Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wandering the Web

• I don’t think I have ever held a copy of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery, but I’ve certainly enjoyed looking over the illustrated fronts of those comic books online. As the Web site Dangerous Minds recalls, “Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery was originally a spin-off from his TV series Thriller. When the series was canceled, publisher Gold Star re-titled the comic as Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. It continued to be published after Karloff’s death in 1969, and ran into the seventies …” To enjoy the covers yourself, check out that Dangerous Minds link, or visit this cover gallery at Retrospace.

• How might the classic Archie Comics have appeared, had their cover imagery been conceived in the seductive style of artist Robert McGinnis? Well, here’s one possibility.

The Case of the Buried Clock, Erle Stanley Gardner’s 1943 novel starring L.A. attorney Perry Mason, has gone through a variety of printings and redesigns since its original publication. The blog Noah’s Archives showcases more than a few of those.

• The Seattle Mystery Bookshop blog has some nice things to say about a 2015 book devoted to Tom Adams, the Rhode Island-born artist who is perhaps best known for painting the façades found on a series of Agatha Christie paperbacks.

• Every once in a while I like to choose, at random, a tags category at the fabulous blog Pulp Covers and just see what comes up. When I did that recently with the tag “Drugs,” I found a set of fronts that ranged from the awful to the awesome.

• Flickr boasts a beautiful collection of work by American artist Mitchell Hooks, whose illustrations decorated both book covers and magazines, and who died in 2013. A few additional examples of Hooks’ artistry can be found here.

• Finally, this shows just how overwhelmed I’ve been lately, between my writing responsibilities and my remodeling efforts on two rooms of my house. I actually forgot about Killer Covers’ seventh anniversary on January 19! My thanks go out to the many readers who have stuck with this blog through another year of fine discoveries.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Two New Lews

Just a few weeks back, I lamented on this page that I was missing the early 1970s Bantam paperback editions of only two of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels, The Wycherly Woman and Black Money. Since then, I have managed to find a like-formatted copy of the former work (thank you, Powell’s Books!). I also located an edition of Black Money from 1978 that features beautiful cover art by Mitchell Hooks. A good start to 2016!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Finds: “Wear the Butchers’ Medal”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

Wear the Butchers’ Medal, by John Brunner (Pocket, 1965)
Illustration by Harry Bennett.

Prolific and British-born author John Brunner (1934-1995) was principally known for penning science fiction and fantasy, including such novels as The Whole Man (1964), the Hugo Award-winning Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Sheep Look Up (1972), and Children of the Thunder (1990). But he also wrote outside of that genre, producing a trio of espionage thrillers starring “Jamaican man of action” Max Curfew, a “satanic chiller” titled The Devil’s Work (1969), and what’s been called “a stunning suspense-adventure novel,” Wear the Butchers’ Medal.

Unfortunately, I don’t (yet) own a copy of Butchers’ Medal, so all I really know about this book’s plot comes from its cover blurb: “A summer hitchhike across Europe turns into a nightmare of horror and fear.” I’m more familiar with the illustrator responsible for the powerful, slightly off-kilter artwork fronting Brunner’s book: Harry Bennett (1919-2012), whose talents have been applauded a number of times on this page. With damn good reason.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

McGinnis at 90: “Too Hot to Hold”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

Too Hot to Hold, by Day Keene (Gold Medal, 1959).

McGinnis at 90: “Murder on Her Mind”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

Murder on Her Mind, by Robert Dietrich, aka E. Howard Hunt (Dell, 1960). This was the fifth in future Watergate conspirator Hunt’s series of thrillers starring Washington, D.C.-based CPA-cum-private eye Steve Bentley.

McGinnis at 90: “The Consummata”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

The Consummata, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
(Hard Case Crime, 2011).

McGinnis at 90: “The Venetian Blonde”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

The Venetian Blonde, by A.S. Fleischman (Gold Medal, 1963).

McGinnis at 90: “Rocco’s Niece”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

Rocco’s Niece, by Adrian Marsh (Avon, 1970). The model used here is sex educator, feminist, and author Shere Hite.
(Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

McGinnis at 90: “The Shrew Is Dead”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

The Shrew Is Dead (originally titled The Lord Have Mercy), by Shelley Smith (Dell, 1959).

McGinnis at 90: “The Telling”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

The Telling, by John Westeon (Dell, 1967).

McGinnis at 90: “Black Spice”

Part of a day-long celebration of artist Robert McGinnis’ birthday.

Black Spice, by Davenport Steward (Popular Library, 1960).

McGinnis at 90: Fire Up the Candles!

