Dare to Judge This Book:
Some Great Pulp & Paperback Cover Artists

JAMES AVATI

Considered by some to be the "greatest cover artist of them all," Avati was born in Bloomfield, New Jersey in 1912. He was a Fifth Avenue department store window display designer, a soldier in World War II, and an illustrator for magazines such as Collier's and The Ladies' Home Journal before breaking into paperback illustration in 1948. He produced dozens of covers for New American Library, notably for the Signet (including many well-known works of American authors) and Bantam lines.

Medium: His realistic, often emotionally-charged paintings were based on photographs which he took himself, done in oil on prepared hardboard, heavily influenced, he claimed, by the films he saw as a youth.

Works include:

  • Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy (Signet, 1949)

  • Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (Signet, 1952)
    Come to the Cabaret, ol' chum, and check out a decidedly earthier Sally Bowles...

  • The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams (Signet, 1952)

RUDOLPH BELARSKI
(1900-83)

Belarsky was originally a quite-in-demand artist for the pulps, who made his big move up the food chain to become a very well-known and respected paperback illustrator, only to return, in 1952, to pulp digest and magazine illustrations in 1952. Belarsk was already a well-known and respected paperback illustrator who had retired, only to return, in 1952, to pulp digest and magazine illustrations in 1952..

Look for: Eccentric and dramatic points of views, and peculiar perspectives. His distinctive work was said to have influenced the entire Popular Library line, far beyond the fifty or so covers he did for them.

Works include

  • The Strangled Witness by Leslie Ford (Popular Library, 1946)
    Classic dead beauty sprawled across the cover.

  • About the Murder of the Circus Queen by Anthony Abott (Popular Library, 1948)
    Off-kilter perspective (and doomed performer) flies through the air with the greatest of ease.

  • Tales of Chinatown by Sax Rohmer (Popular Libray, 1952).

  • Campus Town by Hart Stilwell (Popular Library, 1951)
    Perhaps Belarski's best known work (and one of his last for Popular Library) was this cheesy looking tale of a half-naked woman and a whip-wielding member of the KKK. It's got everything you need for a great cover: sex, sadism and social commentary. And a half-naked woman and a whip.

    Fantastic (Ziff-Davis Fantastic 1, Summer, 1952).
    A classic pulp digest cover, one of the first done when he returned to pulp digest and magazine illustrations in 1952. This particular issue included stories by Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler and Isaac Asimov. It sold for thirty-five cents which was about the same price as most paperbacks.

RUTH BELEW

Of all the interesting features of early Dell paperbacks, one of the most striking was the back-cover map or diagram. These cartographic fantasies have given the books their nickname "mapbacks." Belew was a Chicago artist who is credited with producing at least 150 maps, probably many more, between 1942 and 1951. She prepared the maps twice size in black ink on white cardboard, complete with banners and lettering. Then she sent them to Dell for approval. The maps were checked against the text for accuracy, changes were made, and a litho artist colored them.

Works include

  • The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett (Dell 129, 1946)
    Includes detailed routes described in Hammett's stories.

  • Beyond the Dark by Kieran Abbey (Dell 93, 1945)

EARLE K. BERGEY

More a sci-fi guy than a mystery guy, Earle K. Bergey nonetheless left his mark on the whole field. He started his career in the 1940's, producing covers for pulp magazines such as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories. He moved up, from pulp magazines to the Popular Library publishing company and drew 16 covers for that firm between 1948 and 1952. After leaving Popular Library, he painted covers for Pocket Books.

Look for: lots of reather big-chested women. Yep, Earle was a tit man.

Works include

  • The Big Eye by Max Simon Ehrlich (Popular Library,1950)
    Look out! It's a flying eye!

  • The Private Life of Helen of Troy by John Erskine (Popular Library, 1948)
    Pay special attention to the nipple that launched a thousand ships. Collectors do.

  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (Popular Library, 1949)
    Gee, men are such pigs. ..But hoo-boy, look at that cleavage!

  • Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully (Popular Library, 1951)
    Is the truth about UFO's being hidden from us? Did the author, Frank Scully, have a daughter called Dana? The Martians are attacking! Quick! Into the low-cut nightgowns!

RAFAEL De SOTO
(1904-87)

Born in Spain, Moved to Puerto Rico, and eventually New York City, where he studied to be an archaeologist, though he would have preferred to be apriest, de Soto was one of the most respected of the pulp cover artists, workinh for Street & Smith, Pines publications, Ace Magazines and, most notably, Populat Publications. He did over 800 pulp covers, and his covers were so good stories were often written about them, instead of the other way around. In later years, he eventually turned to religious art, and teaching the Bible using art.

Works include

  • H is for Heroin by David Hulbard (Popular Library, 1953)
    A downbeat, non-sensationalist treatment all the more powerful for its restraint. Give the junkie a halo, and this could be religious art.

SYD DYKE

Pretty much forgotten now (most of his work adorned Canadian pulp paperbacks), Winnipeg's Syd Dyke nonetheless contributed a slew of memorable covers to that country's post-war newsstands, most notablty perhaps the 1950 classics Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street by Al Palmer. Dyke worked primarily for Export Publishing Enterprises' News Stand Library, a cheapo imprint, and later, the more respectable Harlequin, back when Harlequin was publishing everything from westerns and Agatha Christie mysteries to romance novels. Dyke did covers for all of them.

