Sunday, July 01, 2007

Calling All Meddlesome Girls!

I love the illustration styles that were common in the children's books and magazines of the 40s, 50s and 60s. They were imaginative and stylized. I particularly enjoy this two page title art for the story The Puzzle of Picture Point.

Pages from Calling All Girls (April 1960).
Art by Leonard Slonevsky.

It is just so Nancy Drew. Plucky ingenues investigating a mystery confronted by an anonymous, menacing figure. The layout is great and many artists of today could learn something about composition from it. The background of the lake shore assists in setting the scene and promoting a sense of danger. The reeds and rushes makes it appear the wet-suited visitor is radiating menace at the curious girls. In fact, the aura of danger is the strongest element of the entire scene and is in high contrast to and overwhelms the three other figures.

There is something fun to be said for the art of magazines and books aimed at the suburban kid market of a few decades past. It was naive and innocent. There were no 'issues' to be dealt with. No temptation, no war and draft-dodging or corrupt officials and people didn't recycle. Those things may as well have been in another universe. Kids got involved, didn't poop where they slept and did the right thing out of respect for what was right. Those were the days that never were and I miss them. Who wouldn't want to live on Pine Street over Peyton Place or for that matter, in the town of Deery?

The idealized suburban world depicted in magazines like Calling All Girls and Boy's Life was pretty exciting. Crime was everywhere, even in the smallest town, but it was crime without any real physical danger, it was crime in the abstract. The villains often surrendered without a fight when confronted by the truthful words of children. The entire modern cliche' of the 'meddlesome kids' solving mysteries can be traced through to these stories (which goes even back further to comics, pulps and the children's novels of the 1900s). They were fun. Imagine if when the Beav got stuck in the giant coffee cup he discovered a cache of stolen plastics molds hidden there by an industrial espionage ring* instead of merely suffering embarrassment.

In many of these stories though, the menace was actually revealed to be benign. The mysteries were often resolved to be in truth a case of misunderstood intentions as the protagonists stumbled upon some honest, hard-working college professor who was working in secret unearthing a pirate treasure or something else that would enhance the standing of the community and enrich the local history.


* A Leave it to Beaver and a Hardy Boys reference!

1 comment:

  1. I've always found those pictures interesting as well. I remember reading a Bobsey Twins book once where it had a smiliar cover, though there was a glider on the back because the oldest Bobsey boy got to fly in one.

    What is even more interesting is how the fashions looked then with the long skirts and sweaters. Nowdays it would be catsuits and tentacles, I imagine.


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