It seems like only yesterday that we last celebrated the decades-long career of American artist Robert McGinnis, who is best known for his eye-catching, frequently sexy paperback cover illustrations, but also for his iconic film posters. However, it was actually way back in October 2014 that we mounted a month-long celebration of McGinnis’ efforts in association with the release, by Titan Books, of The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, a beautiful study of his work.

We have a different reason today to cheer this painter’s abundant talents: it’s his 90th birthday! And what better way to commemorate that milestone than by revisiting some of his finest book fronts? So at the top of the hour, for each of the next nine hours, you can expect to find posted here another of our favorite McGinnis paperback façades—one for each decade of his life thus far.

Let’s begin now with a captivating cover he produced for Stranger in Town, by Brett Halliday (Dell, 1961).

(Thanks to Art Scott for reminding us of this special occasion.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two-fer Tuesdays: Taking It to the Streets

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Having finally completed two weeks of work remodeling a room in my house, I can again concentrate on important matters … such as writing about vintage book fronts.

The paperback cover above and on the left comes from the 1959 Midwood edition of Girl of the Streets, by Orrie Hitt, a fairly prolific “sleazecore” novelist of the 1950s and ’60s whose work has enjoyed a good bit of attention over the last few years (see here, here, and here). According to this write-up in a blog devoted to Hitt’s oeuvre, Girl of the Streets is one of the author’s weaker, less original literary efforts. It focuses on young Sherry Collins, a member of an office typing pool, who grew up in the seedier part of her town, “where cheap hookers and booze [are] always available, and shady characters sell reefer and girly pics on the street. But she is a good girl, despite her 38-19-34 figure that all men and boys crave …”

Sherry’s eventual descent into sin is ever swifter and sadder, due to her persistent innocence. Tired of living with her own parents (especially her boozing father), she first moves into “a room rented out by the parents of her boyfriend, Frank,” who seduces her and then promptly cheats on her. (Yeah, who could’ve seen that plot curve coming, right?) Then she relocates to a still more dubious boarding house “that caters to ‘loose’ women who make money in an amoral way consistent with ‘the street,’” only to fall under the libidinous sway of her lesbian-artist roommate. After all of these troubles, you’d think Sherry might be a wee bit more cautious about trusting people. But you’d be wrong. As the previously mentioned blog explains,
[O]ne day she is called into the head man’s office, Freddie Parks. She expects to be canned but instead Mr. Parks tells her he has had his “eye” on her and would like her to represent the company in the local country club beauty pageant.

She is flattered, floored, and naïve to boot—others try to warn her, and she soon figures out that these beauty contests are rigged and just a way for old married businessmen to flirt and sleep with pretty young girls. Freddie has rigged the contest so the judges will vote for her—this is after he beds Sherry. She is naïve enough to think that dinner and drinks with her married boss is nothing serious—she holds up her guard until he tells her sweet nothings and how he will leave his wife and marry her. He even makes her his personal secretary, [Sherry] not knowing that there have been three other secretaries, all whom he impregnated.
It’s but a small jump from there to Sherry’s debut as a smut photographer’s new model. “This is somewhat a depressing story,” the Hitt blog concludes, as if we couldn’t recognize that already. The best part of the book might be its cover, which was painted by Harry Barton and shows a busty young brunette in a beret, who might be cocking her shapely hip on a street in Paris … though it’s obvious that this “nice girl on her way down” (to quote from the cover lines) will be lucky to make it to her 40th birthday, much less Europe.

You might not guess that our second book under consideration this week, Richard Foster’s The Girl from Easy Street (shown above, right), is also about a young miss gone wrong. The artwork decorating this 1960 Popular Library edition of the novel, credited to Robert McGinnis, makes it look like a lighthearted tale of a woman negotiating the travails of laboring in a modern office. But the teaser text fronting the original, 1955 edition of Foster’s book hints at very different doings. “The tragic story of a teen-age girl who wanted too much too soon, and ran the brutal gamut of delinquency,” reads that cover copy, while the back offers this synopsis:
Betty Jane Allen was a pretty high school girl, who scandalized a small town …

Betty Hamill was a hoodlum’s moll, looking for thrills and a fast dollar …

Mrs. Chalice was in business and her phone number was for men only …

Mrs. Lance Peru was a Park Avenue beauty, available to the Vice Syndicate’s murder squad …

But they were all the same girl. A girl looking for Easy Street, but lost on a one-way road to ruin.
By the way, “Richard Foster” was another of several pseudonyms employed by New Yorker Kendell Foster Crossen (1910-1981), who also concocted private-eye fiction as “M.E. Chaber.” You’ll find another of his Foster novels showcased here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Armed and Delicious

This has to be one of the cheesiest paperback spy yarn covers I’ve ever seen! Super-Doll was published in 1969 by Award Books. Unfortunately, its cover artist isn’t identified, and the author’s name is almost surely a pseudonym. But we can all use a good laugh before the start of new work week, right? (Credit for bringing this art to my attention goes to the terrific Pulp Covers blog.)

