The Cartoonist as Cover Artist


Lynn Munroe

Bill Wenzel was an incredibly prolific 20th century American cartoonist. Wenzel cartoons appear in every major men's magazine throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, from the lofty PLAYBOY to ROGUE and ESCAPADE and SWANK and so on, right down to the cheapest Humorama digest. He created thousands of cartoons, each of them immediately recognizable due to his distinctive style. Most of what I know about Wenzel comes from a great book called THE PIN-UP ART OF BILL WENZEL by Alex Chun & Jacob Covey (Fantagraphics, 2005):

“Though wasp-waisted long-legged women were de rigueur in the digests, Wenzel set himself apart from the rest of the best with his decidedly more Rubenesque rendering of the female form.”

And I must confess it is that “decidedly more Rubenesque” quality that makes me a Wenzel collector. In addition to all those wonderful cartoons, Bill Wenzel also did illustrations and cover art for vintage digests and paperback books. The idea of trying to list all of the appearances of his cartoons makes my head hurt, but I believe a list of all of his vintage paperback covers can be done here. We will also look at a few magazine oddities including some comic strips. The first checklist of Wenzel's paperback covers was done thirty years ago by Lance Casebeer in his seminal fanzine COLLECTING PAPERBACKS. I have used Lance's groundbreaking research as my jumping off point and added to it here, with a look at each cover.

GENTLEMAN    October 1961

Bill Wenzel with his father, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, early 1950s

Photos courtesy of the Wenzel family

Bill Wenzel with his daughter Candy, 1950.

Bill Wenzel was born in New Jersey in 1918. After service in the Army during World War II, Bill moved to Atlantic Highlands NJ with his wife Marion. They had two daughters, Candace and Dorian. Bill worked in his studio at home there on the Jersey Shore for over 30 years, turning out panel after panel of voluptuous, buxom, round, healthy all-American beauties.

Like several top cartoonists he was so prolific some of his cartoons appeared with a pseudonym. His was “Candace”, his daughter's name.  Candy told me she remembers being out to dinner with her parents when a delighted restaurant owner would ask her Dad for a “Wenzel girl”. Wenzel would draw one on the white table cover.

A real American original, Bill Wenzel delighted decades of cartoon fans and magazine readers with his talent. His legacy lives on into the next century now as Wenzel collectors continue to find examples of his genius in back issue magazines. And in addition to all that brilliant cartoon work, I also find Bill Wenzel as a book cover artist from 1948 through 1978.

Bill Wenzel at his daughter Dorian's wedding, 1977.

Grandpa Bill with his grandson Robert, Christmas 1980.

He moved to Florida in 1979, continuing to work until he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986. Bill Wenzel died in New Jersey in 1987.  

Wenzel's work is seen on countless cartoon digest and magazine covers like this one:

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