time in the 1960s,
Gene Bilbrew followed Eric Stanton in becoming a pulp paperback
artist. Apparently it was Stanton who introduced Bilbrew
to Stanley Malkin, the primary figure behind Satellite Publishing,
and it would be for Malkin—and his imprints: First Niter,
Wee Hours, After Hours—that Bilbrew would produce his
But it wasn’t until a few
years later, working for imprints like Satan Press, Chevron,
Wizard—perhaps all incarnations of the same false company
(back in the days when these books were essentially illegitimate
and the publishers subject to legal harassment)—that Gene
Bilbrew would find his legs.
Here are some of my favorite
illustrated covers, and since I’m still collecting
his artwork (along with Stanton), I’ll be posting more in
An important book that turned
me on to collecting sexploitation pulps is this one:
From collecting Eric Stanton artifacts, I naturally progressed
to Bilbrew. (It’s hard to collect one and not the other;
their careers are so parallel, and their books are often
sold together.) At this point I might even say that I prefer
Bilbrew’s pulp paperbacks to those of Stanton.
Partly, this may have something
to do with the tragedy of Bilbrew’s life, which pulls at me
(he died a typical artist’s death—disempowered—in absolute
poverty and obscurity); partly it may have something to
do with Bilbrew being an ethnic minority (and an
outsider to his own race, as well as the culture at large).
Gene Bilbrew’s style is
like that of a muralist; and like the work of a muralist
(Diego Rivera comes to mind), there’s an odd stiffness to
the figures, the compositions are sometimes awkward, and,
now and then, the characters even seem erratically proportioned.
(Oddly enough, I don’t see these idiosyncrasies as “defects”
[much like the writing of Charles Bukowski, the very thing
that makes his art crude and “wrong” makes it right].)
Working in the subgenre
of sexploitation, Bilbrew’s primary subject matter was,
of course, sensational.
His women are drawn in a larger-than-life sexploitation
style, not unlike that of Stanton and sexploitation filmmaker
Russ Meyer. “Buxom” is not the word; these females are super-women,
big-boned, generally tall, and physically endowed like burlesque
performers of the day.
Sexploitation, as is evidenced in the work of Eric Stanton
and Russ Meyer, had its roots in burlesque, after all.
(Eric Stanton illus.)
I’ll be listed more Gene Bilbrew artifacts in the coming
weeks; more of his books and his digest-sized pamphlets
and underground comic art.
I need to mention one last
thing: although it’s never been verified (as no existing
photographs of him are known to exist), Bilbrew was rumored
to have occasionally drawn himself into his artwork.
If we can take the self-portrait he did of himself in the
strip “Catfight” as a clue, I think I’ve uncovered what
appears to be more self-portraits of the artist. Of course
I could be wrong, but here they are:
(self-portrait from Catfight)
(self-portrait from Black Is For Bliss
(self-portrait from One Step Up
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