Blogger Ben Boulden posted earlier this month, in Gravetapping, about a 1971 Ace Books paperback release titled If Dying Was Easy. It was prolific author Ron Goulart’s first of four novels featuring Southern California private eye John Easy. Boulden wrote in his post that “the cover art is absolutely groovy. Not just anyone can pull off an ascot, polyester bell bottoms, and Florsheims. The artist: Beats me. Although I do know I really, really like this cover.”
As it turns out, that illustration was done by Elaine Duillo. The Lynn Monroe Books Web site offers a short bio of Duillo, which begins:
Elaine Duillo was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928. As a teenager at the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, she met her future husband John Duillo [also an artist]. Elaine was not the first female paperback artist, but she was the first that most collectors noticed. She was not the only female romance cover artist; she was the best romance cover artist period. Her ability to capture fantasy by using realism captivated us. Her extraordinary talent, vivid use of color and eye-catching details engage the viewer every time. Around 1959 or 1960, Elaine began doing magazine illustrations and paperback covers for the Balcourt Art Service. It was still a man's world in those days, and on some of her early work, especially for the men’s adventure magazines, she signed a male name.Monroe provides a quite lengthy checklist on her site of Ms. Duillo’s artistic creations, including romance novels, crime and mystery tales, and “adult” paperbacks. There doesn’t seem to be anything about the style of her work that identifies it as having been executed by a woman: her male figures are hard-jawed or comical, whatever the assignment demands; her female subjects are every bit as sexy as those that might have dripped from a man’s paintbrush--as you can see by looking at the cover of 1975’s The Topless Tulip Caper, by Chip Harrison (aka Lawrence Block), shown atop this post.
“The men's magazine illustrations were usually signed with a man's name as the publisher would not hear of a woman artist,” Elaine told me in a letter last year. “The Art Director of course knew who I was. I no longer remember those male names that I used, nor do I remember the titles.” Elaine tells us her first two covers were circa 1960 romances, their titles lost for now. The earliest paperback cover I have found with the distinctive “Elaine” signature is a 1961 Ace paperback called Obsession by Kim Darien.
The Society of Illustrators, which added Duillo’s name to its Hall of Fame back in 2003, is lavish in its praise of her work:
In the admittedly highly specialized realm of American romance fiction Elaine Duillo is heralded by readers of that genre as “The Queen of Romance Cover Art,” but she is far more than that. The artist’s commitment to stories of romantic adventure is what gives her work its inspiration and its edge, but she is, also, easily, as skillful as any artist who has ever been inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame. Her superlative draftsmanship, her exquisite sense of design, her feeling for gesture and nuance, and the striking command of mood through use of color, are coequal and exceptional attributes of her work. One might say, not knowing of her passion for this kind of story, not for the literary merit such stories can often attain, that the qualities of her art go far beyond the needs and limitations of the genre with which she is so well associated. But this is the mark of a truly great illustrator--to be able to transcend the inherent limitations of a subject and too take with equal commitment, each assignment as it comes along, producing, with flawless veracity and dependable consistency, works of true artistic excellence.I don’t have many chances to toast women illustrators on this page; they simply weren’t as well-recognized or active during the heyday of crime and mystery paperback novels as were some of their male counterparts. So let me showcase, below, a few examples of Duillo’s work. Click on any of the images to open an enlargement.