Monday, May 23, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Getting Straight”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Getting Straight, by Ken Kolb (Bantam, 1968). This 1966 novel was later adapted as a 1970 comedy film starring Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen. Another of Kolb’s books, 1971’s The Couch Trip, also made it to the big screen, in 1988.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Freedom Road”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Freedom Road, by Howard Fast (Bantam, 1976). Published originally in 1944, this novel (the prolific Fast’s 14th) became the basis of a 1979 NBC-TV mini-series starring Muhammad Ali and Kris Kristofferson.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Before Adam”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Before Adam, by Jack London (Bantam, 1970). According to Wikipedia, this story— “serialized in 1906 and 1907 in Everybody's Magazine”—tells of “a man who dreams he lives the life of an early hominid.” Something of a departure for an author best known for the Klondike Gold Rush-era yarns The Call of the Wild and White Fang. The back cover is here.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: A Medley of Monsters

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

James Bama was a very busy guy in the 1960s. In addition to his labors on the Doc Savage adventure novels and the Nevada Jim westerns, he made something of a name for himself painting monsters. Not real ones, of course, but those created by authors as well as by Hollywood moviemakers. His fronts for Bantam Books’ 1967 paperback releases of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (above) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (below) couldn’t be overlooked on bookstore shelves. Neither could his rendering of a fictitious giant gorilla—“the Eighth Wonder of the World”—on Bantam’s 1965 edition (also below) of King Kong, Delos W. Lovelace’s novelization of the 1933 film of that same name.

In addition, Bama was commissioned by New York-based Aurora Plastics Corporation, a manufacturer of toys and hobby materials, to paint the packaging for a new line of film-related monster models. It helped that the artist had a longstanding interest in such creepy creatures. As James Gurney, artist and author of the illustrated book series Dinotopia, wrote some time ago in his blog, “When James Bama was a six years old, he went to see the classic Universal monster movies: Wolfman, Frankenstein and Dracula. ‘They were seriously done and beautifully crafted,’ Bama said. He was so scared afterward that he had to sleep in his mother’s bed.

“When he later became a professional illustrator, he got the assignment to illustrate the plastic model box covers. He used movie stills as reference for Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and Dracula.

“But parents complained that the actual plastic models didn’t live up to the painted covers. So starting with the Mummy, he worked instead from reference photos of the completed models. Despite the truth in advertising, the painting based on the actual model might not be quite as successful at presenting the fantasy.”

Frankenstein is said to have been the first of Aurora’s model kits bearing Bama illustrations. Like most of the remainder, it was available on store shelves between 1961 and 1968. A number of these models reappeared as part of Aurora’s “Frightning Lightning” series (1969) and the “Glow in the Dark” series (1969-1975).

During an interview conducted some years ago by Robert Deis, a Florida-based authority on men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork, Bama explained that he created the box illustrations for Aurora’s first 22 monster kits, but quit that job in 1965.

“They started having Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman riding hotrod cars, drinking blood from cocktail girls, driving through cemeteries,” he recalled. “It got to be too much. The art director used to leave the assignments in my office when I was out to lunch because he knew I didn’t want to do them anymore. But at first it was fun and they sold a million copies of each model. You know for $300, Bob, I was a well-paid slave. I wanted to be an illustrator since I can remember and I never was interested in money, and I just did them. I was always busy and I happen to have done a few things that are still popular. I can’t escape tem. I tell my wife the monsters and Doc Savage are going to outlive me.”

Below, you can see the Bama pictures that graced the Mummy’s Chariot and Frankenstein’s Flivver models.

(Special thanks to the pseudonymous KlaatuCarpenter, who uploaded onto Flickr most of the model-kit art I’ve used in this post.)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “The Movie Maker”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

The Movie Maker, by Herbert Kastle (Dell, 1969).

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “The Custer Wolf”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

The Custer Wolf: Biography of an American Renegade, by Roger Caras (Bantam, 1967). Roger Andrew Caras (1928-2001) was a U.S. wildlife photographer, author, and TV personality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: The Reality of McCoy

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Here’s a record few people can hope to rival: Australian author Leonard Frank Meares (1921-1993) published 746 novels during his career. What’s more, notes the blog Pulp International, “he didn’t even see his first on the shelf until he was thirty-four—young for publishing one’s first novel, but not for publishing the first of 746. Or better yet—look at it this way: that’s an average of just more than nineteen novels every year until he died at age seventy-two.”

