded by fellow artists

Although pinup artists had their glory-days during and shortly after World War II, one little secret that few people know is that  Zoe Mozert was using herself as a pinup model for her own pinups.

Zoe Painting herself.

She worked for herself and also for other greats such as the marvelous Norman Rockwell and the esteemed Gil Elvgren.

She also did cover shots for magazines and storyboards for Hollywood.

After the Jose Gonzalez story, I had a chance to witness a lot of personal and intimate stories between artists and models that made me reflect on how complex and varied their relationships are.

But back to the artists and their models: Even then I knew a few things about the “wunder kids” from Creaciones Illustradas, and how Jim Warren poached that pool of talent and got his magazines off the ground with wonderful art while paying peanuts to the Spaniard artists. I also remember hearing rumors about how in Creaciones Illustradas  were sharing office space with the same folks who produced photo-magazines (Fotonovelas), and thus they shared reference materials, models and photographs.

In one hand there are the societal constrains of the times you are living. If you were a comic book artist in the US between the 70’s and the 90’s you would work mostly out of photographic referenes. If you were living in a large city, and your production extended to illustration (covers, books, coffee tables) then there is a higher chance you would get to rub elbows eventually with the more mainstream art scene, (not much likely, but a bit more likely) and eventually you may be invited to a session where a bunch of artists share a studio and pay for a model. This model sometimes would be a lady involved in the performing arts.

In the mid 80’s I heard stories dating back a full decade, of a female painter who would model to make ends meet, and sometimes she would moonlight as an exotic dancer too. I also know of stories where some artists would frequent a strip club, (gogo bar in the 70’s) and befriend a dancer, who would agree to give them a special rate for modeling for them. One particular story in this vein that excited my imagination was of a stripper who was enamored with the idea of eventually being immortalized by the right artist, and would give these guys very affordable rates, and then hang out with them. Eventually that led to infatuations, and jelousies among the artists competing for the affections of this muse. One friendship among two famous syndicated artists was shattered and never recovered on account of both men craving the models affection.

If you believe in serendipity, then you should smile to read that something similar was happening with the Spanish artists of Selecciones Ilustradas in Spain that were making art for Jim Warren and his Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie magazine. They were getting together and having dancers and models serve as models for their art,and their photograph sessions. And some of these ladies were also exotic dances, others where artists themselves, and others were just friends who enjoyed the company of artists and didn’t mind offering their services in the cuase of art.

I can’t help but have this romantic view of these everyday gals and friends who themselves dream of getting immortalized by the artists, and overcome mores and conventions of the time (posing nude) with the faint hope of maybe someday having their likeliness reach posterity and everlasting fame, as in the example of Carol de Haro with the Vampirella poster. Mind you, Carol’s effigy never made it to the poster itself, but many of us involved in the comic books scene know her to be the quintessential Vampirella.

In the 90’s and 2000’s the role of the model shifted and matured. The prevalence of digital photography made it much easier to rely on photographic references, plus the widespread institution of photographic reference agencies, coupled with the widespread of the internet, made the past role of the model somewhat obsolete.

But there are still wonderful muses who still insist in being immortalize, and want to contribute their two cents in creative process of the artist.

I may have stated that “the traditional role of the model is somewhat obsolete”, but that only means that the means of obtaining the same results have shifted.

Currently the proliferation of online-modeling agencies makes it extremely easy and convenient to book models, and sort by modeling type, height, facial features, etc.

Well, I intend to post a blog entry based on an interview with Model Extraordinaire and all all-around awesome muse to the artists, Amber Lu.

Stay Tuned.

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