Thursday, April 28, 2016

“Descent Into Crime and Madness”

I’ve had the beautifully executed front shown above stored deep in my computer files for a good long while now, but I had not come up with a reason to use it—until now. That cover comes from the 1956 Pocket paperback edition of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. It features a painting by Robert Korn.

In an excellent post that makes me want to re-read The Invisible Man, Cross-Examining Crime blogger Kate Jackson writes,
I’m probably chancing my arm writing a post about Wells’ The Invisible Man (1897) on a crime-fiction blog, as it is a work of science fiction. However, apart from the fact it is a really good read, I think a case can be made for it also being a psychological crime narrative of sorts, which tracks the journey one man takes into criminality and madness, whilst pursuing a scientific experiment.
She goes on to propose seven ways in which one might read this classic novel, the sixth of which focuses on Wells’ allusion to “ostracism and social isolation as roads into crime.”
As I mentioned in my introduction to this post, there is a crime narrative running through this story, as the Invisible Man commits more and more acts of crime beginning with theft but ultimately committing murder. Yet I think a key reason why the Invisible Man’s crimes become more violent is because of the rage he feels at being unfairly treated by others, which is exemplified after he has been run out of Iping: “I was wandering, mad with rage, naked, impotent. I could have murdered.” Moreover, he often has to resort to violent acts such as stone throwing to prove his existence and resorts to bribery and threats to get support. Therefore there is a suggestion that if the characters in the novel had treated him
H.G. Wells
sympathetically then the Invisible Man wouldn’t end the way he does. Consequently, there are moments when you feel sympathy for him.

However, such sympathy is of the troubled kind in my opinion, as a key trait in the Invisible Man is that he sees his immoral acts as justifiable and therefore not criminal. Moreover, it could even be said he perceives his invisibility as an excuse for acting above or outside of the law: “I was invisible, and I was only just beginning to realize the extraordinary advantage my invisibility gave me. My head was already teeming with plans if all the wild and wonderful things I had now impunity to do.” He also says that “the common conventions of humanity” do not apply to him as they “are all very well for common people.” Moreover, he comes to a point where he decides that the only vocation an invisible person is suited for is an assassin or killer, which is perhaps a symptom of his growing madness.
I cannot say that, after digesting this post by Jackson, I am disposed to re-label The Invisible Man as a crime novel, but she certainly argues her case well. Read the whole post here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Potpourri of Posts

• Steve Scott, at the John D. MacDonald blog The Trap of Solid Gold, looks back at “Kitten on a Trampoline,” one the most famous and delightful combinations of MacDonald’s fiction and Robert McGinnis’ artwork. The short story “Kitten on a Trampoline,” he notes, “appeared only once”—in the April 8, 1961, issue The Saturday Evening Post—“and has never been anthologized or republished.”

• Prior to the recent start of his “hiatus,” British Columbia blogger Noah Stewart began putting together fascinating galleries of the various covers used on classic works of mystery fiction. Here, for instance, are examples of the fronts you can find from The Rasp, Philip Macdonald’s 1924 novel. And click here to see a wide variety of façades that have decorated The Red Box (1937), Rex Stout’s fourth Nero Wolfe novel. I hope Stewart will be back soon with more of these “Cover Art Through the Ages” posts.

• The newest Web site to imagine funny/wicked/wonderful new titles for older novels is a Twitter page called Paperback Paradise. Both Mashable and BuzzFeed have recently gathered together Paperback Paradise’s parodies of once-innocent children’s books.

• Pulp International offers a beautiful cover from I Like It Tough, James A. Howard’s 1955 novel—the “powerful story of a reporter destroying a vicious dope ring.” It’s one of Howard’s tales featuring Steve Ashe, who also appeared in such works as I’ll Get You Yet (1954), Blow Out My Torch (1956), and Die on Easy Street (1957).

• Finally, check out Gravetapping’s enjoyable “Thrift Shop Book Covers” posts. Blogger Ben Boulden has so far featured works by Ralph Dennis, Gavin Lyall, Richard Stark, and Isaac Asimov.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Stirnweis Show and Tell

The entrancing, multiple-image front above comes from the 1967 Ballantine paperback edition of The Anti-Death League, a more-or-less intellectual thriller by Kingsley Amis. The painting is credited to by Shannon Stirnweis, a Portland, Oregon-born artist who worked for many years as a magazine, book, and advertising illustrator. Stirnweis is the subject of a several-part interview with Ontario artist and graphic arts instructor Leif Peng, who blogs at Today’s Inspiration. Click here to catch up with their full exchange and see many additional examples of Stirnweis’ work.

