We’re very grateful to archive supporter, Chad Coyle for allowing us to digitize his collection of cartoons and illustrations from 1960s Playboy magazines. You might remember our previous posts on Erich Sokol, Eldon Dedini, Doug Sneyd and Phil Interlandi. Today, we focus on the "Grand Old Man" of pinup art, Alberto Vargas.
Vargas was born in Peru in 1896, and travelled to Europe with his family in 1911. His father was a photographer, and Vargas was exposed at an early age to the airbrush as a retouching tool. He studied to be a photographer, and worked in New York as a retoucher for a time, but Florenz Ziegfeld hired him as an illustrator for his Follies in 1917. He scraped by through the depression illustrating for various publications and movie studios. When George Petty left Esquire in 1940, Vargas took over his position with the magazine. Even though this brought much-needed exposure for Vargas’ work, the contract with Esquire was extremely unfair. The magazine even trademarked the name Vargas had been working under… "Varga" and wouldn’t allow him to use it for any other work. Vargas sued and broke the contract in 1950.
Vargas added the "s" to his name and proceeded to rebuild his career, illustrating playing cards and taking freelance work for True magazine. In 1960, he was hired as an illustrator for Playboy, the venue that made him famous. The "Vargas Girl" represented a high level of perfection in beauty, erotic- but never vulgar. Even when Playboy would have allowed him to depict full frontal nudity, Vargas always kept his models discretely draped. He worked for Playboy until his 90th birthday in 1976, when he retired. Vargas passed away in 1982 at the age of 96.
Completing this group of postings on the Playboy artists of the 1960s, here is the work of the great Alberto Vargas…
VARGAS IN THE 1960s
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Magazine Cartoons.