Monday, January 31, 2011

Double Barreled

I was very pleased with art director Chip Kidd’s eerie front for Villain (Pantheon), a crime novel by Japanese author Shūichi Yoshida that appeared on U.S. bookstore shelves last year, complete with a cover photograph by Francois Robert. (See the image above on the left.) In fact, I pushed to include Villain in The Rap Sheet’s Best Crime Novel Cover of 2010 competition---and it won!

Recently, though, I spotted the teaser poster for The Mechanic (above, right), a brand-new action flick with Jason Stratham reprising the role of Arthur Bishop, a professional assassin who was portrayed in the original, 1972 version of this film by Charles Bronson. The similarities between this poster and the book cover are pretty obvious. Yes, you can quibble about the fact that the handgun in Robert’s photo is shaped from the major bones of the human body, while the image of an automatic pistol on the Mechanic one-sheet--credited to a Los Angeles audio/visual/graphics firm called Ignition Print (which also created the poster for the upcoming Matthew McConaughey picture, The Lincoln Lawyer)--is composed of assorted other guns. But the concepts are certainly analogous.

Let’s hope this is a onetime coincidence, not a design trend.

Prime Parker

In addition to the wonder of just seeing back in print 18 of the late Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels--written under the pseudonym “Richard Stark” and starring his ruthless, one-named thief--there’s also pleasure to be had in the fact that these paperbacks are being so handsomely presented by the University of Chicago Press. Credit for their covers goes to “internationally respected Canadian book designer” David Drummond, who has posted images of his last three fronts from the series here.

Back in 2008, when he started work on the Parker novels, Drummond explained that “The publisher wanted a hard-boiled mystery look for this reissue of the famous crime novel series. They also wanted it to have a film noir sensibility with a strong sense of locale/place. It also has to have an element that ties the series together.” He has certainly delivered all of those qualities.

The whole series is available here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

He Had a Way with Women

Leif Peng, the Canadian commercial artist behind the blog Today’s Inspiration, brings the sad news that American illustrator Mike Ludlow (born in 1921) died on December 11 of last year. According to a brief biography from The Great American Pin-Up (1996), by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel:
Ludlow was a glamour illustrator who did much pin-up work in the late 1950s for Esquire. He painted the entire twelve-page calendar for 1957--the last published by the magazine. His pin-ups also appeared in the series of three-page centerfolds known as Esquire’s Lady Fair. For these works, Ludlow often called on actresses like Virginia Mayo and popular personalities like Betsy Von Furstenberg in addition to professional models.

Besides painting his
Esquire pin-ups, Ludlow had another entire career as an illustrator of romance articles, providing pictures of beautiful women to mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, and Family Circle. From 1950 to 1960, he also painted many front covers for paperback novels, including among his clients Pocket Books, Dell Books, and Bantam Books. All his paperback covers had a strong air of sensuality and featured sexy pin-up girls as the main figures.

Ludlow was born in 1921 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. He attended the Art Students League, where he studied with William McNulty. His first commercial art assignment, for the Sunday supplement of the
[New York] Journal American, came in 1948. From the beginning, Ludlow has specialized in glamorous subjects and made beautiful women his trademark.
Unfortunately, it was not long after Ludlow’s 1957 Esquire calendar slid off the presses that the magazine moved away from hand-drawn artwork to illustrate its articles, and toward what its editors considered the more modern usage of photography. To make up for the decline in magazine assignments, Ludlow took on advertising work (for Ballantine Ale and Douglas Aircraft), but also crafted the covers for LP music albums--and, of course, books.

It just so happens that one of my favorite women-in-distress paperback covers--from the 1952 Dell edition of Lawrence G. Blochman’s See You at the Morgue (1941)--was illustrated by Ludlow. (See that art atop this post.) And he was responsible, too, for the 1953 Dell Books edition of To Catch a Thief (displayed on the right), the David Dodge novel on which the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock romantic thriller of the same name was based. Ludlow’s other book-front credits include the 1952 Dell edition of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bedrooms Have Windows; the 1951 Dell paperback version of Leslie Ford’s The Bahamas Murder Case; the 1950 Pocket Book edition of Halo in Brass, by John Evans (aka Harold Browne); the 1952 cover of Dell’s Border Town, by Carroll Graham; the 1962 first printing of Faith Baldwin’s Wife vs. Secretary; and the 1952 Dell edition of Rogue Queen, by L. Sprague de Camp.

