Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Moses Gets Moll’d

I own two very different copies of Roger L. Simon’s The Big Fix: a 1973 first-edition soft-cover published by San Francisco-based Straight Arrow Books, which my friend Byron Rice was kind enough to give me during his trip out to my home in Seattle last summer; and Pocket Books’ 1974 mass-market paperback edition shown above, which I purchased in 1980 (according to a note inside the cover). As much as I enjoy having the former, classic version of Simon’s original Moses Wine private-eye yarn in my library, I find the latter paperback to be more attractive. Its frontal artwork nicely represents several, if not all, of the chief highlights of Simon’s plot, as described on the book’s back—“political sabotage, a Satanist cult in the Hollywood Hills, a fatally beautiful Chicana, and a Harpo Marx-style radical who may have turned mad bomber!”

I’ve pulled that 1974 copy down from my shelves several times over the last half-decade, notably in order to pen a 2013 column about The Big Fix for Kirkus Reviews, and then again late last year when I was editing Steven Nester’s “forgotten books” critique of the same yarn for The Rap Sheet. And in all instances, I have appreciated its cover illustration without ever knowing the identity of the artist. There’s no credit supplied inside this novel, and the only hint at the painter’s identity are the initials “CM” inscribed (very small—get out your magnifying glass!) in the picture’s lower right-hand corner.

When, not long ago, my curiosity finally got the better of me, I started investigating. I turned for assistance to the Today’s Inspiration Group on Facebook, a lively successor to Canadian commercial artist Leif Peng’s long-running design-oriented blog, Today’s Inspiration, and a site with plenty of artists among its members. Peng himself suggested to me that “CM” might stand for Charles Mikolaycak (1937-1993), a man who’s remembered primarily for his children’s book illustrations, but who also created a striking set of covers for Andre Norton’s fantasy novels in the 1970s and early ’80s. It didn’t seem inconceivable that Mikolaycak could have been commissioned to give Pocket’s Fix its façade.

However, graphic artist Mitch Itkowitz weighed in soon after that with what I’ve come to believe is the correct answer to my query. He says responsibility for that Big Fix art belongs to Charles Moll.

Moll is not someone I’d heard of before, and it is not easy to find information about him. Believing him to still be alive, I tried contacting the artist a few times, using an e-mail address supplied by someone with whom he’d had previous contact—but I heard nothing back. Searching the Web is equally frustrating. Here’s a too-short bio of Moll from a pop-culture Web site called Reprehensible Digest:
Clearly an active force during the 1970s, Moll was responsible for several iconic film posters ranging from Bugsy and Logan’s Run to Three Tough Guys and White Dawn. Moll’s publishing credits in the book industry were no less impressive. His works have been associated with many sci-fi legends like Poul Anderson, Barry Malzberg and Robert Silverberg. While Moll is typically branded as a science-fiction specialist, his style and range transcended all genres of publishing. Moll has delivered quality illustrations for horror novels, general fiction and comedy. His clever blend of surrealism and humor often gave his illustrations a hip, futuristic feel.

As an artist, Moll was known to be heavily associated with Warner Brothers Studios. It is unclear whether he was an inside regular or hired gun, but Moll’s works were always well promoted and properly endorsed. With no shortage of professional commissions, Moll was a force to be reckoned with. Whether he is still actively generating brilliant art or has passed on to that great gallery in the sky, one thing is certain—they don’t make artists like Charles Moll anymore.
In addition to those non-SF works already mentioned, this artist also painted covers for books by William Kennedy (Legs, shown below), Eve Babitz (Slow Days, Fast Company), T.A. Waters (In the Halls of Evil), and Walter Satterthwait (the 1980 Dell paperback front of his standalone crime novel Cocaine Blues is displayed on the right). However, Moll’s SF and fantasy credentials are strong, with his art decorating books born from the imaginations of John Brunner, Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, and their ilk. Of Moll’s credentials as a “sword and sorcery artist,” the Finland-based publisher Castalia House wrote this:
The psychedelic era of rock music had a distinctive look for album covers. That artistic style spilled over into mass paperback book covers.

One could argue that Charles Moll was the most psychedelic artist for sword and sorcery fiction paperbacks. ... He painted covers for paperback books in the science-fiction and fantasy genres from 1971 to 1982.

Within the realm of sword and sorcery fiction, Moll like so many others worked for Lancer Books. Moll did the covers for Michael Moorcock’s
The Dreaming City (1972) and The Sleeping Sorceress (1972). ...

Moll did some work for Ace Book including “Andre” Norton’s
Huon of the Horn (1973). He also did some covers for Signet/New American Library. Some of you may remember covers for Poul Anderson paperbacks. …

During the late 1970s, most of his work was for Pocket Books. The style became less psychedelic. Moll did the covers for reprints of four of John Jakes’ “Brak” series in 1977-78. ...

Moll has had a few isolated paperback covers since 1982. His style of trippy dippy cover art was of a specific time. He is truly a forgotten sword and sorcery artist.
It’s not difficult to locate examples of Charles Moll’s excellent artistry on the Web. In addition to the previously mentioned sources, The Ragged Claws Network offers these specimens, and Flickr features a whole page devoted to his work. The book covers and two film placards below show the broad extent of his talents.

Click on any of these images to open up an enlargement.

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