Prefeminist Artist of the Month: Rudy Nappi!

I've gotten a truly staggering number of requests to post some of the pictures from the site in a more straight-forward manner, and I figure the best way to do this is without cutting too much into my writing time is to profile one artist, style, or theme from the Prefeminist Period at a time.  Feel free to request a particular artist or theme at any time.

The Prefeminist Artist of the Month for January 2013 is . . . Rudy Nappi!  Mr. Nappi (1923-) is still working, to my knowledge, and does a fair number of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys conventions.  He is one of the most prolific of all the great pulp artists, and you've probably seen hundreds of his pictures without even realizing it.

Among other impressive credits, Rudy Nappi enjoyed success as the artist behind Nancy Drew throughout the character's early years.  From Wikipedia:

Rudy Nappi, the artist from 1953 to 1979, illustrates a more average teenager. Nappi was asked by Grosset & Dunlap's art director to update Nancy's appearance, especially her wardrobe. Nappi gave Nancy Peter Pan collars, shirtwaist dresses, a pageboy, (later a flip haircut), and the occasional pair of jeans. Nancy's hair color was changed from blonde to strawberry-blond, reddish-blond or titian by the end of the decade. The change, due to a printing ink error, was considered so favorable that it was adopted in the text. 
In 1962, all Grosset & Dunlap books become "picture covers", books with artwork and advertising printed directly on their covers, as opposed to books with a dust jacket over a tweed volume. The change was to reduce production costs. Several of the 1930s and 1940s cover illustrations were updated by Rudy Nappi for this change, depicting a Nancy of the Kennedy era, though the stories themselves were not updated. Internal illustrations, which were dropped in 1937, were returned to the books beginning in 1954, as pen and ink line drawings, mostly by uncredited artists, but usually corresponding with Nappi's style of drawing Nancy on the covers.  Nappi followed trends initiated by Gillies and often illustrated Nancy wearing the same clothing more than once, including a mustard shirtwaist dress.

Unlike Tandy, Nappi did not read the books before illustrating them; instead, his wife read them and provided him with a brief plot summary before Nappi began painting.  Nappi's first cover was for The Clue of the Velvet Mask, where he began a trend of portraying Nancy as "bobby-soxer ... a contemporary sixteen-year-old. This Nancy was perky, clean-cut, and extremely animated. In the majority of his covers Nancy looks startled – which, no doubt, she was."

Nancy's style is considerably conservative, and remains so during the psychedelic period. Although she wears bold colors and prints, or the background colors are shades of electric yellow, shocking pink, turquoise, or apple green, her clothing is high-necked and with long hemlines. Earlier Nappi covers show Nancy in poses similar to those in the covers by Tandy and Gillies; for many updated covers he simply updated the color scheme, clothing style, and hairstyles of the characters but retains their original poses in similar settings. Later Nappi covers show only Nancy's head or part of her body, surrounded by spooky or startling elements or clues from the story. These Nappi covers would later be used for the opening credits of the television production, with photos of Pamela Sue Martin inserted on the book covers.

But that's not all.  Rudy also did those stalwarts of American masculinity, the Hardy Boys.

Rudy Nappi (US)
 Over a period from the 1950s through to the late 1970s, Rudy Nappi was the principal cover artist for the US Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, developing in the process what is generally regarded to be the definitive and most recognizable portrayals of all three characters. As one would expect, a healthy selection of artwork from Nappi‘s portfolio was employed by the British publishers, starting with Sampson Low, who used 14 of his cover illustrations.
What we love him best for, however, has to be his lurid 1950s smutty pulp covers.  Here's a sample:

As you can see, Rudy wasn't above recycling, way back in the 1960s!


  1. Absolutely great retrospective of Nappi's work. He is one of my favorite illustrators and his book covers from the 1950s, as you've shown here, are iconic for the genre. Thanks for posting.

  2. I love that you post these artists. I found your images on another persons' blog. Can you tell me where this image came from? I'd like to get a print of it somehow. Thanks man and keep up the good work.

    1. Send me a private email and I'll make it happen.

  3. I sent you an email a few weeks ago. Perhaps it got sent to your spam folder? I'm still interested in that link by the way. Thanks

  4. I met Mr. Nappi recently and discussed his work. He was fascinating.

  5. I am Rudy Nappi's nephew. I am sad to report that on March 13th 2015 he passed away, 3 days after his wife my aunt Peggy (Margarete). They passed away in Charlotte, NC where they lived. They are survived by his two daughters Lynn & Susan & their family's.

  6. I am Rudy Nappi's nephew. In reporting his death I forgot to mention one thing. His name was Joseph Rudolph Nappi; but, he preffered to use his middle name Rudy. He was also known for his nature & wildlife paintings. He & my Aunt Peggy, his wife, went on safaris for the research on wild life paintings. I cannot recall the organizations he did the paintings for.