Mort Künstler: The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
Hardcover/Trade Paperback – New Texture – Nov 2020 – 131/111 pages
Nowadays, Mort Künstler is most widely known for the art he produced in the decades after the men’s adventure periodicals faded away and disappeared from newsstands in the late 1970s. Around the time MAMs were becoming extinct, he began a new phase of his career doing historical artwork. In the late ‘70s, he made a splash with Western paintings sold by fine art galleries.
Then, in 1982, a commission from CBS-TV to do artwork for the mini-series, THE BLUE AND THE GRAY, led to a period in which he focused on Civil War paintings. It wasn’t long before he became the most-collected and best known Civil War artist in the country. Mort went on to do many paintings depicting scenes from throughout American history. And, as noted in the biography on his website, he came to be called “the premier historical artist in America.”
However, as Mort himself explains in an extensive interview with him in our new book, he honed his craft and made his living early in his career by doing cover paintings and interior illustrations for men’s adventure magazines. Most of that artwork was done for the “Atlas/Diamond” line of MAMs published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company and its subsidiaries (FOR MEN ONLY, MALE, MAN’S WORLD, MEN, STAG, etc.). In fact, Mort created hundreds of awe-inspiring cover paintings and interior illustrations for the Goodman MAMs, as well as for other top mags in that genre, such as ARGOSY and TRUE.
The new book we created with him showcases over one hundred of his original MAM paintings.
The text includes a preface by Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Deputy Director & Chief Curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and an introduction by Michael W. Schantz, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, New York. We borrowed the title for the book from the title Michael gave to the special exhibit of Mort’s men’s adventure magazine paintings that was on display at the Heckscher Museum in the fall of 2019.
As explained by displays in the show — and by Michael and Mort in the front matter section of the new book — the use of the term “Godfather” reflects the fascinating links between Mort and writer Mario Puzo, author of the blockbuster novel THE GODFATHER.
From the late 1950s to the late-1960s, before THE GODFATHER made Puzo famous, he worked as a regular writer and sometimes as Associate Editor for the Magazine Management MAMs Mort Künstler did artwork for. In fact, Mort created illustrations for dozens of the war and action/adventure stories Puzo penned for those magazines, which he often wrote under the pseudonym Mario Cleri. And, because Mort was so good and had such a vivid imagination, the editors sometimes had Mort paint action-filled scenes first — then had Puzo write stories to go with them.
When THE GODFATHER was published in 1969, Martin Goodman bought the right to publish a “Book Bonus” version in the August 1969 issue of MALE. Naturally, Mort was tapped to create the cover for that issue. And, when the Literary Guild edition of THE GODFATHER was published that summer, Mort was hired to create the artwork for the Guild Bulletin announcing it.
The featured artwork is shown in full-color, full-page spreads. We decided to keep those pages text-free, so each painting can be viewed and appreciated in itself as a piece of art. An appendix in the back of the book provides a list of where each painting appeared.