Friday, July 3, 2020

The Young, the Restless, the Available

(Above) Turn Me On, by Jack W. Thomas (Bantam, 1969)


I spent a good deal of my early writing career banging away on typewriters, discarding heaping piles of crumpled draft pages as I went, and then seeing my work cemented into print publications, whether they be books, magazines, or newspapers.

While most of that process was satisfying, even rewarding, there is one thing about composing for print vehicles that gives me nightmares: If I accidentally make a mistake—and I’ve made a few in my time—it’s permanently recorded. I can’t go back into a printed magazine or newspaper and quietly correct a misspelled name, a misstated date, or a particularly egregious typo. In a book, I can at least try to revise any error in a second edition (if there is one). But otherwise, my minor editorial blunders on paper are recorded for perpetuity, even if I’m the only one who notices them.

Thankfully, such frustrating obstacles don’t exist when one is writing for blogs or other Web-based periodicals. Small fixes can easily be made, and there’s no need to draw reader attention to them (though some sites do post classic-style “corrections” at the end of amended pieces). Many have been the times I’ve gone back into older posts in either Killer Covers or The Rap Sheet, and rectified erroneous spellings of author names or other tidbits of information.

Just recently I righted a different sort of wrong.

Almost two months ago, I presented on this page a gallery of 13 Mitchell Hooks paintings that fronted “teenager-in-torment” novels. However, I later learned that one of those images—the cover from the 1968 Bantam Books edition of Please Don’t Talk to Me, I’m in Training, by novelist and screenwriter Robert Kaufman (1931-1991)—wasn’t done by Hooks at all. Instead, it represented the work of his fellow artist, James Bama. (You can see his signature, below, in the illustration’s lower right-hand corner.)

(Left) A young James Bama

I quickly—and surreptitiously—replaced Kaufman’s swinging love story in that lineup with the 1962 Gold Medal release For the Asking, by Harold P. Daniels, which sources agree was a Hook creation. Only then did I realize that Bama, too, had contributed artwork to a variety of paperback novels about mid-20th-century teenagers either causing trouble or trying to find their own way in a confusing new world of sex, drugs, and yes, rock ’n’ roll. Nine examples of his efforts along that line are showcased here. They include his front for a 1967 Bantam release of Robert H. Rimmer’s The Harrad Experiment, a controversial yarn (originally published in 1966, and made into a 1973 film) about sexual experimentation at a made-up college; and his painting for Groupie (Bantam, 1970), a fictionalized account of London’s 1960s “underground music scene,” by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne.

Several of these paperbacks come from what books historian Lynn Monroe calls Bama’s “White Bantam” series, meaning they feature human figures on white backgrounds. And almost half of them suggest the New York-born artist appreciated the bare-midriff look popular with young women in the 1960s and early ’70s.







Saturday, June 20, 2020

Welcome to Summer 2020!



Summer’s advent is always a joyous occasion here at Killer Covers. But it’s especially welcome this year, after we have all been cooped up inside for months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the virus continues to spread, and prudence as well as health guidelines counsel against large outdoor parties or spending time on crowded beaches, we can still enjoy—if only by ourselves or with immediate family members—the arrival of sunnier mornings in the garden and balmier evenings spent on back patios.

With today being the start of summer 2020, I’ve pulled out a paperback front that I have been saving just for this occasion. It comes from the 1960 Popular Library edition of Tell Me, Stranger, by Kentucky author Charles Bracelen Flood. Its cover illustration was painted by Mitchell Hooks, whose artistry we celebrated at length earlier this year—just as the pandemic began, in fact.

Over the years Killer Covers has posted numerous other summer-related book fronts. Click here to enjoy them all.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Because I Needed a Household Fix …



Arabesque, by Geoffrey Household (Pyramid, 1964).
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire.

READ MORE:The Book You Have to Read: Watchers in the Shadows, by Geoffrey Household,” by Mike Ripley (The Rap Sheet).

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Another Look: “Naked Canvas”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.



Left: Naked Canvas, by Warwick Scott (Popular Library, 1955); cover artist unidentified. Right: Naked Canvas, by Elleston Trevor (Mayflower Dell, 1965); cover illustration by Roger Hall. “Warwick Scott” was of course one of several noms de plume employed by British novelist-playwright Trevor. His most famous pseudonym, however, was “Adam Hall,” under which he penned 19 acclaimed Cold War-era thrillers starring a spy known only as Quiller.

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.