Joseph Szokoli was born March 30, 1913 in New York City. His parents were Johann and Gisela Szokoli. His father was a Hungarian Jew and his mother was an Austrian Catholic. They immigrated in 1909 and met in New York City, where they were married in 1910. They rented an apartment at 523 East 78th Street, where Joseph and his older brother John were born.
The father was a barber, and by 1928 he was cutting hair at the celebrated Waldorf Astoria Hotel barber shop.
In 1931 he attended the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, where he studied in the School of Engineering. In 1932 he transferred to the School of Art, where he crossed paths with many other young artists who were starting careers as pulp artists. He studied with H. W. Scott, Frederick Blakeselee, and Rudy Belarski.
In 1934 his first published assignments appeared on covers of Wild West Stories and Complete Novel. He also drew interior pen and ink story illustrations for Harry Donenfeld's pulp magazines, such as Spicy Detective and Spicy Adventure Stories. He also drew a sado-erotic cartoon, Polly of the Plains, that regularly appeared in Spicy Western.
By 1940 Donenfeld had started a comic book division that would become DC Comics. He published Superman, which was sensationally popular. Comics soon revolutionized the entire publishing industry. Donenfeld invited Szokoli to help draw Superman, but he turned it down in preference for his professional status as a magazine cover artist.
He sold freelance pulp covers to Action Stories, Double Action Western, Fighting Western, Hollywood Detective, Leading Western, Pirate Stories, Private Detective, Saucy Detective, Saucy Movie Tales, Six-Gun Western, and Super Detective.
In 1942 he reported for his WWII draft enlistment. He was hoping to qualify as a combat photographer, but he was classified 4F, because of a chronic heart problem. Nevertheless he joined the patriotic war effort by working in a defense plant building ships during the war years.
When H.J.Ward entered military service and died unexpectedly in 1945, Donenfeld lost his top cover artist. Joseph Szokoli provided continuity to the cover designs by creating dozens of covers that resemble H. J. Ward's sensational subjects and compositions. Szokoli's versions are distinctly recognizable, because they are often painted with an airbrush. In this way he avoided the impracticle challenge of duplicating Ward's masterful skill as an oil painter.
During the post-war years Szokoli continued to work for Donenfeld's pulps until the industry dried up in the early 1950s. He found some work illustrating men's adventure magazines, such as Action, Escape To Adventure, Man To Man, and SIR!
He also worked in advertising, but the trend in publishing was to replace classic illustrators with photography. Eventually Szokoli's unique talent as an airbrush artist was more valuable to the industry as a photo-retoucher than as an illustrator.
In 1954 he married his wife Elsa Szokoli, and they moved to Bayside Queens, where they built a new home and raised their daughter Maria. The marriage ended in divorce in 1960.
In 1961 he married Helen Ashbacher and they moved to Flushing Queens, where they raised their son Joe.
The artist spent his final years working as a freelance photo-retouch artist for advertising agencies and enjoying his hobby of power boating on Flushing Bay.
Joseph Szokoli died in Queens, NY, at the age of sixty-eight on June 16, 1981.
© David Saunders 2009