Gene Bilbrew

Eugene “Gene” Bilbrew was an African-American cartoonist and fetish artist and was among the most prolific illustrators of fetish-oriented pulp fiction book covers. In addition to signing his work with his own name, he produced art under a range of pseudonyms, including ENEG (“Gene” spelled backwards), Van Rod, and Bondy.

Bilbrew was born in Los Angeles in 1923 and showed an early talent for drawing and performed with the Basin Street Boys as a singer. He began his illustration career at the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African-American newspaper, where he illustrated the comic strip series The Bronze Bomber, possibly the first black superhero, that he coauthored with Bill Alexander. Throughout his life, he took freelance assignments within the African American community, later producing modernized cover art for Victorian-era lottery numbers books such as the Gypsy Witch Dream Book and Old Aunt Dinah’s Dream Book for the Wholesale Sales Corp.

Around 1951 Bilbrew became an assistant to the hugely influential comics artist Will Eisner, on The Spirit, where Bilbrew took over the back-up series Clifford — a little-kid humour page — after its originator Jules Feiffer was drafted into the army. Soon after, Bilbrew gained notoriety when, through the suggestion of Eric Stanton, he was enlisted as a fetish artist to produce work for Irving Klaw. He also produced many illustrations for Leonard Burtman, publisher of Exotique, a fetish magazine between 1955 and 1959.

When his career waned with the coming of relaxed censorship laws of the 1960s, his substance abuse worsened until Bilbrew died of an overdose in the back of a Times Square adult bookstore in May, 1974.

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