Saturday, April 18, 2020

Hooks Hits: All Good Things …

Part of a series saluting artist-illustrator Mitchell Hooks.

Angel’s Flight, by Lou Cameron (Gold Medal, 1960)

Today ends a full month of Killer Covers’ tribute to Detroit, Michigan-born artist Mitchell Hooks (1923-2013)—twice as long as I had originally intended to let it run.

The series began on Wednesday, March 18, which—in addition to being the seventh anniversary of Hooks’ demise, at age 89—also happened to be the day that Washington Governor Jay Inslee required all “non-essential businesses” in my hometown of Seattle to be shuttered because of the COVID-19 crisis. I extended this series because there were just so many excellent examples of Hooks’ work to consider. Through yesterday, 57 paperback fronts painted by Hooks had been displayed as part of this venture, plus a couple of movie posters. That’s in addition to dozens of Hooks creations Killer Covers has showcased before, including his 1970s line of covers for Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels and the façades he crafted during that same decade for Paperback Library’s Superspade novels by “B.B. Johnson,” aka songwriter-composer Joseph Perkins Greene.

(Right) Artist Mitchell Hooks, photo by Tom Halloway

Although the novel coronavirus is still with us (and will likely remain a long-term cause for social isolation, despite Donald Trump’s pixie-dust wishes to the contrary), it’s finally time to call this project done. But not before I share another 40 of my favorite Hooks works. Below you will find covers from mainstream novels as well as entries in a wide variety of genres, from crime fiction and science fiction to westerns and tales of espionage. Especially notable among this bunch: Ugo Pirro’s The Camp Followers (Dell, 1959), which was made into a 1965 film of that same name; two thrillers by Georgette Heyer, Death in the Stocks (Bantam, 1971) and Duplicate Death (Bantam, 1970); the haunting 1956 Gold Medal cover from Geoffrey Homes’ Build My Gallows High; That Darn Cat (Bantam, 1965) and its sequel, Undercover Cat Prowls Again (Bantam, 1967), by Gordon and Mildred Gordon, which enjoyed popularity because of a Disney adaptation of the former comedy-thriller; the 1961 Gold Medal edition of Fredric Brown’s carnival-themed mystery, Madball; the hilariously named Lionel White novel, Death Takes the Bus (Gold Medal, 1957); and The Dark Arena, the 1956 Dell release of Mario Puzo’s debut novel, originally published in 1955.

Click on any paperback cover here for an enlargement.

Although Hooks’ art is occasionally confused with that of Ernest Chiriacka or Robert McGinnis, there are signature elements to it that make clear who was holding the paintbrush.

Throughout much of the late 20th century, Hooks perfected a sketch-like linear style. “It was looser, more spontaneous, more designy, a slightly impressionistic way of working,” as the artist told Gary Lovisi of Gryphon Books during an interview in 1988. “It was what I felt good doing then.” Hooks’ women—and there were lots of them in his images; paperback publishers wanted them emphasized on covers—tended to be sensuous, but “not cheap or sleazy at all, they have class and elegance,” as Lovisi put it.

Some early illustrations show how much Hooks’ style evolved. Glancing over the half-dozen books below, all released between 1950 and 1953, you can see he was using a more realistic, painterly approach, similar to what many others offered at the time.

He would eventually return to a more realistic style of painting, as he worked increasingly with oils and as the market changed.

Finally, let’s gaze fondly at one of Hooks’ few wraparound covers, for the 1951 Lion Books release The Ranch Cat, by William Hopson.

As the Vintage Paperback & Book Covers Facebook page explains, Hopson “wrote westerns for the pulps, contributing to West, Exciting [Western], Popular [Western], and Mammoth Western, but he did do some work for Thrilling [Detective], Popular [Detective], and Mammoth Detective as well. He managed to leverage his pulp career into paperback success postwar.” Most of Hopson’s books (Trouble Rides Tall, Yucca City Outlaw, etc.) were issued in the ’50s.

Needless to say, there are dozens more Mitchell Hooks covers in my computer files. I’ll try to find uses for others in the future. Meanwhile, check out the collections in The Rap Sheet and Flickr.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Hooks Hits: Limning Matheson’s Visions

Part of a series saluting artist-illustrator Mitchell Hooks.

