Friday, August 25, 2017

Pay Attention, Big Boy!

(Above) The First Quarry, by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime, 2008), with cover artwork by Ken Laager. (Below, right) The Art Studio Murders, by Edward S. Aarons (MacFadden, 1964),
featuring an illustration by Robert K. Abbett.

Sexual seduction sells. Just ask the producers of TV commercials, or the editors of Playboy, or even the authors of myriad young-adult novels who have discovered they can boost their readership by filling plots with toothsome vampires. Book-cover designers are equally well-versed in the power of sensual temptation. That’s been especially true of those responsible for paperback cover art. From the early era of paperback books, publishers have understood that sales can be boosted if they decorate their façades with shapely legs, or smoothly rounded breasts, or—best of all—scenes in which one lightly clad individual seeks to inveigle another into carnal congress.

Nine years ago, in the diapered days of The Rap Sheet, I sought to make this point with a post showcasing sexy vintage paperback fronts. At the time, Hard Case Crime was preparing to release Max Allan Collins’ The First Quarry, the earliest of what will now soon be seven prequels to his original, 1976-1987 series starring a hard-boiled contract killer known only as Quarry. (The new Quarry’s Climax is due out this coming October.) I opened my 2008 Rap Sheet post with some brief remarks about Ken Laager’s cover art for Collins’ novel—embedded above—and noted that its concept followed a tried-and-true pattern. “[It] shows a man seated on a couch (presumably the aforementioned assassin), holding what looks to be a gun,” I wrote, “while a curvaceous brunette stands in front of him, quietly but seductively removing her brassiere—though he seems too involved in whatever he’s thinking to notice. This sort of cover illustration—of a sexy female with her back turned to the book buyer, displaying her virtues to some man … who is either surprised or distracted by other matters—has become something of a standard.” I then went on to feature eight examples of similar covers.

In the years since, I have amassed many more such paperback fronts. I always had it in mind to elaborate on my original Rap Sheet post, but only this week did I find time enough to edit that collection. Below you will find 112 covers on which women bare or prepare to bare their assets to men (and occasionally other women), either voluntarily or not, and with varying responses. This artwork was drawn from the Web and other sources, but I owe particular debts to novelist Bill Crider, in whose fine blog you’ll find older paperback covers posted every day, and Art Scott, co-author of The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (2014), who—while we were both attending last year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans—handed me a USB flash drive containing hundreds of paperback fronts on which women appear in states of dishabille. (I’m still looking for other ways to bring the rest of those images to the attention of Killer Covers followers.)

Among the artists represented in this gallery are McGinnis, of course, but also Harry Schaare, Charles Binger, George Ziel, Paul Rader, Robert Maguire, Mort Engel, Rudy Nappi, Carl Bobertz, Barye Phillips, Fred Fixler, Tom Miller, Ernest Chiriacka (aka Darcy), Edward Mortelmans, Mitchell Hooks, Ron Lesser, Raymond Johnson, James Meese, Charles Copeland, Robert Stanley, George Gross, Harry Barton, Darrell Greene, Jerome Podwill, and Stanley Borack.

Click on any of the covers here to open an enlargement.

Additionally, there’s a subcategory of similar covers on which women pose in the altogether for (at least mostly) artistic purposes. One of my favorites among these is the 1968 Fontana Books edition of Shabby Tiger, by Howard Spring (shown at the bottom left of this set), with a cover illustration by Italian painter Renato Fratini. You can enjoy Fratini’s original art for that paperback here.

Twentieth-century magazine editors, seeing how successful paperback publishers had been with this style of artwork, tried it themselves. Below and on the left is the cover from the July 1954 edition of Manhunt; while beside it is embedded the front from the November 1956 issue. Sadly, I don’t know who painted either piece.


John said...

Holy Mackerel! What a collection! I could "barely" get through them all!

Norman Conquest said...

Well all I can say is wow.