(Click on the images for enlargements.)

Before this week, I was less familiar with Ludlow’s pin-up illustrations. Many of them are outstanding, though, including the two below: his 1955 painting for Esquire of Swedish model-actress Anita Ekberg (left) and the Lady Fair image on the right.

In honor of Mike Ludlow’s passing at age 89, Today’s Inspiration will be posting examples of his work all this week.

READ MORE:The Golden Age of Magazine Illustration,” by Vicki Woods (The Daily Telegraph); “Mike Ludlow, Story Illustrator” and “Mike Ludlow, Advertising Artist,” by Leif Peng (Today’s Inspiration).

“Pretty Much the Best Job Ever”

Christopher King, the new art director at New York-based publisher Melville House, recently gave a thoughtful interview to the Caustic Cover Critic blog. In the course of it he spoke about the value of using original (rather than stock) images, his design inspirations, and the creative value of working for a small publisher.

“I’m never asked to make a book ‘look’ like a certain category or to directly copy another title,” King explained, “which most designers would probably agree is all too common in commercial publishing--one will notice that most American YA books now look like Twilight, and I’d be surprised if thrillers don’t all start to look like imitations of the Millennium series in short order, based on the success of Peter Mendelsund’s covers.”

Click here to find the interview, as well as a selection of King’s exceptional book covers (look especially for the playfully devious front of The Craigslist Murders).

Scanning the Globe

I must admit that my usual focus, when it comes to the covers of vintage novels, is American and British titles. But yesterday, Spinetingler Magazine’s Brian Lindenmuth pointed me to the excellent Vintage Irish Book Covers blog, which appears to be a project of Dublin graphic designer Niall McCormack.

Should you be interested in more international book fronts, check out this Web site featuring Czech book covers of the 1920s and ’30s; Spanish Book Covers, which offers detectives, masked gangsters, pin-ups, skeletons, and zombies; and French Book Covers, a page of provocative designs that may not always be safe for opening at work.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not Exactly a Ringing Endorsement

Generally speaking, when a publisher goes hunting for recommendations to highlight on its book jackets, the quotes sought are at least somewhat more enthusiastic than this one that appeared on the 1959 Ace Double mystery paperback edition of Harry Whittington’s Play for Keeps (the full hardcover edition of which was released by Abelard Schuman two years before).

By the way, the novel on the flip side of Ace’s Play for Keeps was The Corpse Without a Country, by Louis Trimble (1917-1988).

Book Design a Goner?

In a rather humorous but nonetheless horrifying piece for The Book Designer, Joel Friedlander blames the failure of this 560-year-old art form to the deadly virus known as “digitization.”

(Hat tip to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)

Danger, Dicks, and Damsels in Distress

Acting on the suggestion of a reader, I recently added to Killer Covers’ right-hand column a link to the Pulp Fiction Collection at the University of Otago, New Zealand. If you haven’t taken the time yet to explore that resource, you really should. It includes pulp titles produced in Australia and the United States, arranged according to their genres, from detective stories to westerns, science fiction, sports, war tales, and romance.

While it’s interesting to read about the pulps, what’s most enjoyable is simply paging through the site, gawking at the colorful book fronts. As the exhibition’s introduction says,
The covers are memorable. They are remembered for their feverish depictions of ‘high-octane’ moments. They are famous for their half-dressed damsels in distress, the scantily clad dame. It didn’t matter that the crime series were about male detectives, the covers lovingly depicted sexually idealized women who posed, pouted and promised more than the stories ever delivered. There were also the guys, with their smoking guns, the fedoras, and the inevitable cigarette. Importantly, the covers communicated the type of book it was. At one glance, the buyer (reader) could easily recognize what he or she was getting: a sci-fi book, a crime story, romance, horror, etc. And if the lurid covers didn’t grab your attention, then the titles would. Who could resist Nude in a Boat, The Curse of Blood, Designed to Deceive, Blind Date with Death, or Nemesis for a Nude?
Begin your tour of the site here. You won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

With Two You Get Blogroll

Incredible as this seems, it was two years ago today that I launched the Killer Covers blog. I’d originally intended this as a pretty basic site, a place where I could explain a bit more about classic crime-novel fronts I was showcasing in the right-hand column of The Rap Sheet. But Killer Covers grew quickly, and began taking up more and more of my already insufficient free time.

