Friday, August 12, 2022

Another Look: “The Benson Murder Case”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The Benson Murder Case, by “S.S. Van Dine,” aka Willard Huntington Wright (Pocket, 1946); cover illustration by Bill Gillies. Right: The Benson Murder Case, by “S.S. Van Dine,” aka Willard Huntington Wright (Scribner, 1983); cover art credited to Jerry W. McDaniel. I was reminded of this first novel starring amateur sleuth Philo Vance earlier this month, when Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics released a handsome new edition of the once best-selling mystery. Since I’ve never read it, I promptly snapped up a copy for myself.

READ MORE:He Created Nancy Drew Cover Art. Now, His Family Tries to Solve the Mystery of Two Portraits,” by D.J. Simmons
(CT Insider).

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Casting a Wide Net for Links

• Raymond Johnson’s art featured regularly on mid-20th-century paperback covers, particularly those in the crime- and science-fiction categories. I’ve showcased Johnson’s paintings a number of times in Killer Covers, but have always been curious to know more about the artist himself. So I was excited to hear that Rubén “DaCollector” Azcona, a regular contributor to the private Today’s Inspiration Facebook Group page, would be conducting a YouTube interview with Lowell Wilson, author of a beautiful new feature in Illustration Magazine about Johnson. Their exchange can now be seen here in its 2.5-hour entirety. Wilson shares myriad examples of Johnson’s work, some of which graced more than one paperback front, and a few I didn’t know were done by Johnson. Promptly after watching this interview, I ordered a copy of the Illustration Magazine (#77) in which Wilson’s profile appears. How could I pass it up?

• I love it when the blog Pulp International delivers its irregular cover-theme posts. The latest one collects “vintage paperback covers featuring characters on both the giving and receiving ends of knives—or knifelike tools such as icepicks.”

• Speaking of art themes, Paperback Palette blogger Jeff Christoffersen looks back here at artist Rudy Nappi’s many Nancy Drew (ND) covers. As he explains, “In 1952, Rudy Nappi was assigned by publisher Grosset & Dunlap to create cover art for their original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. He concluded his stint in 1979 with what is considered to be the final volume in the original series, volume 56. … Nappi tried to honor the original existing cover art wherever he could, while also updating Nancy’s look as per his publisher’s instructions. Eventually, he followed his own instincts, and his wife’s, who actually read the books on his behalf, composing new scenes for some titles, and on others actual montages, a first for the series. Nappi painted most of these with gouache on board. Along a similar vein, and coinciding with the ND’s, Nappi produced more than 58 of the original Hardy Boys series covers for the same publisher.”

• For the blog Kevin’s Corner, author James R. Benn relates some of the history behind the covers featured on his World War II-era Billy Boyle books, including the 17th and latest installment, From the Shadows, due out next month from Soho Crime.

• Here’s another good reason to go on living! Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, who have already published handsomely illustrated volumes about artists Samson Pollen and Mort Künstler, are preparing to release a new book focused on Brooklyn-born painter George Gross (1909-2003). Gross, writes Deis, “was one of the greatest of the many great illustration artists who created cover and interior illustrations for the men’s adventure magazines … In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Gross was also a top cover artist for paperbacks.” The authors debuted George Gross: Covered at the recent PulpFest in Pittsburgh, but haven’t yet made it available on Amazon, Book Depository, or other sales sites. Deis says he’ll post a preview of the work in his blog soon. Watch for it!

Finally, Michael Stradford, the man behind Steve Holland: The World’s Greatest Illustration Art Model and Steve Holland: Cowboy, reminds us that not only did Holland serve as the model for “Doc Savage, The Spider, The Phantom, The Avenger, countless cowboys and other iconic fiction characters,” but he was also cast as “television’s first ‘Flash Gordon.’” Holland, of course, filled the boots of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond’s space adventurer in the DuMont Network’s 1954-1955 series Flash Gordon. If you’ve never seen any of that show’s 39 half-hour episodes, you’re in luck: Stradford has embedded a colorized example in his post here.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Because I Needed a Thorp Fix …

Into the Forest, by Roderick Thorp (MacFadden, 1962). Originally released in hardcover in 1961, this was the first novel by Bronx native Thorp, who would go on to compose The Detective (1966), which provided the plot for a 1968 Frank Sinatra movie of that same name, and its 1979 sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever, adapted very loosely into the Bruce Willis action film Die Hard (1988).

