Attack of the killer artwork!

What does it say about our pop culture when The Twilight Saga: New Moon (featuring a she-wolf) and Shakira's unrelated She Wolf CD both dropped before Black Friday? It says that women, witches and wolves are hot, as has been the case for a very long time.

In these parts, we've got another lycanthropic temptress to ponder this holiday season: "Lur the Witch Woman and Her Consorts," a scratchboard illustration by Virgil Finlay commissioned as the cover for a pulp-fiction fantasy book in 1941. Created to fill the pages of throwaway pulp fiction, Finley's seductress is now highly collectible and joins 50-plus other illustrations-turned-artwork by 22 masters of the genre in a never-before-seen exhibition at the Albin Polasek Museum in Winter Park.

In Maidens and Monsters: The Art of Science Fiction, Adventure and Fantasy, original vintage artworks are displayed alongside copies of the aging pulp magazines and books that originally featured them.

In Maidens and Monsters: The Art of Science Fiction, Adventure and Fantasy, original vintage artworks are displayed alongside copies of the aging pulp magazines and books that originally featured them.

If the heroes and heroines, buxom beauties and beasts, all published between 1914 and 1995, strike a nostalgic chord with you, it's probably because the fantasy characters and futuristic worlds that have evolved from these images are the inspiration for current-day comic books, video games, films and theme-park attractions. Maidens and Monsters is a striking reminder that everything old is new again, even in the work of Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney.

"All these gamers, they know who these illustrators are," says 57-year-old Stephen D. Korshak, a local attorney and the owner of the collection on display at the Polasek. "They know the history of these people who came before comic-book artists."

And if that's too lowbrow to pique your interest in the show, consider that academics treat this art seriously as well. Paul Reich, an assistant professor of English at Rollins College, says he'll be conducting a one-week "pulp fiction" course prior to the start of the spring semester. Reich wants his students to take a good look at the Korshak collection, and not just for a glimpse into the roots of popular culture.

"In my limited experience with Korshak's collection (and other similar pulp fiction book covers), we've found these images to be fascinating examples of a particularly poignant moment in American culture," he says via e-mail. "Historically, these works showcase the hopes, fears and complicated (gender, race and class) hierarchies that existed in the country at the time. As my students ‘read' these texts, they'll discover how the works illuminate this period in American history and, hopefully, be better able to look at contemporary texts for what they say about 21st-century society."

Korshak is as excited as a kid showing off his comic book collection to share this artwork with Central Florida first, then the rest of the country when it starts touring nationally.

Make no mistake: The artists and authors represented in Maidens and Monsters are formidable pairings. Take, for example, James Allen St. John's primitive drawing titled "The Abduction of Jane by Mo-Sar" (1921) which appears inside Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan the Terrible. In St. John's sepia-toned wash drawing, we see the muscled back and prehensile tail of the Pal-ul-don warrior as he disappears into the wilds, kidnapping a screaming Jane, who does not go gentle into that good night.

In the accompanying text, in which "Mo-Sar" has been reduced to a one-page inside illustration, Burroughs writes:

As Mo-sar carried Jane Clayton from the palace of Ko-tan, the king, the woman struggled incessantly to regain her freedom. He tried to compel her to walk, but despite his threats and his abuse she would not voluntarily take a single step in the direction in which he wished her to go. Instead she threw herself to the ground each time he sought to place her upon her feet, and so of necessity he was compelled to carry her though at last he tied her hands and gagged her to save himself from further lacerations, for the beauty and slenderness of the woman belied her strength and courage.

"The literature is just as important as the art," says Korshak.

Don't come to this exhibit expecting idyllic Norman Rockwells and Maxfield Parrishes. As Korshak explains, these pieces "have a more grown-up view of the world — some are scary." The look and feel skews toward adult fantasy, he says. Thus, you will see bare breasts and other temptations that had yet to be censored for mass consumption. Restrictions on the content of pulp covers didn't come until the years of the Hoover administration, when such images were said to contribute to moray decay and the slide toward Communism.