Click on either of the images below to open an enlargement.

FOLLOW-UP: More than one knowledgeable source has now told me that the Super-Doll cover art should be credited to Ron Lesser.

Friday, January 8, 2016

One Final Treat from Orbik

After a very busy holiday season, I’m finding it somewhat difficult to get back into the usual swing of editorial commitments. Surely, by next week or so, this stumbling along will be at an end, and Killer Covers can return to its regularly scheduled postings. Meanwhile, let me at least present what I understand is the last book-cover illustration Glen Orbik created before he passed away in May 2015.

Quarry in the Black is the 12th installment in Max Allan Collins’ long-running series about a single-monikered killer-for-hire, Quarry, following last year’s Quarry’s Choice. Due for release in October from Hard Case Crime, this novel boasts some particularly timely elements. Here’s the plot brief from Hard Case’s Web site:

With a controversial presidential election just weeks away, Quarry is hired to carry out a rare political assignment: kill the Reverend Raymond Wesley Lloyd, a passionate Civil Rights crusader and campaigner for the underdog candidate. But when a hate group out of Ferguson, Missouri, turns out to be gunning for the same target, Quarry starts to wonder just who it is he’s working for.
Given how fond I was of Quarry’s Choice (it wound up on my top-10 list of crime novels for Kirkus Reviews), I’m looking forward to seeing what moral and criminal complications Collins can throw at his protagonist next. At the same time, I’m sorry this book will mark the end of Orbik’s splendid contributions to the genre.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Putting on a Good Face

It’s likely you haven’t noticed yet, but The Rap Sheet just posted its nominees for Best Crime Fiction Cover of 2015. There are 20 contenders this year, covering a wide assortment of authors and a range of publishers, both large and small. You’re invited to take part in choosing the ultimate winner. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find a simple electronic ballot. Please feel free to select as many or as few covers as you think deserve praise. Voting will remain open for the next two weeks, until midnight on Friday, January 22, after which The Rap Sheet will announce the results.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it. But the clock’s running. Vote now!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Slay Ride, by Frank Kane (Popular Library, 1952)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Now Vixens!

I remember when I was a child at Christmastime, listening to my mother read Clement C. Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “The Night Before Christmas” or “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Slightly less than halfway through Moore’s work can be found these verses:
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen!
“On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!

“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
Well, after I’d heard those lines a few dozen times (or more), I started to wonder about the names of jolly old St. Nicholas’ eight high-flying reindeer. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Comet all seemed suggestive of the creatures’ career-making fleet-footedness. Cupid, I conjectured, was the lover-not-a-fighter among the group. Donner and Blitzen never made a whole lot of sense to me. The former I could associate solely with California’s 19th-century Donner Party (though that pioneering group’s disastrous mountain crossing didn’t take place until two decades after Moore sat down to pen his poem); the latter moniker seemed even less connectable, for surely it could have nothing to do with Nazi Germany’s World War II Blitz attacks on Great Britain, yet I had no other ideas on its source. Only in recent years has “blitzen” become synonymous with “amazing” or “cool,” and also been linked with drug culture (“blitzen” meaning “getting high,” usually via marijuana). To learn that Donner and Blitzen weren’t even those reindeers’ original names further confuses the matter.

So what about Vixen? The name has been applied to ships and computer games, sports teams, films, and even an all-female rock band, though all of those date from many years past Clement Moore’s time. Vixen is the term, as well, for a female fox. And in the same way that “fox” has come to mean an unusually attractive woman, so “vixen” has been applied to women who are sexy and flirtatious, or those with fiery tempers. It’s impossible to guess what Moore’s inspiration might have been, but it seems more likely that he had a female fox (of the canine sort) in mind when he christened his reindeer than some observably curvaceous lass.

The other day, while browsing through the amazing Pulp Covers site, I happened across the front from the 1959 Crest Books edition of The Vanishing Vixen (shown atop this post). Composed by Roy B. Sparkia (1924-1992), who also produced such works of fiction as 1956’s Build My Gallows High (not to be confused with Geoffrey Homes’ 1946 book of the same title) and Paradise County (1974), The Vanishing Vixen is described as “a power-packed novel of suspense, sex, and sabotage.” I can’t attest to those contents, but this volume certainly offers an eye-catching cover, painted by Barye Phillips, that’s complete with an inviting young blonde and a rocket that’s busy blasting past its gantry.