Cover illustration by Ron Lesser.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A French Affair

Just take a glance at the calendar if you don’t believe me: This is Bastille Day in France—an appropriate occasion for you to revisit Killer Covers’ extensive collection of captivating paperback covers, assembled a few years ago to commemorate the 1789 public storming of Paris’ Bastille Saint-Antoine. Note that a number of book fronts have been added since that post’s original publication.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Another Look: “Death-Watch”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Death-Watch, by John Dickson Carr (Dell, 1952); cover illustration by George Mayers, with a “mapback” rear cover shown here. Right: Death Watch, by John Dickson Carr (Berkley, 1958); cover art credited to Robert Maguire. First published in 1935, this is the fifth of Carr’s 23 novels starring corpulent amateur sleuth Dr. Gideon Fell.

Monday, July 11, 2022

All Around the Blogosphere

• Back in March, when I posted the front from Fawcett Crest’s 1977 edition of Dancing Aztecs, by Donald Westlake, I was less familiar than I should’ve been with cover artist Charles Gehm (1929-2015). Earlier this month, however, The Paperback Palette—an excellent blog written by Denver, Colorado, librarian Jeff Christoffersen (aka Jeffersen)—featured a splendid backgrounder on Gehm, complete with numerous examples of his book illustrations. I’m particularly fond of Gehm’s art for Anya Seaton’s The Turquoise (1974) and The Bar Studs, a trashy 1976 novel about horny mixologists, penned by Len Levinson under his familiar pseudonym, Leonard Jordan.

• Let me emphasize the point that if you aren’t checking in occasionally with Christoffersen’s blog, you’re missing out on some fine stuff. A not-quite-so-recent post looked back at the original Nancy Drew book cover art by Russel H. Tandy (1891-1963).

• A Killer Covers reader who signs himself “Lapidus” points me toward this collection of “11 Beautiful Vintage Book Covers,” assembled by Publishers Weekly in 2017. We’re talking hardcover fronts here, and some dandy examples, to boot. Check out especially painter Edward D’Ancona’s dust jacket for the 1936 mystery novel The Night Flower, by “Walter C. Butler” (otherwise known as Frederick Faust, or as “Max Brand”), and Keith Vaughan’s illustration for 1949’s A Season in Hell, by Arthur Rimbaud.

• Pulp-era artist Margaret Brundage (1900-1976)—“famous, or infamous, for her many Weird Tales covers”—receives a bit of amply earned attention from ThePulp.Net.

• Finally, did you know that Jeff Popple, a contributor to Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, also has a blog called Murder, Mayhem and Long Dogs? It’s usually rich with thoughtful criticism of new or upcoming crime, thriller, and espionage fiction. But Popple also regularly indulges his appetite for trashy book-cover art. In this post from May, for instance, he showcases really horrendous paperback photo fronts from the 1960s and ’70s; while this late-June entry displays softcovers with, um, headless bikini models.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

My Kind of Book: “Expectant Nymph”

Expectant Nymph, by “Hank Janson,” aka Stephen D. Frances (Gold Star, 1964). Cover illustration by Robert Maguire.

