James Bama photo models

James Bama’s series of paintings for the Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks has become iconic, and has certainly been discussed in articles and interviews far more comprehensive than this one will be. But as a fan of Bama, I have enjoyed learning more about his process, and particularly his use of models.

In an interview for the Men’s Adventure Magazine website, Bama noted that he always took his own photos, and over the years they totaled an astonishing 55,000 images.

The model for Doc Savage was Steve Holland, one of the most popular male models for cover and interior artwork in books and magazines for decades. But Bama used a great many different models, including those who posed for the now-legendary arrangement of Doc and his aides that appeared on the back of the Bantam paperbacks.

Spencer Perlstein as Monk

Additional Monk pose

Dick Phall as Ham

Additional Ham pose

Pose for Johnny

Steve Holland pose for Doc

Doc and his aides

Bama did a wide array of other cover paintings beyond his Doc Savage work, one of the most famous being his cover for The Harrad Experiment. The male figure is Holland, and though at one time the woman was noted as model Andrea Dromm, Bama in his interview corrected that — the model in fact being his wife, Lynne Bama.

Bama even used himself as a model, appearing on the cover of The Men Who Smiled No More.

In the interview, Bama related a funny story about the famous Doc Savage ripped shirt. Here is the tale:

Bama: I created that ripped shirt he wore as Doc Savage. I remember when I was a teenager my uncle was a cab driver and when my mother died I moved in with my two aunts and my uncle. He used to buy pulp magazines and he gave me his Doc Savages. I still remember the first Doc Savage pulp cover I saw. He had a ripped shirt and was in the jungle, and that’s how I conceived the shirt for my version of the character. So, I ripped up a shirt and gave it Steve Holland to wear and it worked great. And, we kept using it for years. Then, when I moved to Wyoming in 1968 I left the shirt with Steve, along with the pants and the boots we used for Doc. Well, after I moved, his daughter was cleaning the house, his apartment, and she thought the shirt was a dust rag and she threw it out. For a while after I moved to Wyoming, I was still doing Doc Savage covers, So, Steve had to create another one, which wasn’t quite like the one I made. Anyway, that’s the story of his ripped shirt.

Bama, age 95, lives on his ranch in Wyoming, but apparently no longer paints, due to a degenerative eye condition. For those wanting to learn more about James Bama’s life and work, there is a wonderful book (which features all of the Doc covers among many other creations), called James Bama, American Realist.

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