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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

STEVE HOLLAND—THE FACE OF A HERO

STEVE HOLLAND—THE FACE OF A HERO

Known as The Face That Launched A Thousand Paperbacks, artists’ model Steve Holland embodied and defined the words rough, tough, manly, and heroic. In the ‘70s, Steve Holland’s skill for striking action poses made him the first, and often only model choice, for the top paperback cover illustration artists of the day. When editors insisted their artists use different cover models, the results were never as creative or effective. As a result, sales of their hero centric paperbacks plummeted when Holland’s presence didn’t grace the covers.

Holland’s unique understanding of how the human body moved and position itself in any action related scenario—exaggerated pulp heroics, military combat, galloping on horseback, murder minded men’s adventure vigilantes, firing weapons, or having his flesh ripped by weasels—made him an unmatched phenomenon. Coupled with the craggy lines of his uber masculine features, Holland became the dominant force in the world of paperback cover paintings. His instantly identifiable image was also ripped-off as many times if not more than it was used with authorization.

Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Sharpshooter, The Penetrator, and a hundred other paperback heroes all display the same firm jawline, deep set steely eyes, slightly cruel mouth, and imposing physical frame composed of twisted muscles and iron. He looked good in cavalry jodhpurs and boots, a ripped shirt, a skintight hero disguise, or anything else dragged from a costumer’s closet. Holland radiated machismo.

Holland had minor successes with an acting career. He was Flash Gordon for a quickly and cheaply produced early television series. He had minor roles in summer stock and other theatre productions. None of these roles would lead to anything anywhere near the pinnacle Holland would reach as a cover model. When his posing work began to pay far more than his acting work and provided a steady demand for his services, Holland abandoned acting to pursue his true calling.

Revered American artist James Bama famously used Holland as the model for the series of the now iconic paperback covers he painted for the Doc Savage—the Man of Bronze—adventures, which were published by Bantam. Bama also used Holland as the model for his first paperback cover commission A Bullet For Billy The Kid.

Bama’s style of illustration was known as photo-realistic. He would take numerous photos of his model—in many cases Steve Holland—to use as a guide while creating a painting with the look and feel of a photograph. Bamma was so enthralled with Steve Holland’s understanding of how to use light and shadow to dramatically embody his poses, he referred to Holland as the world’s greatest male model. Nobody has ever argued with the moniker.

Before Holland became a one man paperback cover sensation, he first conquered the world of Men’s Adventure Magazine covers in similar fashion. The outrageous yet brilliant cover paintings on the Men’s Adventure Magazines were steroided versions of the lurid scenes and garish colors from the original pulp magazines. Illustration artists like Bruce Minney, Mel Crair, and Norm Eastman (who often used himself as the model for villains and other characters) fueled these covers with explosions of sex and sadism. And Steve Holland’s visage was splashed across a literally uncountable number of them.

Often, Holland would be featured along with his female counterpart, the beautiful Eva Lynd. The duo rescued, tortured, or chased each other—interchanging roles as damsels/hunks in distress, evil sadists, or brave heroes to fit the needs of the interior stories on hundreds of Men’s Adventure Magazine covers and in other illustrations. 

On cover after cover, Holland was the hard-bitten Marine rescuing a gorgeous, bikini bottom clad woman, her long hair artfully covering her other voluptuous charms, from the clutches of Nazi sadists; the Mauser wielding American agent about to save provocatively posed, scantily clad, battlefield nurses from sexual slavery; the deadly commando knifing Japanese sentries to liberate half naked, high heel wearing, blondes with enhanced attributes, from a POW camp (don’t ask how they got there); the brave, bare-chested American soldier about to be tortured in incredibly ingenious ways; and any other crazed scenario imaginable.

It was common for Holland to be on the covers of two or even there different Men’s Adventure Magazines in the same month. Whether fighting off crazed wild animals of dubious species, taking on a pack of outlaw bikers in the subway, or leading a team of frogmen on a desperate submarine sabotage assignment, Holland made you believe he was capable of taking on any dangerous assignment, or escaping from threatened torments without breaking a sweat.

Paperbacks and Men’s Adventure Magazines were not the only publishing mediums to take advantage of Holland’s masculine presence. He appeared on comic book covers such as Bob Colt, Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A.D., The Phantom—The Ghost Who Walks, and many others.

Fashion and similar advertising campaigns, along with posters for B-Movies such as Latitude Zero, Sahara Cross, or A Taste For Killing, all looked to the manliness of Steve Holland to push product. If he was around today there is no doubt his avatar would reign over the world of high tech gaming. 

However, the ‘70s explosion of paperback originals and reprints of established pulp hero adventures made Holland a superstar—his image impossible to escape even today. The Men’s Adventure Magazines made Holland familiar to it’s wide, but niche audience. However, the societal mores demanded Men’s Adventure Magazines be hidden down the side of dad's armchair, or kept in dark corners of garages next to hidden stacks of Playboys.

While some of the top tier Men's Adventure Magazines (such as Argosy) were prominently displayed on the newstands of the day, many of the more salacious titles were consigned to the back racks of the lowest tier lest sensibilities of the less manly be offended.

Paperback covers exposed Holland’s image to the rest of the world. On every drugstore spinner rack across the country, Holland was Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Spider, The Executioner, Jason Striker: Master of martial Arts, Western series hero Buchanan, The Phantom, The Penetrator, The Man From O.R.G.Y. and an infinite number of mercenaries, cops, cowboys, crooks, action series characters and standalone heroes.

 
In 1992, Holland retired to pursue his passion for painting after posing for a last few Doc Savage covers. He passed away in 1997. He was 72 years old. To this day and into the foreseeable future, even casual collectors of Men’s Adventure Magazines or paperback action series can’t help but have examples of Steve Holland action covers on their shelves. Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jason Statham, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, and all the other kick-ass pretty boys are pretenders to the throne of the Ultimate Man Of Action. Steve Holland remains the now and forever king—Long live the king...

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON STEVE HOLLAND AND EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING ELSE CONNECTED TO THE MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES CLICK HERE

FOR A LOOK AT MORE STEVE HOLLAND COVERS CLICK HERE

***Thanks to Men's Adventure Magazine czar Bob Deis for his input while operating from his hidden lair behind the pages of his Men's Pulp Magazines website...

***With the permision of author and pulp maven Will Murray, I'm adding scans of his article on Steve Holland, which appeared in the June 1998 issue of Starlog magazine...




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