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Artist Spotlight: Earle Bergey: Pulps, Paperbacks, and Pinups

Artist Spotlight: Earle Bergey: Pulps, Paperbacks, and Pinups

If you’ve even had a passing glance at the pulp fiction magazines of the 1930s-1950s, then you’ve probably seen the artwork of Earle Bergey (1901-1952). One of the most prolific illustrators of the era, Bergey excelled at capturing the dynamic motion of the human body in action. His work filled the covers of numerous publications as his style was well-suited to everything from sports to science fiction.

Bergey was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1901. As a high school student, he dreamed of becoming a cartoonist, a dream which he fulfilled early in his career, as the replacement artist for the newspaper cartoon “Deb Days,” which ran in The Philadelphia Public Ledger. Shortly after that, Bergey began his career as a pulp artist, beginning with magazine covers for pinup-style publications such as La Paree and Snappy. Other pulp genres soon followed and soon Bergey was contributing to dozens of pulps including Thrilling Love, Startling Stories, Thrilling Sports, and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Cover of Thrilling Love, August 1941, cover art by Earle Bergey

Cover of Thrilling Love, August 1941, cover art by Earle Bergey.

Bergey is perhaps best known for his pinup art and illustrations of women on science fiction and adventure magazine covers. His flair for depicting movement leant itself perfectly to subject matter requiring images of dramatic action. His fantastical pulp imaginings were often referred to as “Bim, BEM, Bum,” due to his renderings of damsels in distress, threatened by “Bug-Eyed Monsters.” Bergey was also a pioneer of the “brass bra” style of costuming his illustrated women, creating futuristic (if unrealistic) metallic fashion for his paintings’ leading ladies. You can see Bergey’s influence in popular culture everywhere, from Princess Leia’s brass bikini in Return of the Jedi, to the metal-adorned corsets of pop performers like Madonna and Katy Perry.

Cover of Startling Stories, July 1950, cover art by Earle Bergey

Cover of Startling Stories, July 1950, cover art by Earle Bergey.

The same affinity for dramatic movement that worked so well in his pulp work also made Bergey perfect for the world of sports illustration. Though much more well-known for his pinup paintings, Bergey filled the covers of many sports magazines such as Thrilling Sports, Fight Stories, Popular Sports Magazine, and Street & Smith’s Sport Story Magazine, with his dynamic style and flair for motion.

Cover art by Earle Bergey for Exciting Sports, Winter 1950

Cover art by Earle Bergey for Exciting Sports, Winter 1950.

In the late 1940s, Bergey forayed into the world of paperback book illustration. He created cover art for dozens of paperback books, and his work became the signature style for the genre of inexpensive novels. Bergey’s most famous paperback cover is his illustration for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos. The original illustration for this cover sold at auction in 2007 for $10,755.00. Many paperback books from publishers Popular Library and Pocket Books are now considered collectibles due to Bergey’s vivid, dramatic artwork.

Cover of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, cover art by Earle Bergey, c. 1948

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loo. Cover art by Earle Bergey, 1948. Via Joshua David Bergey, used under license CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Though Earle Bergey’s illustration work spanned multiple genres and publications, perhaps his best-known works are his pinups and pulp science fiction covers. In fact, these two subjects cross over much of the time, with many of Bergey’s sci-fi women looking like otherworldly pinups. Here at Asgard Press, we’re huge fans of the Golden Age of Pulp Sci-Fi. In fact, we’ve been publishing a Vintage Sci-Fi calendar every year since 2010, with many of them featuring cover art by Earle Bergey, including our current 2023 Vintage Sci-Fi Calendar which features four covers by Bergey.

If you would like to see more vintage pulp science fiction covers, including those by Bergey, you can take a look at our 2023 Vintage Sci-Fi calendar, found here. And you can see all of our fun vintage and retro calendar titles in our calendar category section, here.

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