I am familiar with prolific American author-turned-screenwriter Richard Matheson (1926-2013) primarily because of his work on The Twilight Zone as well as on The Night Stalker, the 1972 TV movie that helped lead to Darren McGavin’s short-lived horror-fiction series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. My nephew Jason was also kind enough to give me a 2017 collection of this fictionist’s short stories, The Best of Richard Matheson, which includes the tale from which William Shatner’s famous 1963 Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” was adapted, along with “Duel,” the yarn that inspired the 1971 Steven Spielberg road thriller of that same name.

Matheson also wrote I Am Legend (1954), The Shrinking Man (1956), and What Dreams May Come (1978), all of which were made into films. And he published myriad short stores, assembled in such books as Born of Man and Woman (1954) and The Shores of Space (1957).

Embedded below are the night-terrors-provoking 1962 Gold Medal edition of The Shrinking Man and the 1969 Bantam version of The Shores of Space, both boasting Hooks cover art.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hooks Hits: “The Body in the Bed”

Part of a series saluting artist-illustrator Mitchell Hooks.

The Body in the Bed, by Bill S. Ballinger (Signet, 1964). Originally published in 1948, this was the first of only two books starring Chicago private investigator Barr Breed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Hooks Hits: “Captain Ironhand”

Part of a series saluting artist-illustrator Mitchell Hooks.

Captain Ironhand, by Rosamond Marshall (Bantam, 1958).

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Hooks Hits: “The Affairs of Nicholas Solon”

Part of a series saluting artist-illustrator Mitchell Hooks.

The Affairs of Nicholas Solon, by Monroe Engel (Popular Giant, 1960). This novel was originally published, in 1959, as The Visions of Nicholas Solon.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Hooks Hits: Benson’s Bay State Cops

Part of a series saluting artist-illustrator Mitchell Hooks.

Lily in Her Coffin, by Ben Benson (Pennant, 1953)

According to the French version of Wikipedia, Benjamin Benson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 24, 1913. (The Golden Age of Detection Wiki insists he took his first breaths in 1915, instead.) He reportedly died in New York City on April 29, 1959, at age 45. The site goes on to explain that Benson was the son of Russian immigrants, studied law at Boston University, and for a spell worked as a sales representative for Lipton tea.

“During the Second World War,” says Wikipedia, “he enlisted in the American army. Seriously injured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, he had to undergo numerous surgical operations for three years before being demobilized in 1948. As early as 1942, he published a work devoted to hikers, but it was during his long successive hospitalizations,” which reduced his mobility and subjected him to physical rehab, “that he began his real career as a writer.”

(Left) The back cover of Lily in Her Coffin. Click to enlarge.

Benson went on to produce 10 mysteries starring Wade Paris, a guy who once dreamed of becoming a doctor but is now an investigator with the Massachusetts State Police. “Deeply human, he abhors corruption and violence,” says Wikipedia. Paris made his initial appearance in 1951’s Alibi at Dusk; Lily in Her Coffin (1952), shown atop this post, was the fourth entry in that series, following Stamped for Murder. Target in Taffeta (1953) and The Blonde in Black (1953) are probably the other two best-known Paris yarns.

In 1953’s The Venus Death (shown below), Benson introduced a second fictional protagonist, again with the Massachusetts State Police: rookie uniformed Trooper Ralph Lindsay. “[J]ust as morally upright as Wade Paris …, he often teams up with veteran Joe Sewell. He considers his work essential,” Wikipedia notes, “because the militia is a kind of shield that protects society.” Lindsay featured in half a dozen more books, concluding with Seven Steps East in 1959.

In addition to his two series, Benson published a couple of other books: The Black Mirror (1957), which built around yet another state trooper, this one being Detective Sergeant Peter Bradford; and The Frightened Ladies (1959), a compilation of two novelettes. The cover at the bottom of this post comes from the 1962 Bantam paperback edition of The Frightened Ladies, with artwork by Hooks.

Ben Benson (not to be confused with O.G. “Ben” Benson, the author of Cain’s Woman) reportedly died of a heart attack.

The Venus Death, by Ben Benson (Bantam, 1954)

The Frightened Ladies, by Ben Benson (Bantam, 1962)