Amazingly, eight years ago I compiled a good-size post for this page about novels featuring “nymph” in their titles, but I missed including Expectant Nymph. It was one of the later books featuring Chicago-based newspaperman-cum-detective Hank Janson. The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog offers the following plot synopsis:
When Hank Jason is given a routine assignment to interview a retired gangster, he doesn’t expect to be de-panted by a mysterious young woman. And neither does he expect to go swimming in the raw with a beautiful international stripper who has been seen au naturel by an estimated 10 million men. But it’s all in a day’s and night’s work to the Chicago Chronicle’s ace reporter.
A curious thing: I have long understood that Stephen D. Frances (1917-1989), an English clerk turned journalist turned prolific author, created the Janson character and wrote the books in this once-popular series that were published between 1946 and 1953, making only occasional additional contributions from then until 1959. After 1953, I was told, others writers—among them D.F. Crawley, Harry Hobson, Victor Norwood, and James Moffatt—had continued Frances’ efforts, also under the Janson pseudonym.

The beautiful Expectant Nymph first saw print in August 1964, well after Frances is said to have retired. Yet all the online sources I find credit him with actually penning the novel. Is this simply a case of laziness, applying Frances’ name to books even after he had nothing to do with them? If anyone reading this can clear up the actual authorship of Expectant Nymph, please drop a note into the Comments section at the bottom of this post.

Monday, June 13, 2022

My Kind of Book: “Assignment—Nuclear Nude”

Assignment—Nuclear Nude, by Edward S. Aarons (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968). This was the 27th entry in Aarons’ popular paperback series about fictional CIA agent Sam Durell. The cover illustration is by Robert McGinnis, of course.

That same McGinnis artwork was used on the front of a 1969 German release of The Campus Murders, one of three “Troubleshooter” thrillers credited​ to Ellery Queen but actually written by Gil Brewer.

READ MORE:Paperback Warrior Primer—Edward S. Aarons.”

Friday, June 10, 2022

Because I Needed a Kurland Fix …

The Infernal Device, by Michael Kurland (Signet, 1979). This is the first of Kurland’s five novels built around Sherlock Holmes adversary Professor James Moriarty.

Cover illustration by William Maughan.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Another Look: “This Woman”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: This Woman, by Albert Idell (Gold Medal Red Seal, 1952); cover illustration by Barye Phillips. Right: This Woman, by Albert Idell (Gold Medal, 1960); cover art also by Phillips.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: Speaking of Sensational …

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

(Above) The Crown, by Francis Pollini (Bantam, 1968).

Before I began work on this tribute series to James Elliott Bama, who died on April 24 at age 95, I knew little about that New York City-born artist and paperback-cover illustrator. This stands in noteworthy contrast to how I’d started previous celebrations, whether of Robert McGinnis, Robert Stanley, or Ron Lesser.

I wasn’t aware that Bama was the second son born to Benjamin Bama, a Russian immigrant from Minsk, and Selma Sarah Abrams. I was ignorant of the fact that he had idolized Flash Gordon comic-strip creator Alex Raymond as a boy, and that he’d scored his first professional art sale at age 15, when he convinced the New York Journal-American newspaper to purchase his drawing of Yankee Stadium. I didn’t know that he met his wife, New York University art history major Lynne Klepfer, at a party, when he was scouting around for a woman to model for him as a nurse—the subject of his latest cover painting. I was unaware that Bama’s eyesight commenced to fail him in the early 2000s, leading to the end of his career after a half-century.

(Right) James Bama self-portrait, 1972.

Above all, I had no clue as to how long this Killer Covers tribute would run, or how many examples of his artistry I’d want to fit into it. As it turns out, the post you’re reading is the 26th installment—and the last. I’ve been showcasing Bama paperback fronts since the end of April.

Over that time, we’ve seen his influence on crime novels, on westerns, on horror yarns, and of course, on the Doc Savage series with which he is so widely associated. I chose not to showcase Bama’s work for men’s magazines, as Robert Deis has done such a splendid job of that in his own blog. (See here, here, and here.) However, I did recognize Bama’s popularization of white-background paperback fronts, and his painting for the first Star Trek novel.

