A bizarre and gritty subway terror scene by Mort Kunstler from the “War at Home” genre prevalent in 1960s Men’s Magazine art. The image depicts the climactic moment in Nicholas Baehr’s story “Ride With Terror” which was soon to be adapted for the screen with Beau Bridges in the role of the heroic service man squaring off against thugs Martin Sheen and Tony Musante. This envisioning shows the toughs in their best Lords of Flatbush garb accosting a pretty mod damsel. The square jawed, uniformed early Vietnam era soldier commands the foreground in this archetypical depiction of the ongoing culture war of the 60s. This is an electric work; if you are a fan of the genre, this gouache painting has it all. This was used as a May cover “For Men Only Magazine” with the title “Underground Angels Who Terrorized New York’s Subways.”
An explosive confrontation that captures the prevailing nihilism associated with the 1960s “sweat magazine” art and envelope-pushing adventure fiction. A tense and hyper-realistic pop-art time capsule.
In the 1960s and 1970s, men’s magazines exploited Cold War tensions and capitalized on prevalent working class American fears. “The Sweats,” as they are commonly known, followed the blueprint set by the pulp magazines of the previous generation, depicting perceived enemies as savages, Nazis, and Communist torturers.
Leading illustrators in this strangely subversive genre, such as Norman Saunders, James Bama, Norm Eastman, Rafael DeSota and Mort Kunstler, created sensational, figurative illustrations executed in a style markedly similar to Socialist Realism and its associated propaganda imagery.
In Adam Parfey’s 2003 coffee table book It’s A Man’s World; Men’s Adventure Magazines, The Postwar Pulps; where this gouache work is featured in a full page color-plate. The writer states “Consumerism, the specifically American style of propaganda best promoted by the work of Mort Kunstler in the 50’s and beyond, is an aesthetic limited by little beyond the ability to sell a magazine, though it rhetorically promoted the idea that America no matter it’s behavior was always morally superior. Other political beliefs, Nazism and Communism particularly, were by the conduct of their soldiers always portrayed as being perverse, ruthless and vicious. The racial component and sadistic misogyny of men’s magazines from the 50’s, the 60’s and even the 70’s is today astounding.”
“What’s also astounding is the imagination of the illustrations, all tractioned by the ability to depict fear. Fear of enemies, fear of animals, fear of women, fear of any loaded attack on the buyer’s manliness.”