Below is another of my favorite Stirnweis creations—his painting for the April 1966 issue of Adventure magazine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Two-fer Tuesdays: Just Your Hype

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

“The behind-the-scenes novel of a talent agency … whose tentacles reach world-wide into every phase of show business … fascinating.” That’s what the San Francisco Chronicle said of The Flesh Peddlers, when this Stephen Longstreet novel was originally published (by Simon & Schuster) in 1962. Meanwhile, The Columbus Dispatch said it offered “a liberal education in the know-how of bars, bedrooms, and beds.” Kirkus Reviews summed up the book’s plot this way:
COK (Company of Kings), the petulant, arrogant talent organization run by the King Brothers (“money smelled good at the Kings’ place”) is the labyrinth through which numerous crudely drawn characters live out their half-lives “flesh peddling” big and small talent, locally and internationally. A script-type vernacular and a flood of comment on current authors, “pop” idols, and affairs (the lesbian scene and the guilt-laden adultery sequences are here, typically) relate COK to its human communicators. Our “hero,” Garrison, wends his way through this colorful maze, his fast contemporary ear cocked for the nuances. His demise is an inevitable consequence of COK manipulations, for the organization is loyal to nothing. Here is slick stuff about Storyland, USA, to the tune of flashy cars, willing women, and an insatiate business octopus—all cemented in place with a very obvious, hard-money universe. ...
Such a wealth of flash and sexual frivolity might not seem especially interesting, or even provocative, nowadays. But during his long and varied career, from the 1930s through the ’80s, Longstreet (born Chauncey Weiner) not only churned out scripts for radio, theater, film, and television (he holds credits for both 1946’s The Jolson Story and 1957’s The Helen Morgan Story), but made a prominent name for himself in book-publishing circles. He started out penning detective yarns, two of which—Crime on the Cuff (1936, published under the alias Henri Weiner) and Death Walks on Cat Feet (1938, bylined “Paul Haggard”)—starred John Brass, a one-armed sleuth and ex-Secret Service man, who also happened to be a cartoonist (an avocation Brass shared with his creator). He went on, under the Haggard nom de plume, to produce other mysteries novels, such as Dead Is the Door Nail (1937), featuring “Mike Warlock, sports reporter for the New York Globe, and his faithful companion and cameraman, Abner Gillaway.” But it’s as Stephen Longstreet that he became a bookstore fixture. Among his best-known titles: Stallion Road (1945); Wild Harvest (1955); The Crime (1959); Geisha (1961, written with his wife, Ethel Longstreet); The Golden Runaways (1964); The Divorce (1974); The Kingston Fortune (1975); and The Dream Seekers (1979). In addition, recalls Longstreet’s 2002 obituary in the Los Angeles Times, this author concocted an “extensive list of non-fiction works,” among them A Century on Wheels: The Story of Studebaker (1952), Chicago: An Intimate Portrait of People, Pleasures, and Power, 1860-1919 (1973), and a number of books relating the history of jazz, including 1986’s Storyville to Harlem: Fifty Years in the Jazz Scene.”

The front and back covers of The Flesh Peddlers, shown here, come from the 1963 Dell edition, with artwork by Mort Engel.

I wish I was equally prepared to say who painted the altogether captivating face of this week’s second showcased paperback, Flesh Agents, by Jean C. Bosquet (Avon, 1957). Unfortunately, I’m not. I did, though, manage to track down a fine short critique of that novel in the Reading California Fiction blog:
Paul DeSilva quits his newspaper job to become a publicist for Triumph Studios. His fiancée thinks he's selling out, but he quickly comes to enjoy the work. He focuses his efforts on boosting the career of Darlene Lamont, a young contract player determined to do whatever is necessary to become a star. Paul launches a successful campaign of newspaper stories, public appearances and photo opportunities which gives Darlene the attention she wants. He also becomes deeply smitten with the beautiful actress. But he can’t determine whether she reciprocates his feelings or is just grateful for his loyalty and dedication.

This is a straightforward Hollywood insider story. By detailing the activities of the book’s savvy but lovelorn protagonist, Bosquet shows what publicists do and why they are an essential part of the movie business. The author doesn’t emphasize the vacuousness of attention-getting. Paul is not a noble figure—he treats most women in his life callously, for example—but the nature of his work is not one of his shortcomings. Actors, directors and studio honchos, on the other hand, are treated with profound cynicism. As in most plot-driven novels, the characters are delineated rather than developed. Bosquet, however, delivers (if just barely) on the promise that Paul’s story will have an arc of some sort. The book is an fast read and a pretty entertaining one.
If anybody out there can identify the party responsible for this Flesh Agents artwork, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday Finds: “The Lost Continent”

Another in our growing line of vintage book covers we love.