Obviously, Meares wasn’t one to wasting time behind his typewriter. “Len never needed more than 24 hours to devise a new plot,” explains David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges), author and co-founder (with Mike Stotter) of Britain’s Piccadilly Publishing, which has re-reissued some of that prolific Aussie’s works over the years. He goes on to quote Meares as remarking, “Irving Berlin once said that there are so many notes on a keyboard from which to create a new melody, and it’s the same with writing on a treadmill basis.” It wasn’t unheard of for Meares to pen 30 books in 12 months!

Most of those were westerns, released under pseudonyms such as Marshall Grover, Johnny Nelson, Shad Denver, and Ward Brennan. In 1956, his 10th novel, Drift, came out Down Under, starring “his fiddle-footed knights-errant, Larry Valentine and Stretch Emerson, the characters for which he would eventually become so beloved,” as Whitehead recalls. Then, eight years on, Meares welcomed to print The Night McLennan Died, “the first of more than 70 oaters to feature cavalryman-turned-manhunter Big Jim Rand.”

“The [Rand] series started in 1964,” explains Michael Stradford, a book-art blogger and the director of Creative Content for Warner Home Entertainment, “and told the story of former cavalry sergeant Big Jim Rand, who abandoned the military to go on a mission of revenge to find the gambler who shot and killed his brother.” Stradford adds that about halfway through the series—which was credited to Marshall Glover—“Big Jim found his brother’s killer and settled that account before heading off to new adventures.”

(Left) Leonard F. Meares

Recognizing that it had hit a gold mine with the prolific Meares, his Australian publisher at the time, the Horowitz Group, sold America’s Bantam Books the rights to more than 30 of his short novels. As the story goes, though, legal reasons compelled Bantam to change both author and character names. Thus, “Marshall Grover” became “Marshall McCoy,” “Larry and Stretch” was modified to “Larry and Streak,” and “Big Jim Rand” was rechristened “Nevada Jim Gage.”

Bantam commenced issuing the Nevada Jim adventures in 1968, with cover art by James Bama. “Bama brought [model Steve] Holland in to pose as Nevada Jim, although he changed the likeness quite a bit in some illustrations and made Jim look more like Holland in others,” says Stradford, who studied the Nevada Jim series in preparation for writing his 2021 book, Steve Holland: The World’s Greatest Illustration Art Model (Primedia). “He also packed a lot of muscle on Jim in the paintings. Using similar color schemes that could often be found on his Doc Savage covers, Bama essentially offered ‘Doc out west’ but still managed to make the illustrations fresh and exciting. So much so, that several of the paintings were repurposed for a variety of other western novels, including a few by Louis L’Amour.”

According to veteran Texas author James Reasoner, 1968’s Big Lobo was the first Nevada Jim novel to reach U.S. bookshops, though it was “actually the thirtieth book in the original Big Jim series.” Reasoner says of Meares’ work: “[N]obody could pack more plot twists and back-story into 35,000 words than Len Meares. Almost nothing is what it seems, because Meares was a master at taking standard western situations and turning them upside-down. He didn’t do this in all his books, of course. … Many of them, though, have intriguing characters who turn out to be not at all what you expect when you start reading the novels, and that’s true of Big Lobo.”

Bantam issued softcover editions of at least 16 Nevada Jim yarns, fronted by Bama artwork. Surprisingly, they’re still fairly easy to find for sale, either in second-hand bookstores or online. I can’t say I own any, but I have several cover images in my computer files—which I am sharing here. The Killers Came at Noon, Limbo Pass, and No Gun Is Neutral are all said to have been released in 1968, with Bounty on Wes Durand and Killer Bait dated to the following year.

In case you’re curious, Meares passed away in New South Wales, Australia, on February 4, 1993, after being hospitalized with viral pneumonia. He was 72 years old, but could rightly be said to have produced enough books for a man twice his age.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “More Kennedy Wit”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

More Kennedy Wit, by Bill Adler (Bantam, 1965). Author Adler (1929-2014) was a New York-based literary agent, who’d churned out dozens of what one source called “‘instant books’: slim volumes on a timely subject, intended for prominent placement (preferably close by the cash register) and quick sales.” His 1964 paperback release, The Kennedy Wit, a compendium of John F. Kennedy’s press conference one-liners, debuted just months after the 35th president was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and became a national bestseller. He went on to compile the repartee of Robert F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, as well as the numerous letters sent to both Santa and President Barack Obama, and biographies of Fred Astaire and Princess Diana. Following his demise at age 84, The New York Times said Adler had “pursued his goal of being the P. T. Barnum of books by conceptualizing, writing, editing, compiling and hustling hundreds of them—prompting one magazine to anoint him ‘the most fevered mind’ in publishing …”

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Yankee Pasha”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Yankee Pasha, by Edison Marshall (Dell, 1964).