The subject matter of these enticing visuals "can be in fantasy or science fiction, and I have both," says Korshak. "But the pulp illustrators tended to be more garish. There were 30 to 40 magazines to choose from at the newsstands, so they would have these loud and garish covers to draw your attention."

In another of Korshak's cherished collectible pieces, flaming auburn curls fall down the back of a sanguine-lipped beauty seductively perched on the edge of a rocky mountaintop. "The Witch's Mark" is a 1938 pastel on paper by Margaret Brundage, one of the few women in the business. (Despite her talent and notoriety, Brundage died in obscurity.) There's a craziness in the witch's heavily made-up eyes that's echoed by the shadow of an old crone extending out from behind her. The scantily clad redhead extends one arm gracefully across her chest in an unsuccessful attempt to cover herself. The pose of her showgirl legs, in ankle-strapped, open-toed heels, is provocative. A succession of black bats, wings spread, fly up from the bottom of the canvas, forming an aura of dark enchantment around the sorceress.

"My collection is of great illustrators and illustrators of great influence on imaginative literature," Korshak says.

When he and his wife, Alma, add a new piece, they are responding to the painterly quality of the art as well as the appeal of the story, which still makes his eyes light up at the mention. He loves his impressive artifacts, especially pieces from icons like Frank Frazetta, born in 1928 and still living in Florida. The Korshaks visit Frazetta regularly, though ill health will likely keep him from attending the show. "Swords of Mars and Synthetic Men of Mars," an oil on canvas board by Frazetta, was the jacket cover for the 1966 book of the same name by Burroughs. It's just one of the illustrations of Burroughs' character John Carter in the exhibition, as interpreted by different artists through the years.

Korshak's own story is itself like a serialized pulp-fiction adventure: Young boy raised by a pioneer in pulp publishing starts his art collection with eight pieces rescued from his father's storage shed, builds it into an 80-item treasury and resurrects his father's Shasta imprint, releasing several of his self-penned tributes to master artists.

It's all true, and copies of Korshak's books of illustrations, The Paintings of J. Allen St. John: Grand Master of Fantasy, A Hannes Bok Showcase and the recent From the Pen of Paul: The Fantastic Images of Frank R. Paul, are all on sale at the museum. Works by all of the above-mentioned masters appear in this show.

Stephen's father, Erle Korshak, who will be visiting the exhibition, has filled his son's ears with juicy stories from his days in the business, which ended when changes in the industry pushed out the little guys. Stephen talks with nonstop enthusiasm about his pulp passion and is quite the storyteller himself, sharing endless details associated with his art and books and the people and the times surrounding them. This was a boy who grew up with an original St. John, "John Carter and the City of Mummies," on his bedroom wall.

Korshak and his wife raised their four children around their growing collection of pulp art. Now empty-nesters, the Korshaks move easily in the circles of people who collect such art, people now including Spielberg and George Lucas. Once considered "illegitimate art" because critics didn't think artists should be making a profit, pulp illustrations, at least those that remain, are seeing a renewed interest in the art world. A rare Brundage, says Korshak, now sells for around $85,000.

On the day of the Maidens and Monsters debut, the Korshaks will have just returned from Spain with a new item for the European pulp collection they are building, which they also hope to debut at the Polasek. (Maidens and Monsters focuses on the American artists and writers he has carefully assembled by selling and buying pieces over the last 25 years.)

The lovingly curated show at the Polasek isn't particularly sophisticated; each piece is hung side-by-side, grouped by artist, which might mute the wow factor for aficionados of the genre as they encounter this collection that seemingly came out of nowhere. Glass-covered cases positioned nearby hold the books and magazines, made from the cheap paper not meant to stand the test of time. Historically speaking, the scope and quality of the presentation speaks to our love affair with the strange and alluring as chronicled in the annals of pulp fiction.

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