The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis, by C.J. Cutliffe Hyne (Ballantine, 1972). Illustration by Dean Ellis.

Like many men (and not a few women), it seems, I went through a science-fiction phase during my teenage years. Although I was most drawn to stories with a harder, more realistic science edge, I bought and read books by pretty much everyone whose work looked interesting—from Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke to Alfred Bester, Vonda N. McIntyre, James Blish, David Brin, Walter Jon Williams, and Diane Duane. Of course, not long after that, I discovered and became enamored of crime and mystery fiction, which eventually pushed my interest in SF to the sidelines. But I still have on my bookshelves all of those science-fiction works I enjoyed in my youth, including one I now only barely remember reading, The Lost Continent, by British author C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne (1866-1944).

Because it’s been so long since I last enjoyed Hyne’s work, I defer to Wikipedia when it comes to background on this novel:
The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis is a fantasy novel by C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne. It is considered one of the classic fictional retellings of the story of the drowning of Atlantis, combining elements of the myth told by Plato with the earlier Greek myth concerning the survival of a universal flood and restoration of the human race by Deucalion.

The novel was published first in serial form in
Pearson’s Magazine in the issues for July–December 1899, and in hardcover book form by Hutchinson (London) and Harpers (New York) in 1900. There have been several editions since. Its importance in the history of fantasy literature was recognized by its reissuing by Ballantine Books as the forty-second volume of the celebrated Ballantine Adult Fantasy series during February 1972. …

The novel uses the common nineteenth-century device of a “framing story” to set its narrative in context and augment its believability. The story proper was written supposedly by Deucalion, a warrior-priest of ancient Atlantis; the text having been partly destroyed inadvertently by one of its discoverers at the time of its finding, it is not entirely complete. Deucalion’s account describes his heroic but ultimately doomed battle to save Atlantis from destruction by its avaricious and selfish queen, Phorenice.
In his introduction to the 1972 Ballantine edition of this novel, SF/fantasy writer Lin Carter, who handled the editing of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, notes that
Cutliffe Hyne wrote many other books—among them The Filibusters, The Trials of Commander McTurk, The Recipe for Diamonds, Honour of Thieves. He was quite well known in his day for his tales of the remarkable Captain Kettle, a tough, ruthless, Vandyke-bearded, and (in time, as the series went on) peg-legged little man whose bizarre exploits charmed readers on both sides of the Atlantic from his first adventure (which appeared in Pearson’s, February 1897 issue) to The Last Adventure of Captain Kettle (in the issue of February 1903).
The Lost Continent, however, remains his classic—a splendid tale of fantastic adventure, and enduring story that is, simply, the best of its kind.
Be that as it may, what likely attracted me to this paperback as much as anything else was its wraparound cover art (shown below).

The painter responsible here was Dean Ellis (1920-2009). Born in Detroit, Michigan, and later educated at Ohio’s Cleveland Institute of Art and Massachusetts’ Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, Ellis served in the Pacific theater during World War II, and then took jobs at art studios in Cleveland before relocating east in the late 1950s. A post about Ellis on the Web site of Denver, Colorado, bookseller Berserker Books offers more biographical material:
In 1950, Life magazine included Dean Ellis … in a list of the 19 most promising young American artists. In my estimation, I would have to say Ellis exceeded all of their expectations, and then some. While freelancing for nearly all of the major publishers in the science-fiction field, he painted scores of memorable book covers, practically dominating the genre during the 1970s. He also painted numerous portraits and fiction magazine illustrations, and he provided extensive advertising work for magazines like Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, [The] Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, and Life.

In the 1960s, under the guidance of legendary Bantam Books art director Len Leone, Ellis painted several impressive covers for a series of important Ray Bradbury paperbacks. The most famous of those paintings,
The Illustrated Man (1969), was recently sold at auction in 2014 by the Bradbury Estate for nearly $45,000. On average his works sell for between $200 to $6,000 dollars, depending upon size and subject matter.
I realize now that a number of the paperbacks in the SF section of my library are graced with Ellis-illustrated fronts. Several of those are also shown in the aforementioned Berserker Books post, including The Lost Ones, by Ian Cameron (1970); Icerigger, by Alan Dean Foster (1974); Reach for Tomorrow, by Arthur C. Clarke (1972); and Protector, by Larry Niven (1973). As this other post observes, “His paintings frequently portrayed vistas of outer space or breathtaking alien landscapes realistically rendered in saturated colors (often blues or greens) and exhibiting a clean, simple style.” You’ll find additional Ellis covers here and here. He is also credited with creating the dramatic front of a 1974 edition of Clarke’s Childhood’s End that I featured in an earlier Killer Covers post.

