Monday, February 17, 2020

In the White Woods

I’ve been aware for some while now of the proliferation of crime-fiction covers featuring aerial photos of snow-shrouded forests. But it was this recent, similarly themed post in Karen Meek’s Euro Crime blog that finally convinced me to present my collection here.

Sisters in Crime Fiction

As the (so far) anonymous author of that fine blog, The Stiletto Gumshoe, observes, little is known about the artist sisters Eileen and Barbara Walton. “All I can deduce from dated work,” he or she writes, “is that Eileen Walton began working in advertising and editorial illustration in the mid-1950’s, her sister Barbara in book cover illustration in the late 1950’s, both of them the most prolific throughout the 1960’s, with their intriguingly evolving art seeming to vanish altogether by the late-1970’s. But then, they wouldn’t be the only illustrators who migrated from the rapidly shrinking cover art marketplace around that time, as photography and image-free graphic design swiftly dominated the industry.”

Do yourself a favor today and check out The Stiletto Gumshoe’s recent posts about the talented Walton sisters: here, here, here, here, and here. For more examples of their work, look in Nick Jones’ Existential Ennui blog and Steve Holland’s Bear Alley Books blog.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Duped: “7 Days to Love”

The latest installment in Killer Covers’ “haven’t we seen this front someplace before?” series. Previous entries are here.

Above: 7 Days to Love, by “Colin Johns,” aka John Bentley and Cornelius J. Collins (Beacon Signal, 1963). You can see the back cover here. Below: What Makes Sherry Love? by John Burton Thompson (Softcover Library, 1970). The front cover illustration used on both books is credited to Victor Olson.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Blow Out Your Candles, Mr. McGinnis

As The Stiletto Gumshoe notes, today is the birthday of renowned American painter-illustrator Robert McGinnis, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1926. I’ve written several times about McGinnis and his amazing paperback cover art, including this piece for CrimeReads and this other one for The Rap Sheet, in which I interviewed Art Scott, co-author of the beautiful 2014 book, The Art of Robert McGinnis.

It’s always a pleasure to study McGinnis’ breadth of work. May he be with us—still painting—for many more years to come.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Another Look: “The Little Sister”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler (Pocket, 1963); cover art by James Neil Boyle. Right: The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler (Pocket, 1957); cover illustration by Charles Binger. This fifth novel starring private eye Philip Marlowe was adapted into the 1969 film Marlowe, starring James Garner.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Because I Needed a Stokes Fix ...

The Grave’s in the Meadow, by Manning Lee Stokes (Dell, 1961). Cover illustration by Victor Kalin.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

It’s Finally Come to This

Eleven Came Back, by Mabel Seeley (Pyramid, 1968). Unfortunately, the cover artist is unidentified.

Astoundingly, today marks the 11th anniversary of my launching Killer Covers back in 2009. During the succeeding years, I have made an assortment of changes to this page, some of them providing additional ways to showcase vintage book fronts, others intended to reduce my writing burden while still keeping the site lively. Whereas I began Killer Covers with the intention of putting up just one post every seven or so days (which explains its original “killercoversoftheweek” URL), that schedule has now become less rigid. Sometimes a whole week might go by without my updating the page one iota; on other occasions I’ll publish new paperback book fronts every single day, especially if I am saluting the work of a notable artist, as I recently did stats counter to see which of this blog’s posts have accumulated the greatest number of pageviews over the years. Here are the top 10, ranked in descending order of popularity:

1.Rader Love: Halloween Treats” (October 31, 2016)
2.The Man Who Had Too Much to Lose, by Hampton Stone
(April 7, 2010)
3.Curious Catalogue of Carnality” (July 26, 2012)
4.Oh No, Mitchell Hooks Is Gone” (March 21, 2013)
5.Two-fer Tuesdays: What Was Your Name Again?
(August 11, 2015)
6.Whodrewit? I Like It Cool, by Michael Lawrence
(November 22, 2010)
7.Who’re You Callin’ Yellow?” (June 12, 2010)
8.Sweet Wild Wench, by William Campbell Gault” (May 31, 2010)
9.He Had a Way with Women” (January 26, 2011)
10.Brown Out” (May 6, 2010)

First-place honors, by the way, have shifted over these last 11 years. The post about author “Hampton Stone” (aka Aaron Marc Stein), currently occupying the number-two spot, seemed to be a permanent fixture atop of this inventory until 2016, when I rolled out a month-long tribute to Paul Rader, the Brooklyn-born painter of so many fine, sexy paperback covers during the latter half of the 20th century. The “Halloween Treats” entry mentioned above was the handsomely illustrated final installment in the Rader series. Its ascension to the list’s summit knocked off what had for so long been my 10th-most-popular post, “Crime on His Hands,” a 2009 interview with Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai.