This series could go on for another month; instead, I’ve decided to close with a galley of 30 additional James Bama fronts (below). Among these you’ll find his illustrations for the “trashy, exploitative” Messalina, by Jack Oleck (Dell, 1963); Philip Roth’s Letting Go (Bantam, 1967); Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra (Dell, 1969), one of my mother’s prized examples of historical non-fiction; “the paperback potboiler” The Trojans (Bantam, 1967), by Wirt Williams; Desmond Morris’ “landmark study of human behaviour and evolution,” The Naked Ape (Dell, 1969); and Jack W. Thomas’ Reds (Bantam, 1976), featuring one of my favorite Bama covers.

Also embedded here are six covers he did for Louis L’Amour novels, and four painted for books about Nazi activity in World War II.

Finally, I must acknowledge some of the sources of the art and information used in this series: Michael Stradford’s ever-enlightening blog devoted to model Steve Holland, who posed for many of Bama’s illustrations; Southern California bookseller/books historian Lynn Munroe’s Web site, especially his essential checklist of Bama paperbacks; Leif S. Peng’s Today’s Illustration Group Facebook page, and the wonderful blog Pulp Covers. If you go looking online for examples of Bama’s artistry, including his late-career paintings of western American subjects, there are plenty to enjoy.

Who knew?

Click on the images below for enlargements.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “A Sense of Where You Are”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee (Bantam, 1967).

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “The Golden Ghetto”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

The Golden Ghetto, by Noel B. Gerson (Bantam, 1970). Published in hardcover in 1969, this novel’s title alludes to life on the seamier side. I was surprised not to be able to discover more about it online, as its author—while new to me—was incredibly productive. American Noel Gerson (1913-1988) is reported to have penned more than 150 books, including those published under his own byline and western fiction carrying the “Dana Fuller Ross” and “Donald Clayton Porter” house names.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: Savage Beauties

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Partly because James Bama is so familiar for having painted Doc Savage paperback fronts, and partly because I highlighted two examples of those in this series’ very first post, I have held off on displaying any further Savage covers. However, as this tribute begins to wind down (yes, it has to stop sometime), I want to be sure that Bama’s Savage artistry receives the attention it is due.

As I have explained previously, Bama was hired by publisher Bantam Books in the mid-1960s to create cover illustrations for a new line of Savage softcovers. He, in turn, brought actor and model Steve Holland into his studio as the new face of Clark “Doc” Savage Jr., a scientist, doctor, martial artist, inventor, and “master of disguise” who had been introduced to readers in the March 1933 debut issue of Doc Savage Magazine. The original Savage yarns continued to be turned out until 1949. They were officially credited to “Kenneth Robeson,” but that was only a house name; most of the writing was done by Lester Dent (1904-1959), a Missouri-born pulpster with a reported 175 novels to his credit, most of them in the Savage series. (Dent also penned short stories and standalone novels, such as 1946’s Devil at Take-off, 1948’s Lady Afraid, and Honey in His Mouth, which was published posthumously in 2009 by Hard Case Crime.)

The Pulp.Net says Bama “painted 62 of the first 67 covers” for Bantam, cementing the handsome Holland in modern book-buyers’ minds as the tanned, brawny, and gold-fleck-eyed “Man of Bronze” conceived in Dent’s imagination. Bama’s efforts were quite dissimilar from those of Walter M. Baumhofer (1904-1987), who’d illustrated Doc’s original pulp releases, but both deserve appreciation. (You can compare the respective artists’ contributions to this series by following the book-title links in this article.)

Gathering together all of Bama’s Doc Savage fronts would be a difficult task, both because there are so many of them, and because it’s not always obvious which he painted and which were created by others. Instead, I’ve picked 15 that I find interesting, including (above) Murder Melody, which was first published in 1967. Any Doc Savage fans out there are invited to mention their own favorite James Bama covers under “Comments” at this post’s end.

READ MORE:In the Beginning” and “The Final Doc Savage Session,” both by Michael Stradford (Steve Holland: The World’s Greatest Illustration Model); and just for fun, check out this wonderful collection of fantasy Doc Savage fronts.