Ellis’ covers for 1973’s Protector and 1969’s The Illustrated Man.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Covering the Blog Bases

• Last July, Killer Covers celebrated Bastille Day by posting a handsome collection of book fronts with French connections. I wish I had been aware at the time of this gallery, in Pulp International, of paperback covers featuring Paris’ renowned Eiffel Tower. But now we can add to that assortment this provocative 1960 specimen.

• I know I refer often—probably too often—to Pulp International. But it’s only because that cheeky, art-oriented blog manages to find such cool stuff. Such as this somewhat racy selection of half a dozen covers illustrated by New Yorker George Gross (1909-2003). Or these fine façades “featuring characters getting more from their daily [showers] than just a squeaky clean feeling.” Or how about a couple of remarkably similar Gold Medal Books fronts from the 1950s? Careful—these links might not be safe to open at work.

• Speaking of look-alikes … I came across this other entry from Pulp International, which recalls a 1972 German film originally titled Die Klosterschülerinnen, but subsequently brought to English-speaking audiences as Sex Life in a Convent. If you can’t already guess what the plot involves, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) explains, “the problems girls face in the unisex environment of a convent school are revealed in a series of vignettes.” Pulp International offers some still shots from the flick (which are definitely NSFW), but what’s as interesting as anything else here is the appealing yet suggestive poster created to promote the Italian release of this picture as Educande fuori … femmine dentro. Am I imagining things, or does the lithe young woman in that illustration bear a striking similarity to the mischievous miss in Robert McGinnis’ painting for the 1967 Signet edition of The Deadly Kitten, by Carter Brown? Click on the images embedded below to compare them for yourself.

This 1981 sleaze paperback, issued in accordance with Hustler magazine, gives new meaning to Jack the Ripper’s less often employed nickname, “Saucy Jack.”

• There’s some beautiful cross-hatched artwork here.

• “Bullets in the Bedroom”? That doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for conjugal bliss or a good night’s slumber …

• I’ve written before on this page about mid-20th-century “sexpionage fiction.” But now Los Angeles cop-turned-author Paul Bishop addresses the matter further (or should I say “undresses the matter further”?) in his latest Venture Galleries column.

• Have I previously seen this 1958 Panther cover for Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest? Maybe not. But it’s only one of many different editions of Hammett’s fiction that have appeared since he began publishing novels in the 1920s. Bear Gallery offers a selection of fronts that might be unfamiliar to American readers.

Good news from Spy Vibe: “Beginning this August [publisher Hermes Press] will be re-printing the original Phantom novels from Avon (first published 1972-1975). Hermes will release the entire series of fifteen paperback books with their original painted covers by artist George Wilson!” Wow, those are some beautiful books.

• Robert Deis has posted, in Men’s Pulp Mags, an interesting and well-illustrated interview with Basil Gogos, “the most widely known and revered painter of movie monster paintings in the world.” In addition to his creepier creations, Gogos produced other illustrations for books and men’s adventure publications, including this outstanding attraction.

• Finally, Down the Tubes reports that Scottish-born artist Ken Barr, who “is perhaps best known … for his Commando covers, but was [also] an innovative artist whose covers for publishers such as Marvel and a wide variety of book publishers are highly regarded,” has died at age 83. Enjoy more of Barr’s artwork here.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Happy April Fool’s Day, Everyone!

Here’s another cover for the A.A. Fair novel Fools Die on Friday, from 1957. The artist responsible for this illustration is Victor Kalin.

READ MORE:Confronting Frontal Nudity,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Killer Covers).

Confronting Frontal Nudity

(Editor’s note: This post appeared originally in The Rap Sheet way back in 2007, long before I launched the Killer Covers blog. But it really belongs here. So, on this April Fool’s Day, 2016—a totally appropriate occasion, given the title of the book under consideration—I am reposting that Rap Sheet piece below.)

Regular readers of The Rap Sheet know my fondness for vintage paperback fronts, especially those that Independent Crime’s Nathan Cain might define as “book cover porn.” I find the squeamishness of modern U.S. readers toward provocative novel jackets ludicrous, especially when they’re hit through every other medium by sexy imagery (see this familiar advertising campaign for PETA, as an example), and when they appear more ready to take up arms against bared body parts on the nation’s bookshelves than they are violence in their crime and thriller fiction. I also applaud the willingness of publishers such as Hard Case Crime to bring back the sort of suggestive illustrations (see here and here) that were, interestingly, familiar to pre-Sexual Revolution Americans of the 1940s and ’50s, but are now deemed too risqué. Aren’t we all grown-ups here?

