Dare to Judge This Book

Great Pulp & Paperback Cover Artists
(An Intro)

"... the covers were sometimes printed in advance, before there was a story. So what the editor did was show me the cover or a drawing - it was usually a picture of a half-naked woman and someone stripping the rest of her clothes off her. And on that basis I wrote dozens of stories."

-- Bruno Fischer, in Danger Is My Business by Lee Server

Gleefully politically incorrect, the cover art of paperback books, produced by both the major publishers and the semi-underground press, in the years following World World II, were designed for one purpose: to sell books.

And sell books they did. During the decades between 1939 and 1969, the art of paperback cover illustration rose to its peak. Many of the illustrated covers produced during this time were influenced heavily by the pulps that had emerged in the late 1920's, and it wasn't uncommon for publishers to establish graphic identities which consumers could easily recognize among the hundreds of paperbacks being sold in drugstores, newstands, bus stations and yes, even bookstores. These days, books whose authors are long forgotten are still hunted aggressively by collectors solely for their covers. After all, a book's cover artist frequently carried a greater responsibility for getting a reader to pick up a novel and buy it, than the hack who actually wrote it. I mean, you have to buy a book, and read it before you know if it sucks, but the cover's right there, in your face, laying it all on the line.

The covers had to suggest the mood of the prose within, and were thus by turns sexy, suggestive, moody, violent, and pulpy. Still, in these days of high school shootouts, pimped out child stars, and bestiality.com, they don't seem thart bad. In fact, there's something almost innocent about these covers. Sure, they were smirky and sexist and racist, relying far too heavily on stereotypes, depictions of violence and objectified women and plenty of other stuff that would be a hanging offence these days (and probably rightfully so), but the nostalgia value and the sheer exhilarating in-yer-face quality is very high indeed. And these guys were great artists, make no mistake about that!

(By the way, I'm still fumbling around here, so bear with me...anyone who knows more about this is kindly encouraged to whack me upside the head)

Some Great Cover Artists


Our pal J. Kingston Pierce strikes again, courtesy of CrimeReads.

David Saunders' amazing site, feasturing bios and samples of the great pulp artists.

A great overview of some of the very best paperback artists, with elected samples of their work.

Gary Lovisi's intriguing and informative 1995 essay on collecting aperbacks is a nice overview and introduction, for those just starting out. Part of the Paperbacks, Pulps & Comics web site.

Some suggested books for those interested in further reading. Part of our bibliography section.

J. Kingston Pierce, of Rap Sheet and January Magazine fame, reveals himself to be a crime cover geek of the first degree in this don't-miss blog.

A handful of links to get you started. Yes, we'lll gladly accept other suggestions.

List respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Randal Brandt for his big helping hand on this one, including entries on Ruth Belew, Leo Manso, Rafael Palacios and Robert Stanley. And to Mark M. Reid for his eagle eye.

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