Pollen’s Women: The Art of Samson Pollen edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
Hardcover – New Texture – Jan 2018 – 135 pages
Samson Pollen is one of the great grandmasters of illustration art used for stories published in men’s adventure magazines (MAMs) from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s.
Pollen’s Women is a deluxe, full-color, hardcover that features photos of dozens of Sam’s original MAM paintings from his personal archive, along with scans of the stories they were used for.
From the 1950s to the 1990s, Samson Pollen created top-notch illustration artwork for various types of periodicals and paperback books and fine art paintings for galleries, commissions and prints. However, most of his artwork—literally hundreds of paintings—was used as interior illustrations for stories in the Atlas/Diamond group of MAMs published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company. The Atlas/Diamond group included many of the best, most popular and longest-running magazines in the men’s adventure genre, such as ACTION FOR MEN, FOR MEN ONLY, MALE, MAN’S WORLD, MEN, STAG and TRUE ACTION.
Samson Pollen is currently less well known than some of the other great artists who worked for those magazines; artists like Mort Kunstler, James Bama, Gil Cohen, Charles Copeland and Earl Norem. That’s largely because most examples of vintage MAM artwork shown in books and internet posts are cover scans, and Pollen specialized in doing interior illustrations. Although he did do many cover paintings for action, adventure and romance paperbacks during his long career as an illustrator, Pollen preferred—and became a go-to artist for—illustrations printed inside across the first two pages of stories.
Images of beautiful women were common in MAMs, Pollen was particularly adept at painting scenes that feature beautiful women—and he did scores of them for Goodman’s Atlas/Diamond magazines. Pollen’s women are not the kind of damsels in distress that are common in artwork done for early pulp magazines and the “sweat mag” subgenre of MAMs. Pollen’s women are often powerful or dangerous or both. Some are temptresses or femme fatales, seeking to lure a man into doing their bidding. Others are warriors, fighting alongside (or against) the male characters in the scene. Naturally, given the era, the women in some Pollen illustrations are relegated to being helpmates to the male protagonists. Some are simply unashamedly sexually aggressive.
But, while MAMs are of their time and thus not particularly evolved in terms of perspectives on gender roles or sexuality (despite occasional unexpectedly advanced thinking in those areas), Pollen’s women are almost never helpless victims. They also contradict the widespread misperception that MAM illustrations typically show women being abused. In fact, “bondage and torture” style stories and artwork were only prevalent in the “sweat mag” subgenre, which account for less than a third of the more than 160 different MAM titles that were published—and even less of the total readership. The Atlas/Diamond group Samson Pollen worked for (and most other mid- and top-tier MAMs) didn’t feature such stuff.
Another revelation comes from being able to see Pollen’s original MAM paintings. They are far more lush and painterly than you can tell from seeing them in magazine spreads, surrounded by headlines, subheads and text, and printed on medium- to low-quality paper. Samson Pollen’s paintings stand on their own as artwork.