So Steve Steinbock’s post at Vorpal Blade Online about vintage Dell paperback covers struck me as amusing. Among the many fine examples he showcases of works by Ellery Queen, George Harmon Coxe, John Dickson Carr, and others are two versions of Fools Die on Friday, a Bertha Cool/Donald Lam mystery, originally published in 1947 and credited to “A.A. Fair,” one of the numerous pseudonyms employed by Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner. It seems that this novel bore two rather dissimilar paperback covers during its early years, one of which—shown on the left above—was distinctly racier than the other. When that original version (Dell No. 542) was republished (as Dell No. 1542), the redhead who’d previously been zipping up her skirt and displaying a handsome cleavage was now merely adjusting a shirt cuff. (Click on either of those images for an enlargement.) According to Bookscans, a paperback history site,
This is the only Dell cover illustration ever to be altered. The first was published in 1951, the later printing appeared in 1953. Robert Stanley remembers painting over the old illustration, but claims that he was never told the reason, or who the request came from. William Lyles, the Dell bibliographer, believes the change was ordered by either [William] Morrow (the hardcover publisher) or by Erle Stanley Gardner ...

The model in the illustration was obviously one of Stanley’s favorites. She graces the covers of literally dozens of vintage paperbacks. You guessed it ... she’s his wife, Rhoda.

So what happened between 1951 and 1953 that might have prompted such a change? Plenty. In 1952, Congress convened the House of Representatives Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials. They wound up “suggesting” that a list of 60 paperback titles be banned by communities throughout the country, including works by Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck and Irving Shulman, to name only a few. ... Of particular interest to the Committee was the “pornographic” nature of modern book covers. Oddly, the Book Jacket Designers Guild (yes, they had a union, too) agreed with them. They saw no reason to make jacket illustrations overly provocative, especially if the work itself was not particularly sexual in nature.

This book [
Fools Die on Friday] was NOT on anybody’s “bad” list, but somebody obviously thought the original cover illustration had crossed the line between good taste and indecency. And so Stanley was told to change the scene. The cover art is actually very true to the story. You will notice the copywriters also changed the dialog at the top of the scene. While they’re both close, neither of the quotes listed on the covers is taken verbatim from the text.

(In the book, Donald Lam, who unwittingly has a knack for attracting ALL women, has stashed a key witness in his apartment. Sgt. Sellers is on his way to search the place. She’s taking a bath when Lam gets there, just ahead of him. He—ever the honorable hero—turns his back as she gets dressed. Hey, whaddya expect in the early 50’s? That’s as risqué as it was allowed to get!)
I guess American Puritanism comes and goes. Thanks to today’s condemnatory, hyper-religious posturing of U.S. conservatives and the dimwitted complacency of everybody else, it seems, the country is enduring another of its prudish periods. Fortunately, those old paperbacks aren’t yet being burned on the White House lawn, and I live with confidence that these priggish times, too, will pass.

SEE MORE:Happy April Fool’s Day, Everyone!” (Killer Covers).

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Women Rule: “The Ungilded Lily”

This 11th post completes Killer Covers’ tribute to March as Women’s History Month. To enjoy the whole series, click here.

The Ungilded Lily, by Morton Cooper (Gold Medal, 1958).
Illustration by Charles Binger.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Women Rule: “The Whispered Sex”

The Whispered Sex, by Kay Martin (Hillman, 1960).
Illustration by Ernest Chiriacka, aka Darcy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Women Rule: “Nude in Orbit”

Nude in Orbit, by “Gene Cross,” aka Arthur Jean Cox (Nightstand, 1968). Illustrator Darrel Milsap.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Women Rule: “Geisha”

Geisha, by Stephen Longstreet and Ethel Longstreet (Popular Giant, 1961). Illustrator unknown.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Women Rule: “Luck Is No Lady”

Luck Is No Lady, by “Larry Kent,” aka Ron Ingleby (Cleveland Publishing, Australia, 1969). Illustrator unknown.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Women Rule: “Demon Seed”

Demon Seed, by Dean R. Koontz (Bantam, 1973).
Illustration by Lou Feck.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Women Rule: “The Deadly Dames”

The Deadly Dames, by “Malcolm Douglas,” aka Douglas Sanderson (Gold Medal, 1956). Illustration by Bob Peak.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Women Rule: “Counter Girl”

Counter Girl, by Amy Harris (Midwood, 1962).
Illlustration by Robert Maguire. Back cover shown here.