Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Another Look: “Morgue for Venus”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Morgue for Venus, by “Jonathan Craig,” aka Frank E. Smith (Gold Medal, 1956); cover painting by Barye Phillips. Right: Morgue for Venus, by “Jonathan Craig,” aka Frank E. Smith (Belmont Tower, 1973); cover illustrator unidentified. This was the second installment in Craig’s well-regarded Pete Selby/Sixth Precinct series, following The Dead Darling (1955).

Thursday, November 18, 2021

My Kind of Book: “Dragon Hunt”

Dragon Hunt, by Dave J. Garrity (Signet, 1967). “[D]espite much cover-blurb ballyhoo,” writes Joe Kenney in his blog, Glorious Trash, this “actually turned out to be the sole appearance of private detective Peter Braid. Very, very much in the [Mickey] Spillane mold, Dragon Hunt is such a Mike Hammer riff that it not only carries a cover blurb from Spillane himself, but it’s also based on a story Spillane wrote for the short-lived 1954 From the Files of ... Mike Hammer newspaper comic strip.”

Cover art by Ron Lesser.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Bringing Up the Rear

Back in my college days, when I was editing the weekly student newspaper, our faculty adviser, Richard Hoyt, would regularly chide staff photographers for (accidentally or sometimes on purpose) taking shots of people’s backsides. “Get their faces, not their asses,” he’d dictate, to the amusement of everyone except whichever aspiring shutterbug was responsible for the latest “butt shot.”

Modern book designers, however, seem to harbor no qualms about turning to posterior pictures for their front covers. I don’t know exactly when this trend toward using photographs or illustrations of figures as seen from behind began, but it’s spread far and wide. Sometimes the central subjects—either men and women—are stationary, but on other occasions, they’re walking or seemingly fleeing for the lives. The people in these images are often heavily shadowed, or they’re silhouettes only; yet almost as frequently, their dress and hair and other features are clearly visible. We’re just denied a peek at the subjects’ foreparts.

This may, in a way, be a good thing. It maintains some mystery as to what characters in books look like, leaving our imaginations to fill in physiognomic details. Yet the ubiquity of such imagery leaves us doubting the creativity of book designers, and may cause us to become cynical about how marketing demands dictate the range of artwork considered acceptable by today’s principal publishers.

I haven’t made an effort to collect every possible example of this contemporary trend; there are simply too many such covers. But the 59 fronts corralled here, all from novels released within the last two or three years, should give you a sense of how art directors have sought to wring some drama and novelty from this terribly overworked—and I hope passing—fad.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.