I must spend most of this day working outside my office. Before I go, though, let me thank all of you who have made a habit of reading and commenting on Killer Covers over the years. I really didn’t know what to expect when I debuted this blog in 2009 ... and that made the satisfactions it has brought me since all the sweeter.

Fools on the Hill

Most scandals in Washington, D.C., these days emanate from Donald Trump’s White House. Yet Pulp International has its eyes on the structure at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue—a place even more infamous, historically, for its shocking improprieties. Click here to enjoy that site’s “small collection of vintage paperbacks all featuring images of the U.S. Capitol. They’re reminders that the building has always been a place of intrigue and treachery.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Beware! The Blobs

“The hottest trend in book covers is colorful blobs,” opines The Week’s Jeva Lange. She goes on to observe that “The blobs are eye-catching. They’re colorful. You’re not quite sure what they’re depicting at first—are those hands? Wine glasses? Is there a body there too, or is that just a suggestively-shaped patch of fuchsia? The cover is weirdly alluring yet tells you almost nothing about what might be inside. It invites you to investigate, and by that point, you’re already sucked in. The cover has won.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Friday, January 10, 2020

Three More for the Bennett Files

Most readers of this blog probably already know what a fan I am of painter and paperback cover artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012). It was just two years ago that I produced a months-long tribute to Bennett’s work. And ever since, I have kept my eyes peeled for additional examples of his artistry. Just this week, I found three.

Embedded atop this post is his cover for the 1975 Fawcett Crest paperback edition of These Cliffs Are Dangerous, a “sophisticated Gothic” novel attributed to “Lindsay March,” which the back-cover copy says is “the pseudonym of a famous Fawcett author.” (I haven’t yet learned her real name by searching the Web, but perhaps one of Killer Covers’ readers knows that info.) You can see Bennett’s signature in this book front’s lower right-hand corner.

Below and on the left is Bennett’s distinctly different illustration for Beyond Time (Pocket, 1975), a collection of science-fiction short stories edited by Sandra Ley. Beside it is his front for The Children at the Gate, by Lynne Reid Banks (Pocket, 1969). These latter two images were provided to the Today’s Inspiration Group Facebook page by Bennett’s youngest son, Tom.

My quest for more of Harry Bennett’s artwork continues!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Bit of This, a Bit of That

• Before we venture too deep into 2020, let’s look back for a moment at 2019’s “best” book covers, as judged by the sites Literary Hub, Spine, and The Casual Optimist. What do you think?

• Hah! Just as we thought all along:Why Do So Many Book Covers Look the Same? Blame Getty Images.”

• “When it comes to book covers,” grouses James Davis Nicoll of the science-fiction site, “sales departments have often had more clout than the poor beleaguered author. Covers are designed to catch the eye and spur sales; any resemblance to what is actually in the book may be coincidental. … It would be easy (like shooting fish in a barrel) to offer examples of hilariously inappropriate cover art from the days of my youth. I could eke a compelling essay out of the covers that forced me to explain (yet again) to my teachers that no, I had not brought pornography to school. I’ve decided to take the high road: Here are five covers that delivered exactly what they promised (even if that might seem unlikely …).”

• The fine James Bond-oriented blog Artistic License Renewed conducts an interview Michael Gillette, the San Francisco-based artist “who created a beautiful set of officially licensed James Bond book covers for the Ian Fleming Centenary in 2008.”

• That same page recalls the typography on early editions of Ian Fleming’s Bond tales, published in the UK by Jonathan Cape.

• Since its inception back in December 2018, The Stiletto Gumshoe blog has become a favorite of mine. Partly because its anonymous author seems to share my fascination with book-cover illustrations. Recently, he (or she) introduced me to Bertil Hegland (1925-2002), “a Swedish illustrator known in the Scandinavian market for popular children and teen book series covers—including the Nancy Drew series (apparently called ‘Kitty’)—as well as hard-boiled mystery and crime fiction covers.” The blog has so far posted two compilations of Hegland’s arresting work, which you’ll find here and here.

• By the way, if you’d like to enjoy more Hegland fronts, check out this small gallery in Pulp International and these pages showing his efforts on behalf of John D. MacDonald.

