Let’s begin with a panel from the Brenda Starr newspaper strip created, written and drawn by Dale Messick (1906-2005) and published on June 18, 1959:
You may wish to know that, in fact, teenage Merrie isn’t saved…
But that’s a digression. What I want to draw to your attention is the striking similarity between the spanking panel and this terrific painting by Arthur Sarnoff (1912-2000) from a 1952 edition of Collier’s magazine:
Most of the circumstantial details are quite different – what the characters are wearing and where they are – but if you strip those away, the pose is identical, right down to their fingers (not to mention his wristwatch). So it’s a reasonable inference that Dale Messick had that page from a seven-year-old copy of Collier’s in front of her as she worked. It is, in fact, another example of the phenomenon we recently investigated, an artist using another artist’s work instead of a life model.
Now let’s look at another painting from the same era by a different artist, Harry Schaare (1922-2008). It was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1954 to illustrate John G. Schneider’s short story ‘After the Honeymoon’, which begins like this:
It was their first real fracas, and Boggs handled it the onliest way he knew how. When finally he wearied of arguing with his bride, he laid her across his knee and spanked her bottom. This chore he performed sadly, and only because it had to be done. He spanked lightly, almost tenderly, because he loved her dearly.
Nevertheless she sobbed and said, ‘I’m leaving you, Boggs Conyer! You – you wild, crazy hillbilly!’
Schaare rendered the scene thus:
(See here for a later illustration based on this one.)
If you’re like me, the main focus of attention in any spanking picture will be the girl on the receiving end, but just for once, take a closer look at the man who’s spanking her.
It’s the same guy as in the Collier’s painting!
Another one now, from a 1956 edition of This Week, illustrating a short story by Dana Burnet (1888-1962). The spanking is only a passing reference in the story – Sally ‘slapped Jeff and then he spanked her’, we are told in a third-hand report – but artist Richard Hook (1914-75) nevertheless chose to make a splendid splash page of the incident:
And here’s yet another, by yet another different artist, Denver Gillen (1914-75), illustrating a news feature in a 1946 issue of The American Weekly:
The girls in the four pictures are fairly diverse:
But, allowing for variations of hairstyle and the different ways they’re painted or drawn, the spankers all appear to be the same man.
If that’s right, then something rather odd is going on. The four artists were based in three different states: Denver Gillen in Connecticut, Arthur Sarnoff and Harry Schaare both in New York and Richard Hook in Pennsylvania. So was there an itinerant life model who made his living traveling around the northeastern United States posing for spanking illustrations? Well, that might be a rather agreeable profession, albeit not a very lucrative one, but as an explanation it overlooks one significant detail: the earliest picture in our set of examples was done in 1946 and the latest in 1956, and yet the man doesn’t seem to have aged in that time.
There is one possible explanation, but it comes with the caveat that it’s only a hypothesis arising from deduction, not something we can say we actually know.
From the middle of the last century, once technology was sufficiently advanced, professional artists had a third option to set alongside drawing from life or from a previously published image. This was a ‘pose book’: a small-circulation publication full of photographs of models striking a whole range of the kind of commonplace poses that illustrators might find themselves having to draw. Here are a few examples from modern times, published online:
That’s obviously a little different from the kind of imagery you’d find in a pose book from the 1940s: the models would be wearing more clothes, and the photos would be printed in black-and-white on paper. Obviously there would also be some difference in the kind of situations that were considered ‘everyday’ enough to be represented in a book designed to meet a general commercial artist’s ordinary needs. But the way it works remains the same: the artist uses the image as a guide to the desired pose, and changes whatever details he wants or needs to, such as clothing, hair and even faces.
I think it likely that our unageing spanker featured in an early pose book issued shortly after the end of the Second World War and used by professional artists for the next decade or more. If we looked hard enough, we might also find illustrations of him reading the newspaper or enjoying a beer or chopping the firewood, but of course it’s the spanking pictures that catch and hold our attention. I think he posed for them with a single female model, and that male artists were more likely to change her face than his (in the same way that, if I were an artist, I would always give the girl being spanked the face of the girl of my dreams). Even Dale Messick changed the girl’s face but kept the man’s when she adapted the Collier’s picture for her comic strip!
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d estimate that, out of the four iterations, the original model looked most like these two ladies:
I have no idea how many spanking images there were in the book, but there were obviously at least four, and they were evidently superb. I suspect they were all right-handed poses with the lady’s head to the right of the picture, and that Denver Gillen simply flipped it round for the left-hander he drew for The American Weekly. In fact, with Gillen’s work turned the ‘right’ way round, look at the apparent continuity of the way the two figures are moving through the sequence:
Is that the right explanation of this unknown man’s periodic reappearances in mid-century mainstream spanking art? I honestly don’t know… but I’d dearly like to find out!