The Life and Times
(or Ernest Stanzoni) was born in Brooklyn, mostly of Russian stock (his biological father apparently Italian). He was a physically vulnerable kid, catching pneumonia 3 times while in grade school. At 12, while quarantined, he started drawing for the first time, right off focusing on women … “heroines.”
After a stint in the navy as a teenager, he hooked up with a cartoonist drawing a serial for the local newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle. At age 22, thumbing through a girlie magazine, he spotted an advertisement for an unusual comic. It was being sold by Irving Klaw, who owned a shop on 14th and Second Avenue in Manhattan called Movie Star News, where he sold stills of Hollywood Stars. (These comics, part of his more lucrative side business, were items sold mostly via mail order.) This particular ad was for a bondage serial called “Poor Pamela,” a comic being printed on photo paper and sold individually for 50 cents a pop, each page an “installment.”
Eric later felt compelled to write to Irving Klaw, saying he could “do better.” Klaw’s response was to invite him to contribute fetish artwork of his own. “Battling Women” became his first work for Klaw. It was a piece he labored on all week. It earned him $8.00.
It wasn’t long before Eric progressed from “fighting girls” to bondage: “He (Klaw) gave me a bunch of photographs and showed me how the bound women should look and how the rope should be tied…. Of course we had John Willie’s work to look at and I did.” (Bk. 2, pg. 8).
“Bondage Enthusiasts Bound in
Leather,” Eric Stanton's first significant work, is dated around
These bondage comics—and in fact all the fetish serials sold by Klaw—centered on an all-female universe, a place where men were given minor roles, if seen at all. (Klaw recognized that postal inspectors were less likely to take issue if the sexes were kept segregated.)
Following “Bondage Enthusiasts,” other serials followed: “Diana's Ordeal,” “Dawn Battles the Amazons,” “Sheba, the Slave Girl,” Phyllis in Peril,” “Perils of Diana….
In 1951, Eric Stanton married his first wife, Grace. He would later say of her: “Beautiful legs. We met at seaside. I never had sex with her before marriage. We had two sons…. She was Catholic, didn’t like the things I did, thought there was something wrong with me.” (Bk. 1, pgs 19, 20) Eric and Grace would divorce 7 years later.
Around 1954, Eric enrolled in (what would later be known as) the School of Visual Arts, where he received some formal training and most importantly met two artists who would figure prominently in his life: Steve Ditko and Gene Bilbrew.
Steve Ditko would later create “Spiderman” with Stan Lee, at Marvel Comics; Gene Bilbrew, a black artist, would become a tight friend and even a friendly competitor for any illustrative fetish-themed art. Gene Bilbrew and Eric Stanton would produce the most significant alternative art of the 1950s and 1960s.
Bilbrew or “Eneg” (“Gene” spelled backwards) would have a tragic life. No photographs of him are known to exist. Only this illustration, from the comic “Cat Fight,” offers what many think is a self-portrait.
It was Stanton who introduced Bilbrew to Klaw and others in the clandestine fetish-publishing world. Many of those people would turn out to have underworld connections.
During these years, the mid-50s, both Stanton and Bilbrew would struggle to earn a living.
Some memorable artwork produced by Eric Stanton during this time was “Pleasure Bound,” books 1 & 2, “Bizarre Museum,” “Madame Discipline,” “Mrs. Tyrant’s Finishing School,” and “Leather Boot Club.”
Now with a son to support in addition to a wife, Eric Stanton was forced to take a “straight job” as a parts clerk for Pan Am Airways. About a year later, he would badly injure his back on the job, and, despite being without health insurance, he quit. From then on, he struggled to earn a living solely as an artist, bearing a lot of physical pain. “I was a cripple from age 28 to 36 years old.” (Bk. 2, page 9)
Max Stone, a shady New York publisher, owned an operation specializing in fetish material called “Peerless Sales.” Stanton sought him out for work, and soon Eric began producing endless pages, signing his artwork (to avoid trouble with Klaw) as “Stan.”
The Peerless Sales narratives were 4-page stories, sold through mail order at $1.00 a page (much like the Klaw catalog). As with all his art, Stanton earned a flat fee, turning over the originals (at $25.00 a page).
Stanton said about Max Stone: “He only wanted ‘fighting girls.’ That was his thing, not bondage like Klaw.” (bk. 2, pg. 11).
Many of these stories would also later be collected and sold in small, stapled booklets under the banner of “Stantoons Inc.” Both Stanton, Bilbrew (and other artists, like “Glen”) contributed illustrated narratives.
For Eric, this would be the first incarnation of the “Stantoons” idea.
In 1956, while working for Klaw at Movie Star News, Eric Stanton would meet Bettie Page. Bettie Page had become Klaw’s most popular model, earning an underground reputation for her B&D photos and 8mm reels. By then, she’d also had mainstream success as a cheesecake model for photography & model magazines and popular burlesque men’s monthlies.
“Nobody really knew her. Not even Irving… You’d sit and talk with her but it was business. All business. I was 31, and she was 26. I had her make a 8mm film for me at Irving’s. It was a fighting girl movie.” (Bk. 2, pg. 9).
