Weird Tales: Meet Margaret Brundage, The First Lady Of Pulp Pinup Art

Counterculture bohemian Margaret Brundage was the first female pinup artist, tempting pulp readers with her scantily clad, whip-wielding vixens. Now, a new coffee-table book chronicles her life and work.

Long before Frank Frazetta’s zaftig warrior princesses and the gothic fetish craze that spawned Bettie Page, Margaret Brundage bridged pinup, fantasy, and horror art while becoming a vibrant figure in the era’s counterculture.


The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage, due from Vanguard Publishing on May 15, addresses both aspects of Brundage’s life, from 1900 to 1976, in a series of essays, photographs, and Brundage’s Weird Tales and Conan covers.

Brundage is best known for her sensationalistic covers gracing popular pulp magazine Weird Tales, from 1932 to 1945. They featured scantily clad, voluptuous temptresses and damsels in distress, often contending with supernatural figures in compromising positions. Her work illustrated stories from such authors as H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and Conan creator Robert E. Howard.

Coauthor J. David Spurlock says, “Brundage’s work was instantly popular and controversial, far greater controversy erupting when people learned the artist was a woman–as in, ‘What kind of a woman would paint that?’ She ultimately blazed a path for modern female masters of fantastic art, including Julie Bell, Olivia De Berardinis, Doris Vallejo, and Rowena Morrill.”

“During that time, men didn’t think women capable of such explicit sexuality, so that level of expression in her painting was very unusual for a woman,” says De Berardinis, who paints women and burlesque, and is best known for her Playboy pinups. “She was bohemian enough to do those types of illustrations. It’s important that women like her are remembered and celebrated. Life for her wasn’t easy, and she really paved the way for artists like myself to thrive.”

Margaret Brundage

As edgy as her paintings were, Brundage’s real life was even more radical. Already a trailblazer for being the first woman to create pulp covers, she embraced the Beat Generation counterculture movement. Her husband, Slim, was a writer and poet who founded the College of Complexes, a radical social center of Beat culture in Chicago during the 1950s. Together, they held antiwar rallies and advocated for free speech and free love, colliding with the turbulence of civil rights, McCarthyism, the Weather Underground Organization, and the African-American art movement.

In another collision of worlds so representative of Brundage’s life, she attended high school and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art with Walt Disney. “When they reconnected years later, there was some talk of her helping to design characters for Snow White and other films, but with her living in Chicago, nothing came of it,” adds Spurlock.


Click on the slideshow for samples of Brundage’s covers.


About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.