The internet can take the credit (or blame) for a number of things. International communication. Abundant free porn. Cat memes. The list goes on. However, one of the things that I will always like best about the internet is that it has done a great job at preserving and illuminating the past. Can’t remember a television commercial from your childhood? You will most likely be able to find it on Youtube. Want to learn more about an obscure character actor from the 60s? Odds are, they will have an elaborate fan page dedicated to them. If it existed, odds are it can be found somewhere on the internet.
This has been especially valuable when it comes to the work of illustrators from the past. Aside from a handful of illustrators, much of the quality work that was done in 30s, 40s and 50s had gotten lost in the march of history.
I have to admit, that a little more than a decade ago, I knew very little of the commercial illustration work being done in the mid-20th century. That changed as sites began popping up devoted to bringing the best of this work back into the spotlight. While many aficionados did a lot of good work in this area, one stood out above the rest for me, animator/illustrator Shane Glines.
Shane combines a tireless passion for vintage magazine illustration, with an impeccable taste for really cool stuff (an aesthetic he calls cartoon retro). Over the years, Shane brought the work of so many influential illustrators to my attention, illustrators like Earl Oliver Hurst, Russell Patterson and Roy Nelson. I owe Shane a lot.
As payback of sorts, I always keep an eye out for interesting vintage magazines whenever I go to a flea market or used bookstore. Let me tell you, unearthing this stuff isn’t easy, and the little I have done of it, has really made appreciate all of the work that guys like Shane do. So if I can add a little bit to the work that they have done, I’m going to do it.
That long preamble brings me to the actual point of this article. Late last year, I bought an old issue of Collier‘s at a local flea market. The issue was from March 18, 1955 and is chock full of really cool illustrations. This should come to no surprise as Collier‘s was one of the premiere showcases for some of the best illustration work of the time. I plan on posting a bunch of artwork from this issue (and others I have stumbled over during the years) in future articles, but for right now, I want to focus on the spot illustrations done by Lowell Hess (another illustrator brought to my attention by Shane Glines) for an article titled “No Nutburgers for Me.”
The article chronicles alternative hamburgers of the time and is written tongue-in-cheek from the perspective of someone outraged that anyone would try to improve upon an American classic. Sprinkled throughout the article are several wonderful illustrations done by Lowell Hess. Hess is one of the most prolific and talented illustrators to work during the 50s. Employing an extremely appealing cartoon style, Hess’ work displays tremendous craftsmanship and a whole lot of fun.
I can go and on about these illustrations, but they pretty much speak for themselves. I love how economical these drawings are. There is just as much information here that is needed to deliver the gag, and nothing more. All of Hess’ characters in these drawings have a lot of life and energy. You definitely get a sense that Hess got as much fun and satisfaction drawing the various “props” in these illustrations as he did drawing the people.
If you enjoy Lowell Hess’ work as much as I do, definitely take a look at his website. He had a long and extremely successful career, but he isn’t as widely known today as some of his more popular peers. Let’s see if we can change that.