It was all my own damn fault, of course: I was interested in discovering and writing more about the authors and artists whose work I displayed. I didn’t want to simply compose extended captions about each book face, or put up the book covers without any explanation, the way several other blogs already do. At some point last year, however, I realized that I couldn’t possibly keep up with a weekly schedule of Killer Covers posts, if they were all to be 1,500 or more words in length. So I started to trim back my expectations, eventually excusing myself for not updating the blog for a week or two at a time, because I didn’t have enough energy and extra hours to write everything I wanted.

During this last holiday season, I started to rethink the mission of Killer Covers. I accepted the fact that, since nobody is paying me to write the blog, I can’t devote my full time to it. I already over-schedule myself by trying to keep up The Rap Sheet and my third blog, Limbo--in addition to doing work that puts food on my table. I finally decided that Killer Covers should do more than host protracted posts about prominent 20th-century illustrators and authors whose work has often been forgotten. So from now on, you should see more brief and newsier postings here, focusing on cover-related developments in the crime-fiction world and pointing you toward book-design material appearing in other blogs. I won’t give up penning thorough articles about justly lauded artists such as Norman Saunders and Ernest “Darcy” Chiriaka, or novelists the likes of Talmage Powell and William Ard. And there are two or three interviews I’m hoping to post here in the near future. But I can’t only do time-consuming, comprehensive reports.

By the way, I have made another change in Killer Covers, as well. Elements of the right-hand column have been reordered. Near the top you’ll now find a selection of links to “Classic Cover Art Resources,” Web sites to which people (like me) who have a particular interest in learning more about vintage book design and illustrators can go for additional information. Beneath that are two blogrolls, the first featuring sites that spotlight crime fiction as well as other subjects I find fascinating, and a second where I’ve installed connections to blogs that talk primarily about the look of books. The number of sites in each of those blogrolls is limited, but can be easily expanded by hitting the “Show All” tabs at their respective ends.

To all you readers who have followed Killer Covers over the last couple of years, let me offer my sincerest thanks. In honor of this anniversary, and as a small gift, I’ve installed atop this post two more of my favorite classic jackets: The one on the left comes from the 1957 Permabooks edition of The Golden Widow, by Floyd Mahannah (artwork by Clark Hulings); the one on the right is taken from the Monarch edition of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely to Love, first published in 1960 (with cover illustration by Rafael DeSoto).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Did You Hear About Morgan?

Author Max Allan Collins first mentioned The Consummata to me during an interview I conducted with him for The Rap Sheet last May. It’s the long-awaited sequel to Mickey Spillane’s 1967 thriller, The Delta Factor, featuring a professional thief known only as Morgan the Raider. The Consummata was one in a small stack of uncompleted manuscripts that Spillane left behind--and specifically in Collins’ care--when he died in the summer of 2006. Since that time, Collins has been slowly but surely finishing those Spillane yarns and arranging for their publication. He wrote in his blog earlier this month that wrapping up The Consummata was more difficult than some of those previous projects:
I’m very pleased with it, but it was a tricky one. Mickey had completed 108 double-spaced pages, but this time I had no plot or character notes. Even the evocative title itself (which had been announced by Signet Books many years ago) went unexplained. It required really getting inside the manuscript, and Mickey’s head, to figure out where he was headed ... and I think I pulled it off.
This book isn’t due out from reborn publisher Hard Case Crime until September 2011, but Collins has already posted the cover (shown above). You may recognize the illustration as coming from famous paperback artist Robert McGinnis--the second time he has created the front for one of Collins’ numerous novels. (McGinnis’ previous one was for The Last Quarry, 2006.) And if you think you’ve seen another cover from McGinnis’ brush that bears a striking resemblance to this one ... well, pat yourself on the back, because you’re right. The 1972 Signet paperback edition of The Bombshell, by Carter Brown (shown on the right) focuses on a very similarly posed woman, only in that one, the lady dangled a flower in her left hand, rather than a pistol.