This reminded me that there are other novels out there bearing “vixen” in their titles. Above and on the left, for instance, is Not I, Said the Vixen, Bill S. Ballinger’s 1965 legal thriller, with cover art by Bill Johnson. I don’t have information about all of the illustrators represented below, but I do know that Robert McGinnis created the artwork for The Velvet Vixen (Signet, 1964), by Carter Brown; Michael Koelsch was responsible for the cover of The Frost-Haired Vixen (DAW, 2006); Frank Yerby’s The Vixens (Pocket, 1950), like The Vanishing Vixen, boasts a Phillips graphic; Robert Bonfils gave us the front for Vice Ring Vixen, by J. X. Williams (Greenleaf/Pleasure Reader, 1969); and it’s Carl Stricker’s talents being displayed on that 1948 Avon edition of Valley Vixen, by Ben Ames Williams.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

Furthermore, there are a number of novels with cover lines that contain “vixen.” The 1963 U.S. edition of Hank Janson’s Kill Her with Passion (with cover art by Harry Barton) being one example; John Pleasant McCoy’s Big As Life (Pocket, 1951) being another.

Something tells me that Clement C. Moore, a onetime president of New York City’s Columbia College (later Columbia University) and the developer of the General Theological Seminary, would not have approved of any of these works. No, not at all.

READ MORE:The New York Christmas Tradition in an Uptown Cemetery” (The Bowery Boys).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke (Ballantine Books, 1974, with cover art by Dean Ellis).

Nowadays my genre fiction reading is confined almost exclusively to crime, mystery, and thriller novels. But like many people, I was a big science-fiction enthusiast during my teenage years. I consumed a fair breadth of works in the field, though my favorite authors were definitely Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven.

I can’t tell you without question which SF novel I first purchased, but I’m pretty sure it was Childhood’s End, Clarke’s 1953 alien-invasion yarn. I’ve read that book several times over the decades since, and manage to enjoy it on every occasion (even though I know how the story will end). Due to other commitments, I missed seeing last night’s premiere of the Syfy channel’s three-part adaptation of Childhood’s End, but hope to catch up with it very soon. Meanwhile, I’ve collected below a variety of the covers that have graced Clarke’s novel at different times, including the first, white-backdropped one on the left below (1971, with artwork by Dean Ellis), which is the edition I originally read and still have in my library.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

READ MORE:Childhood’s End and Remembering Arthur C. Clarke,” by David Brin (Contrary Brin); “Here’s 10 Best Sci-fi (Science Fiction) and Fantasy Books You Must Read” (Shelfie).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Facing Up to Macdonald’s Fiction

As I already noted in The Rap Sheet, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kenneth Millar, who--using the byline “Ross Macdonald”--would write two dozen crime novels between the 1940s and the 1970s. Eighteen of those would star an especially compassionate Los Angeles private eye named Lew Archer.

My introduction to Macdonald came during high school, when I devoured the first book in the Archer series, The Moving Target (later to be adapted into the Paul Newman film Harper.) Although that novel was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1949, I had access only to a much later edition, a paperback version released by Bantam Books in the 1970s. It was part of a series of Macdonald works, all using the same cover-design format, which featured bold and shadowed serif type, with narrow panels at the bottom through which could be glimpsed portions of photographs, most often featuring women. (That format was also used in the main opening titles for the 1974 NBC-TV pilot film The Underground Man, starring Peter Graves and based on Macdonald’s 1971 novel of the same name.)

I wound up collecting most of those Bantam editions, though I missed two--The Wycherly Woman and Black Money--probably because I began buying them all at a time when they were being replaced by newer editions. Those paperbacks have traveled with me from apartment to apartment, house to house over the years, and they still make up a prized part of my crime-fiction library. Earlier today, as I was writing about Macdonald for The Rap Sheet, I pulled those handsome Bantam editions off my shelves and scanned them. You can see the results above and below (click for enlargements).

My recollection is that The Goodbye Look was the final Macdonald novel to follow that familiar Bantam format. In the late ’70s, new cover illustrations were commissioned from artist Mitchell Hooks. Being young at the time, I didn’t realize how interesting those revised editions looked, so failed to pick up any but the last two in the Archer series: Sleeping Beauty and The Blue Hammer.

Incidentally, it wasn’t only Macdonald’s Archer tales that were uniformly formatted by publisher Bantam during the 1970s. So were at least some of his rather less well-known, non-Archer novels, including Trouble Follows Me and The Ferguson Affair.

Finally, let me pose a question: How many of you out there still have some of these Bantam Macdonald editions decorating your tall bookcases? They used to be everywhere!

READ MORE:Two New Lews,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Killer Covers).