Although it looked like Bettie Page was being hurt in many of the photographs and films, really she wasn’t. At least, that’s true most of the time. In a somewhat recent interview with Nerve.com, she explained how carefully contrived it all was, despite appearances.
Bettie Page: “The only other reason I agreed to do it was because the men were never allowed to tie any of the girls up. Only Paula [Irving Klaw’s sister] was allowed to tie us up, and she was very gentle and took her time.”
This was actually one of the
rare times she was in pain:
According to Klaw, the front view shot became his all time, best-selling photograph. He later made it into a booklet.
“Klaw didn’t like the artists fraternizing with the other artists or the models, even though I would help out on some of the shoots. When the shoot was over she’d get dressed and leave. (Stanton snaps his fingers.) When she finished, she went immediately to another job. She worked all the time.” (Bk. 2, pg. 9)
As for Eric Stanton, dealing with Klaw’s inventory, the photo shoots, and “special requests” from the public would play a significant role in his life, especially years later, when he would create his own specialty films, photo serials, and artwork for private customers.
This was a busy time for Eric Stanton, because, in addition to working for Irving Klaw and Max Stone—the whole time in pain from his back injury—he also began contributing what would become very important art for a fetish magazine developed by a former A-bomb scientist, Leonard Burtman, called Exotique.
Gene Bilbrew would produce the vast majority of striking covers and interior art for that magazine, but Eric Stanton’s contributions were also unique and memorable.
Stanton’s illustrations first appeared in Exotique issue 10. With Burtman (again to avoid trouble with Klaw), Eric would sign his art “Stanten” (with an “e”)
Leonard Burtman was a fetish-fashion obsessed, former nuclear scientist, who (according to the foreword provided in the later reprinted Exotique 3-volume set) became sterile due to radioactive fall-out during A-bomb testing and finally turned his back on science entirely to pursue his own more private obsessions.
Exotique is not the first fetish magazine ever to appear. Another was by John Willie, the artist admired by both Irving Klaw and Eric Stanton, who produced (self-published) a magazine called Bizarre. And that magazine itself was inspired by yet another magazine, possibly the first of its kind, called London Life.
Exotique, “a new publication of the bizarre and unusual,” as it was advertised, is weirdly engrossing. Part of it is the quaintness of this modest fetish oddity, proclaiming “future fashions” mixed with (what appears now) a kind of retro-vamp aesthetic.
Tana Louise, a former burlesque girl, was featured heavily, since she was the wife of publisher Leonard Burtman (who seemed to do all right for himself in spite of his purported “sterility”).
The title of “Miss Exotique” was first bestowed on Bettie Page, who appeared frequently in the magazine. Finally Tana Louise just claimed the title for herself.
She contributed not only pictures, but editorials and apparently influenced much of the magazine’s vamp and booted leather style.
Following the success of Exotique, Leonard Burtman would create numerous magazines like Connoisseur, Extatique and Masque. In addition to other specialty publications.
For this one-shot issue, “E. Stanton” is listed as art director, contributing pages of Bettie Page-inspired illustrations, fetish comics, and margin art.
1958 would prove to be a significant year for Eric Stanton. In midtown Manhattan, at 43rd and Eighth Avenue, he would begin his 10-year collaboration with his other former classmate, Steve Ditko, sharing a work studio and dabbling in each other’s art.
About the art studio shared with Ditko: “It was a room about ten feet by twenty. One side was all windows. Steve and my desk faced each other. He lived nearby on 45th Street… We put in lots of hours. There were times he would spend twenty hours straight doing a comic. Neither one of us was making much money.” (Bk. 2, pg. 10)
Stanton and Bilbrew meanwhile would also share work, even doing magazine covers together, most notably Bound. (Both signing their names.)
That same year, 1958, Eric Stanton filed for divorce from Grace, his wife, surrendering
custody of his two children—most likely because of his realization
that in front of any judge he would only have been shamed: perceived as
a deviant because of his art and regarded with
disgust. This was a time when homosexuals, trannies, nudists, masturbators
and wearers of leather were all lumped under one category: Degenerates.
Innocent as all his work may have been in his mind, the world saw it differently.
“She took the kids, the car, the furniture and everything.” (Bk. 2, pg. 9) Because of his severe back pain (and dejection) at this time, Eric Stanton also developed an addiction to prescription painkillers. After enduring cramped quarters at the YMCA, he finally bottomed out, returning to live with his mother, now in Queens.
1958 would also be the year he gave up working for Irving Klaw. “He wouldn’t pay over $50.00 a page.” (Bk. 2, pg. 9) Klaw kept all his original artwork, claiming he needed them as “back-ups.” In the end, when Klaw closed the business and Stanton returned to claim them, Klaw’s sister Paula only turned over one item. “The piece they gave me was from a board that originally had two drawings. They were cutting the boards up and selling them (the illustrations).” (Bk. 2, pg. 10) Later, in the early ‘60s, Klaw would also re-format and re-issue Stanton’s serial work in booklet form (under the imprint of “Nutrix”), without paying him a cent.
If Stanton’s Klaw-era work survived at all for future generations, it would be as photo reproductions only. All the originals were gone. Sold off or lost.
For Eric Stanton so far, following his own muse only
meant misery, poverty, and—always, it seemed—being reduced to the
helpless state of a child.
(This painting would come later: 1967)
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