Click on either cover for an enlargement.

Proceed with Caution

UK comics expert and blogger Steve Holland is right in the midst of building up a gallery of covers for books by Peter Cheyney (1896-1951), “Britain's leading writer of hard-boiled fiction,” as The Thrilling Detective Web Site describes him. During the course of his writing career, Cheyney created two distinctive characters: private eye Slim Callaghan and machine-gun toting FBI agent Lemmy Caution.

Holland admits right up front that he’s no fan of the Caution novels, a series that commenced with This Man Is Dangerous (1936) and concluded with Callaghan (1973). He writes in his Bear Alley blog that “the best thing about the Lemmy Caution books are the covers they inspired”--and there are certainly some wonderful examples of those, which you can study for yourself here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quick-Draw Artist

Gil Cohen’s illustration for a 1966 Male magazine story, “Detective William Clive--Is He the Real James Bond?” by Roland Empey (aka adventure writer Walter Kaylin).

For most of this past year, a blogger who signs himself Subtropic Bob has been developing the Web site Men’s Pulp Mags. He focuses there on “men’s adventure magazines of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s--sometimes called men’s pulp magazines, the ‘men’s sweats’ or just ‘the sweats.’” His posts often feature the sort of scantily clad women who were so popular on the pages of vintage American male-oriented periodicals--a fact that has earned Bob’s blog a silly “Content Warning” gate through which readers must now enter (“The blog that you are about to view may contain content only suitable for adults”). But believe me, unless you are the delicate sort who covers his ears whenever the “F word” is uttered and blushes three shades of scarlet while flipping between the scholarly articles in Playboy, there’s nothing in Mens’s Pulp Mags likely to give offense.

(Left: Cohen’s duotone for Stag, November 1971.)

And there’s plenty to relish. For instance, Bob’s recent interview with artist Gil Cohen. Although he’s now familiar to many people solely for his outstanding aviation illustrations, Men’s Pulp Mags points out that “Cohen hasn’t always been known primarily for his aviation art.”
Some people know him more as a vintage pulp paperback cover artist. During the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, Cohen created cover art for many different types of books.

He’s especially well known for the cool covers he did for Don Pendleton’s long-running series of action-adventure novels featuring Mack Bolan, The Executioner.

Other Gil Cohen fans know him primarily as one of the best of many great artists who did cover paintings and interior illustrations for men’s adventure magazines from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. That’s how I first became one of his fans.
Over the course of their discussion, Subtropic Bob asked Cohen about his early work for pulp magazines and paperbacks, his hesitancy about painting figures (“In those days, I couldn’t paint a beautiful, sexy woman to save my life.”), his fondness for duotone paintings, and much more. Part I of their exchange can be found here; Part II is here. Bob promises to post a third installment--as well as more of Cohen’s deliciously provocative artwork--this coming week.

UPDATE: The third and final part of that Gil Cohen interview is here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Face Time

Want to know which typefaces are most often used by winners of book design awards? The FontFeed has the answers:
The American Association of University Presses (AAUP) holds an annual Book, Jacket & Journal Show which catalogs the best in book design and exhibits it around the country. ...

The catalog of the show is a beautiful record of the selected entries, and, because typeface credits are included, it’s also a good gauge of current trends in typeface selection for books and journals.

We ordered catalogs from the last three years of the show and tallied the typefaces used. The results won’t shock you--each of the top 10 is a tried-and-true classic. Yet there is so much more great type out there begging to be used for academic text and titling. So, along with the champions, I’m recommending a few less common alternatives that offer just as much readability, function, and beauty for today’s books and journals.
Fontfeed’s top-10 list appears here.

(Hat tip to January Magazine.)

Best Front Forward

If you missed spotting it last week, note that The Rap Sheet has announced the winners of its Best Crime Novel Cover of 2010 contest.