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Rag Top”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Rag Top, by Henry Gregor Felsen (Bantam, 1966). Originally published in 1954 as The Cup of Fury, this was one of Felsen’s many “hot-rodding” novels, written, he told Iowa’s Des Moines Register, “as a reaction to a rash of horrific accidents and teenage traffic fatalities.” The most famous among Felsen’s such yarns is certainly 1950’s Hot Rod.

READ MORE:Bud Crayne Is Back! An Interview with Holly Felsen Welch,” by Daniel Beaudry (Hemmings Motor News).

Friday, May 13, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: Purdy, Please

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Above: Malcolm, by James Purdy (Bantam, 1971). Below: Eustace Chisholm and the Works, by James Purdy (Bantam, 1968).

READ MORE:The Strange, Unsettling Fiction of James Purdy,” by Jon Michaud (The New Yorker); “‘I'm Not a Gay Writer, I’m a Monster’: How James Purdy Outraged America,” Andrew Male (The Guardian).

Bouquets for Bama: Engagement Extended

When, on April 29, I announced that Killer Covers would honor recently deceased artist James Bama with a succession of posts displaying selections from his decades of work, I fully intended to confine said series to a fortnight in length. Yet here we are, two weeks later … and there are still so many Bama covers deserving of attention.

Therefore, I’ve made the unilateral decision (it is my blog, after all) to extend Killer Covers’ tribute to that fine American painter and illustrator. It may last another week, or longer, but the point is to do justice to Bama’s talents. As always, stay tuned.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Star Trek”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Star Trek, adapted by James Blish (Bantam, 1967).

With the second season of Star Trek: Picard having ended just last Thursday—the same day on which the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was broadcast—my recent attention has been much focused on the legacy of Gene Roddenberry’s science-fiction TV series. The original Star Trek, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, debuted on NBC-TV on September 8, 1966, but disappeared from the airwaves on June 3, 1969, after three seasons.

Only seven months later, though, in January 1967, Star Trek (later retitled Star Trek 1)—the first of 12 paperback books adapting episodes from the show—reached print. Like the volumes to come over the next decade, it was credited to James Blish (1921-1975), a New Jersey-born SF author who’s probably best remembered for penning the four-volume Cities in Flight series. His 1967 collection of stories “was the very first officially licensed Star Trek tie-in book,” according to the Trek Web site Memory Alpha. Its 136 pages contained prose tailorings of the draft scripts from seven Season 1 episodes, including “Dagger of the Mind,” “Balance of Terror,” and “The Conscience of the King.” NBC may not have thought Star Trek deserved to stay on the air, but clearly its fans were not done with the program. “Within nine months of initial publication,” adds Memory Alpha, “the volume was re-printed five times.” I own a copy of the sixth printing, for which I apparently paid 60 cents.

That earliest book was the only Star Trek tie-in for which Bama provided a cover painting. Subsequent collections would carry art by Mitchell Hooks, Lou Feck, and others. I still have about half of them in my personal library. Real treasures.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “Salambo”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Salambo, by Gustave Flaubert (Berkley Medallion, 1966). According to Wikipedia, this novel “is set in Carthage immediately before and during the Mercenary Revolt (241–237 B.C.). Flaubert’s principal source was Book I of [Greek historian] Polybius’s Histories. The novel was enormously popular when first published [in 1862, as Salammbô] and jump-started a renewed interest in the history of the Roman Republic’s conflict with the North African Phoenician outpost of Carthage.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: “The God Hunters”

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

The God Hunters, by William Kelley (Dell, 1965).

Monday, May 9, 2022

Bouquets for Bama: As Good as Goldman

Part of a posthumous salute to artist James Bama.

Apparently, 1967’s The Harrad Experimentabout which I wrote the other day—was not James Bama’s first experiment with white-background paperback fronts. Southern California bookseller and books historian Lynn Munroe writes this about the 1965 edition of Willam Goldman’s Temple of Gold:
Before this book, any blank white space on a mass-market paperback cover was considered wasted space. Every inch of each cover had to be filled with color or text. Bantam [Books] started experimenting with white backgrounds, first with Mitchell Hooks, then James Bama.

The concept really took off with
The Temple of Gold. It was stark and riveting, with one figure in hyper-realistic detail and nothing else except a blank white background. As Brian Kane noted in James Bama: American Realist, The Temple of Gold eventually sold millions of copies.
This wasn’t the only one of Goldman’s novels for which James Bama provided a cover illustration. You can also see his artistry on the 1968 Bantam edition of The Thing of It Is … and the 1965 Bantam paperback Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow, both shown below.