• Finally, let me say a slightly tardy good-bye to Minnesota-born industrial designer and visionary artist Syd Mead, who passed away on December 30. As The Architect’s Newspaper explains, “Mead began his career in the late 1950s and early ’60s at Ford Motor Company before going on to create designs and illustrations for brands like U.S. Steel, Phillips, Sony, and others, including architecture firms. He is perhaps best known, however, for his enduring, iconic designs on sci-fi films like Tron, Star Trek, Alien, and most famously, Blade Runner. His elaborate cars, spaceships, robotic suits, and cities—all hand-drawn and colored—presented futures that were utopian and dystopian at the same time, sleek and gritty, fantastical and real. As he told Curbed in a 2015 interview: ‘I painted architecture as a visual romance.’” Mead died at 86 years of age, reportedly from complications from lymphoma cancer.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Grisly Adams: Exploring the Artist’s Range

Part of a series honoring the late cover artist Tom Adams.

The Final Steal, by Peter George (Dell, 1965). This was the seventh novel released by George, who’d become famous for his spy thrillers and murder mysteries. His best-remembered work is 1958’s Red Alert (aka Two Hours to Doom), which inspired Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Cover art by Tom Adams.

Typically, when I set out on this page to pay tribute to a book-cover artist—be it Harry Bennett, Ron Lesser, Paul Rader, Robert Stanley, or anyone else—I ruminate at length upon which fronts best represent that virtuoso’s talents and how best to present them, either all at once or in a succession of posts. But that wasn’t the case when I decided to celebrate the work of American-born Anglo-Scots painter and illustrator Tom Adams. I read on The Gumshoe Site in mid-December that Adams had passed away at age 93, and a day later, I launched Killer Covers’ salute to his accomplishments. I figured I had ample scans of his book art in my computer files; anything else I needed, I could dig up as the series progressed.

Casting my eye back over the last two weeks of Adams-oriented posts, I’d say they have been most satisfactory. And surprising in some respects. For instance, I hadn’t known before undertaking this project that Adams, who I’d always associated with crime and mystery fiction—especially books by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler—also provided imagery for science fiction, horror, and espionage novels. I also discovered that, while Adams’ Christie illustrations were elegant and intricate, and certainly dramatic, other of his paintings were markedly more sensual in nature. (He even worked bare breasts into a Chandler cover!)

I had reason, during my researches, to read a number of stories about the artist and his efforts. One of the best was this recent obituary from The Daily Telegraph, which avers that Adams “elevated paperback cover art to unprecedented heights; his arresting covers for Agatha Christie’s whodunnits in the 1960s and 1970s proved to be the happiest pairing of a crime writer and an artist since Conan Doyle and Sidney Paget.” The piece goes on to tell how Adams, trained as a painter at the Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths College, in London, commenced his cover-creating career:
It was the jacket cover Adams produced for the hardback of Fowles’s novel The Collector (1963) that made his reputation. The design director of Jonathan Cape, Tony Colwill, wanted something in the trompe l’oeil style of Richard Chopping’s covers for Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.

Adams, who could be somewhat diffident about his own abilities and had only recently begun working in the field of cover art, doubted whether he had the necessary skill, but accepted the challenge when Colwill bet him £25 that he could pull it off.

Adams lost the bet, producing an immaculate rendering of a key, a lock of hair and a pinned butterfly [shown on the right]. Fowles judged it “incomparably the best jacket of the year (if not of the entire decade)”.

This work brought Adams to the attention of Mark Collins and Patsy Cohen at William Collins, who were seeking talented young artists to produce covers for the Fontana paperback imprint; this was something of an experiment at a time when publishers rarely invested much money or thought in paperback cover art.

They recruited Adams to paint a cover for a paperback reissue of Agatha Christie’s mystery
A Murder Is Announced. Adams went on to paint some 150 covers for Christie’s books, either for Fontana or for Pocket Books in the United States.

By this time the elderly author was writing novels that were more discursive and emotional than her usual tightly plotted crowd-pleasers; Adams’s striking covers helped to keep paperback sales of her classic books healthy, and arguably prevented her from slipping out of public favour. Long after they were out of print, his paperbacks were highly sought-after by collectors.
It was interesting, too, to read in the Telegraph that Adams “continued to paint into his nineties.” And that in addition to book covers, he “designed posters for 2001: A Space Odyssey and special effects for the 1980 film of Flash Gordon; produced award-winning advertising campaigns; and painted album covers for Lou Reed, who came for tea and cake in his Fulham flat, and Iron Maiden.”

My curiosity about his work, though, focuses around his book-cover art, as well as the paintings he did for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post and Oui, the latter being a Playboy product from the 1970s. Additional examples are embedded below.

Adams began his association with Agatha Christie by painting the cover on the left, from the 1963 Fontana edition of A Murder Is Announced. He continued to provide artwork for her books through to Miss Marple’s Final Cases (1980), shown on the right.

