Monday, June 22, 2015

Chew on This

I don’t want to spend much more time on the subject of shark covers, but after Saturday’s post in The Rap Sheet about Roger Kastel and his illustration for the 1975 paperback release of Jaws, I came across the hardly less hair-raising book front featured below and on the left.

Killer Sharks: The Real Story, by Brad Matthews, was published in 1976 by Manor Books. As one customer review on Amazon says, it “purports to be the story of a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis … who mounts a one-man crusade to kill a thousand sharks in his lifetime as revenge for the carnage following the sinking of the Indianapolis.”

Indeed, the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser Indianapolis was sunk in the South Pacific in July 1945, during World War II, following a torpedo assault by a Japanese submarine. Some 300 of the ship’s 1,196 crewmen went down with the vessel, while the rest were cast adrift on the ocean, dependent on whatever supplies they could collect from among the debris. More than three days passed before rescuers reached the site, and by then only 321 of the sailors remained alive; three more died soon after. Most of the deceased had succumbed to hypothermia, starvation, and dementia, but others were reportedly attacked by oceanic whitetip sharks or tiger sharks.

A boilerplate description of Killer Sharks’ story reads:
During WWII, Brad Matthews watched in horror as hundreds of his comrades on the torpedoed Indianapolis were torn to shreds by ravenous killer sharks. From then on, the young oceanographer vowed to devote his life to the study of nature's most perfect killing machine. His adventures span three decades of bloody encounters with the gaping jaws of death. He has witnessed sharks gorging themselves on human flesh, heard the cries of terrified victims he could not help, and barely escaped the savage attack of a great white. This is the real story--a saga written in the blood of countless men and women.
That all sounds good … except that “Brad Matthews” was a pseudonym of American thriller novelist Nelson DeMille, who was born in August 1943. At the time of the Indianapolis disaster, he’d have been approaching his second birthday. The story goes that DeMille was asked by his then publisher to compose a book capable of cashing in on the Jaws frenzy, and Killer Sharks was the result.

Despite the dubious veracity of its contents, the cover of Killer Sharks remains a grabber. Its painting is credited to Ken Barr, who was born in Scotland in 1933 and has also created movie posters and done a great deal of work for comic-book publishers. A small selection of Barr’s other book fronts can be enjoyed here.

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