By Jim Linderman
Carl Pfeufer (1910 – 1980) was yet another of those comic book illustrators who proved the Kefauver Committee on Juvenile Delinquency was right to keep them out of kids’ hands. Although he had a long career in the “legitimate” comic book industry, his true colors were blood red and bruised black and blue… and they came to light in the illustrations he did for Off Beat Detective Stories from 1958 to 1963.
“Hi Kids! Recognize my work from Marvel’s Sub-Mariner?”
The fine folks at Pontiac Publishing didn’t think the current men’s detective pulps were sleazy enough, so they added more brutality and bondage. I don’t mean “comic book” bondage, in which, let’s say, a damsel in distress is tied to a tree while cannibals dance around in front of a boiling kettle. I mean real bondage. Chains, whips, suffering and even in one case a toady fellow with a can of gasoline preparing to start a nice toasty woman fire. Their primary competition on the middle rack of your local newsstand was portly Alfred Hitchcock and his Mystery Magazine and Pontiac didn’t have a TV show to feed off. They had to stand out.
Pfeufer goes way back to the golden age of comics. He even drew at least one issue of Captain America. He studied under American impressionist painter William Starkweather (no… not THAT Starkweather, though it would make sense) and attended art school in New York City. By the 1930s was using his skills for virtually every comic publisher of note and then some. Dell, Marvel, Harvey, Fawcett… all benefited from Carl’s cartoons and he was there at the beginning.
His masterpieces of newsstand mayhem were later shown on the covers of Off Beat Detective (simply reverse the title for the intention of the publishers) and under the original title Sure Fire in 1957. To separate themselves from the throng of detective fiction magazines already on the stands, they added gruesome, violent sex. The formula worked for a few years, but barely. The digest hardly rose from the pack and are quite scarce today. As far as I know, Pfeufer did all the covers, and if that wasn’t enough he also did tawdry little line drawings for each story inside.
A typical story titled “Scream For Me Darling” by Steve Lawton in a 1961 issue allows Pfeufer to draw a damsel in lingerie being lashed across the bare mid-section, with the caption “The whip swirled around Melody bringing an ecstacy (sp) of sheer agony.”
In the same issue, the caption of an illustration for “Lust of the Damned” by William H. Duhart reads “Betty forgot the awful cramps as she saw the killers stalking across the pier.” At least we know he understood women. The Edward Hoch story “Hell’s Handmaiden” has a Pfeufer illustration of a woman watching a knife at her throat in the reflected bathroom mirror, while Hoch writes “And the blade went snicker-snack… so much blood.”
Snicker – snack?
Prominent writers did the words, often under pseudonyms. Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Ed Hoch and Lawrence Block. One has to presume the creepy cover illustrations were done by the artist with instructions and based on the stories inside, but that isn’t necessarily so. The relationship between picture and word is often tenuous. It was, after all, the days before fax machines. Maybe the editor would call Carl up on the blower. “Okay Carl… today we need a dame chained to the wall and knife thrower tossing a few her way. Pronto!”
Off Beat Detective Stories were published by Pontiac Publishing Corporation on lovely Appleton Street in Holoyke, Massachusets. They were also responsible for Two Fisted Detective Stories, just as sleazy and with the same lurid Pfeufer paintings, but that is certainly not all. The magazines changed titles as often as the women being tortured changed their undies. Guilty Detective Story Magazine, Hunted Detective Story Magazine, Trapped Detective Story Magazine, Fast Action Detective, Terror Detective, Hunted Detective Story Magazine and no doubt more.
They have not been well documented today, one suspects, because no one wanted to carry one up to the cashier. Fugitive literature which has never been indexed and lacks bibliographic control. They were also small, “digest” sized rags and less splashy than the “real” pulps. Pontiac was not the only name they used. Star Publications, Arnold Publications and others have been traced to the address. A huge misanthropic printing press!
I believe we can blame one Everett M. Arnold for the whole shebang, pun intended. Arnold was a printing press salesman who obviously saw potential in the comics and pulp business. (His nickname was “Busy” Arnold! He acquired the moniker as a child… he must have been A.D.D.) He has subsequently been assigned a Facebook page, but as of this writing it has NO followers! It will one day…
Busy Arnold seems to be crying out from the grave he entered in 1974 for a full biography.
Everett referred to the fiction as “sock stories” whatever that means. Stockings? Taking one in the chin? There is no Dewey Decimal category for “sock stories” so I am going to assume these are not held in your local library.
As for Pfeufer, he was but one of an increasingly evident group of comic book progenitors who created dicey material Mom wouldn’t like. Spiderman virtually came from the fevered mind of fetish artist Eric Stanton, though it was a secret for decades. Stanton was the most prominent sexual fetish illustrator of the 20th century, with the possible exception of Bill Ward who ALSO worked on comic books for major publishers. Superman co-creator Joe Shuster drew bondage illustrations to pay the rent. Dan Decarlo of “Archie” fame? Dozens of busty dames in sexist situations for the line of Humorama digests in the 1950s. Dave Berg from Mad Magazine? The same. More buxom archetypical “dumb blondes” than a sitcom from the 1950s.
Even Wesley Morse, the seemingly safe artist responsible for the Bazooka Joe comics started out with the most filthy pornographic comics of all, the tiny “Tijuana Bibles” sold by minor mobsters at the 1939 World’s Fair. Ultimately, some of the most graphic and grody illustrators of the last 100 years worked for the comic books. It isn’t “politically correct” to admit it, but there you go. It’s like Bettie Page. Aficionados call her bondage photographs “inept” and “campy” but millionaire deviant Irving Klaw literally hung her from a wooden rack like a deer being dressed, while bound and gagged, and in some cases apparently even let the customers watch. Campy!
By the way, Kefauver investigated him too.
The artist Carl Pfeufer is said to have spent his later years creating for the art market… sculptures and paintings. I don’t believe I have ever seen any in a museum.
Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, popular culture historian and author. His network of blogs is approaching 4 million page views, and his VINTAGE SLEAZE BLOG which tells a true story from the golden age of smut every day has over 300,000 Facebook followers. For several years he has been working on TIMES SQUARE SMUT which will tell the story of several long forgotten writers, illustrators and mob-connected publishers from the 1950s who ultimately influenced contemporary culture.