Adams customarily (and reportedly by edict of the Christie estate) did not include images of either Miss Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot on his Christie covers. Yet on the rear panel of this 1971 Pocket edition of The Mystery of the Blue Train, Poirot can be spotted standing to the right of the locomotive.

Another thing I hadn’t known before reading The Daily Telegraph’s obituary of him was that Adams provided cover paintings for a number of entries in Sue Grafton’s “alphabet series” of Kinsey Millhone detective novels. UK publisher Pan Books brought those editions out in the early 1990s. The Telegraph contends that Adams’ contributions “only reached the letter ‘E’ before they were discontinued.” However, a post in the Pan Fans Club blog says, “He got as far as ‘J’ before he lost rapport with Pan, according to the book Tom Adams Uncovered.” Adams’ Grafton fronts are similar to those he created for Ballantine’s Chandler editions, insofar as they featured foreground still-lifes (often featuring flowers) juxtaposed against scenes plucked from the stories inside. Two of Adams’ Grafton covers are featured above; the rest can be enjoyed here.

“A Mother’s Warning,” by Frank O’Connor (The Saturday
Evening Post
, October 5, 1967).

“Endless Night,” Part I, by Agatha Christie (The Saturday
Evening Post
, February 24, 1968).

“Endless Night,” Part II, by Agatha Christie (The Saturday
Evening Post
, March 9, 1968).

“The Trust Crisis,” by Ralph Keyes (Oui, November 1976).

After a fortnight spent surveying Adams’ artistry (our posts end today), one thing can be said: Despite the title I chose for this series, his work is not always “grisly,” but it certainly is glorious.

(Hat tip to the Today’s Inspiration Group Facebook page.)

Friday, January 3, 2020

Grisly Adams: “The Big Waves”

Part of a series honoring the late cover artist Tom Adams.

The Big Waves, by Malcolm Ross-Macdonald (Jonathan Cape, 1962). Adams later provided the cover painting for another novel by this same author, 1977’s The Rich Are With You Always.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Grisly Adams: “Needle in a Timestack”

Part of a series honoring the late cover artist Tom Adams.

Needle in a Timestack, by Robert Silverberg (Ballantine, 1970).

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Grisly Adams: Keeping Christie in View

Part of a series honoring the late cover artist Tom Adams.

The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie (Pocket, 1971)—a Hercule Poirot novel that’s far superior to the three-part 2018 BBC One television series it inspired.

It’s often been said that Tom Adams (1926-2019) is the best-known artist to have been associated with mystery fictionist Agatha Christie. That’s because, from 1963 to 1980, he was under commission by British publisher Fontana Books (the paperback imprint of William Collins, Sons, now part of mammoth publishing house HarperCollins) to create covers for the UK and European editions of Christie’s releases, both series and standalones.

“For many of the Christie books,” explains this excellent article on the Web site BeautifulBooks.Info, “Tom designed two, or even three different covers over the course of his work on her mysteries, and his mastery of different techniques and habit of hiding clever clues in the cover designs, combined with the familiarity of his work across different continents creates interest in collecting his paperback designs.” The site goes on to paraphrase Adams as saying that he “read each Christie novel he illustrated three times, first very quickly for the story and mood, second to make notes of characters or incidents, and third to choose ideas for the illustration. Early on he rejected the idea of showing [spinster sleuth] Miss [Jane] Marple or [Belgian detective Hercule] Poirot, rationalizing that ‘the characters were so firmly fixed in the reader’s imagination that they could never be satisfactorily shown.’”

There are simply too many Adams-illustrated Fontana editions of Christie’s works to feature here. But I’ve embedded eight examples below, to give you an idea of his oft-surreal and macabre style. (Additional paperback fronts can be found here.) Click on any of these images to enjoy an enlargement.

Adams’ artwork wasn’t confined only to Christie’s British editions. As the Web site Collecting Christie explains, “Tom Adams was contracted by Pocket Books to design covers for 26 U.S. covers, all of which were published between 1971 and 1974. Pocket Books had a different vision for the covers—ones that provided more narrative, utilizing the full cover with no white space and an image that wrapped around the whole book, using the spine and rear panel. The narrative that these covers communicate has a lot of depth and should be closely scrutinized to fully appreciate.” Indeed, Adams’ Pocket illustrations are dramatically conceived, offering a universally grim, haunting tone but plenty of handsome details drawn from Christie’s tales.

Below are 16 of those fronts. Click here to see the entire set.

Anyone wishing to learn more about Adams’ long association with best-selling author Christie should check out either or both of these two books: Tom Adams’ Agatha Christie Cover Story (Dragons World Limited, 1981) or the newer Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond (HarperCollins, 2016).