Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Hardman Is Good to Find

Beginning next month, publisher Brash Books plans to reissue all 12 of Ralph Dennis’ crime novels starring Jim Hardman, an Atlanta, Georgia, cop who becomes an unlicensed private eye after being improperly accused of corruption and stripped of his badge. As author and Brash co-publisher Lee Goldberg told me in September, the first four Hardman yarns—beginning with 1974’s Atlanta Deathwatch—will reach bookstores by the end of this year, with the remainder appearing over the course of 2019. All of Brash’s Hardman editions will appear with stylistically uniform covers, as shown above.

Goldberg writes that Ralph Dennis (1931-1988) “isn’t a household name … I believe that he should be. He is widely considered among crime writers as a master of the genre, denied the recognition he deserved because his series of twelve Hardman books, which are beloved and highly sought-after collectables now, were poorly packaged in the 1970s by Popular Library as cheap men’s action-adventure paperbacks with numbered titles.”

Being curious about those “cheesy covers” that Goldberg says “present[ed] the series like hack work, dooming the novels to a short shelf-life and obscurity,” I went looking online for the original Hardman paperbacks, which rolled out between 1974 and 1977. Top-quality images weren’t always easy to locate, but I finally settled on the dozen displayed below.

While I agree that Popular Library’s presentation of Dennis’ novels suggested they were fit for the boobs-and-bullets crowd only, rather than for more discerning crime-fiction readers, at least the first seven of the 12 boasted cover illustrations by Ken Barr (1933-2016), a Scottish artist who worked for DC and Marvel comics, but is perhaps best remembered for the paintings he created for science-fiction and fantasy novels. (You can see examples of Barr’s artistry here, here, and here.) I can’t tell whether the final five entries in Popular Library’s Hardman line carry Barr’s work as well, for there’s no obvious signature on those covers, as there is on the first seven. But at least to my eye, they appear stylistically quite different.

What do you think of the new editions versus the old ones?

READ MORE:The Literary Life of Ralph Dennis,” by Richard A. Moore (Brash Books).


Vangogan said...

Old ones are better--the new ones are too uniform and internet generic. The old ones are varied and are art rather than photographs.

Jack Seabrook said...

I for one much prefer the original cover style.

Tim Hewitt said...

Definitely prefer the painted covers. I think the cover of #12, THE BUY BACK BLUES, is easily the best of the lot, and I’m not 100% certain its the work the the same artist who did the other non-Barr covers. The style seems similar, but considerably better than the others.

विकास नैनवाल 'अंजान' said...

I think old ones were better. They should have just reduced the font of the text on the covers to ensure the images are more prominent.

The new one has noirish feel to it but the instead of the characters would have been drawn then it would have looked far more better.

Lee Goldberg said...

It was never possible for us to use the original artwork even if we wanted to -- those covers were owned by Popular Library (and whomever acquired their assets when they folded) and the original art is long gone (or among collectors). Ken Barr's mock-ups for two of the covers were acquired by a private collector -- but he wants an outrageous amount to buy them.


Lee Goldberg said...

The HARDMAN covers 8-12 remiind me of THE HARDY BOYS covers from the 1970s... same font, same style of artwork.

TracyK said...

I like both.I do love old paperback covers, and I have lots of them all over my house, but I certainly would not have bought these in the 70's, and I was an adult then.

The new ones are fine and certainly more interesting than many current book covers.

In my ideal world, where money is no object, I would have a copy of both editions.

Anonymous said...

I like the old covers better too, but the new covers look just fine by “modern” standards. Funny though — the new covers still look more like “Vigilante/Men’s Action” than “Hardboiled/Mystery”.

8 through 12 of the original run look like Lou Feck’s work to me.