Look for: At times reminiscent of the U.K.'s Denis McLoughlin, Dyke's stuff often also had a cartoonish quality and a crude blockiness about it, but there was also an air of almost whimsy to his backgrounds. As Dyke defender Brian Busby puts it: "look for a peculiar angle and a ridiculous amount of entirely superfluous detail."

Works include

  • Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street by Al Palmer (News Stand Library, 1950)
    Cheesy and sleazy, a Montreal pulp classic.

  • Holy Deadlock by A.P. Herbert (Harlequin, 1954)

  • Waste No Tears by Jarvis Warwic (News Stand Library, 1950)k
    Actually the extremely rare first novel by the later-to-be-much-respected Canadian author Hugh Garner, this one proudly bore the sub-title The Book About the Abortion Racket"

Related Links


GERALD GREGG

The Dell Mapback Airbrush Guy! Gregg was born in 1907 in Lamar, Colorado and graduated from the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee in 1928. He was hired to do cover illustrations for Dell paperbacks in 1943, and often used secretaries and stenographers as models. Gregg's highly-distinctive Dell mapback covers (he did over 170 of them) are unique among mass market paperbacks, and are among the most coveted mass-market collectibles.

Look for: Extraordinary airbrush technique and an often-abstract approach, stylistic contrasts of light and shadows, with a few bright colors used to accentuate particular features of his characters. Gregg called his style "a combination of graphic design and stylized realism."

Works include

  • Silent are the Dead and Killers are Camera Shy by George Harmon Coxe (Dell, 1948)

  • I Was a Nazi Flier: A German Pilot's Actual Diary by Gottfried Leske (Dell, 1943)
    A Dell War Book, with one of Dell's most-beloved motifs: a grinning skull, and an early appearance of what would become one of the longest lasting paperback cover motifs of all time: a swastika.

  • Curtains for an Editor by Thomas Polsky (Dell, 1945)
    An editor impaled on a spike of what might be rejection notices. Ouch!

  • Ill Met by Moonlight by Leslie Ford (Dell, 1943)

  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (Dell, 1943)
    Yet another impressive outing by Gregg, with some masterful airbrush work. Best part? No mention of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

  • Dark Passage by David Goodis (Dell, 1948)
    Just a classic. Breathtaking in its simplicity.

  • The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett (Dell, 1946)

  • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (Dell 1948)
    Serious literature gets the Gregg treatment, and proves to be a very popular edition.

MITCHELL HOOKS

One of my favorite artists, his covers for Bantam's late-seventies reissues of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels acted as the visual counterpoint to my descent into this literary obsession of mine. Imagine my glee to discover that, years later, Hooks illustrated (in a completely different style) another of my favorite series, Fawcett Gold Medal's printings of Peter Corris' series featuring Australian P.I. Cliff Hardy. One of the relative newcomers to these ranks, Hooks did illustrations for book covers and magazines from the late 1950's to the 1980's.

Works include

  • The Lew Archer series by Ross Macdonald
    A montage focussing on a vaguely modish-looking guy's head, often in a turtleneck, holding up a handgun, with one or two beautiful women circulating around him, and maybe some plot element, all clusted in the center of the cover, all rendered in a sketchy style. Looked sorta square at the time, but they ewere instantly recognizable. And they all had a photo of Macdonald on the back, trying to pose as a badass, complete with fedora.

  • The Cliff Hardy series by Peter Corris (Fawcett, mid-eighties)
    Sharp, high contrast illustrative portraits of the P.I. and all the basic P.I. elements (the phone, the desk, the cigarette, the gun, the bottle, the neon signs) inset into black cover. Moody, evocative, traditional, but classy. I used The Marvelous Boy (1986) as the very first cover for this site, in fact, and Heroin Annie (1987) for the February-March issue.

  • The Superspade series by B.B. Johnson (Paperback Library, seventies)
    How seventies can you get? This cat outshafts Shaft. And dig the afros!

  • The 007 Logo and the original movie poster for Dr. No.
    In 1961, David Chasman, then director of marketing and advertising for United Artists, hired Hooks and Joseph Caroff to design the "007 logo" for Dr. No.

ROBERT JONAS

Born in New York in 1907, Jonas attended the Fawcett art school in New Jersey and New York University. Influenced by artist William de Kooning and other members of the "Abstract-Expressionist" movement. Went to work for Penguin, and remained there even after the departure of Ian Ballantine and several illustrators who left to found Bantam. When the New American Library arose out of Penguin Books in 1948 Jonas acted as art director for their new Signet Imprint until a permanent director could be hiredbut continued his work as a paperback illustrator until the mid-1950's, when he turned to hardcover work. His distinctive approach makes his work some of the most collectible.

Look for: deceptively simple, often quite abstract work that offers little insight into the subject matter of the books themselves.

Works include

  • Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (Penguin, 1946)

  • The Rasp by Philip MacDonald (Penguin, 1946).

RONNIE LESSER

Lesser was the man who did the covers for many of Frank Kane's Johnny Liddell P.I. thrillers.


ROBERT MAGUIRE
(August 3, 1921 - February 26, 2005)

In Maguire's half-century-plus career, he painted over 1000 covers for such publishers as Pocket, Dell, Ace, Harper, Avon, Silhouette, Ballantine, Pyramid, Bantam, Lion, Berkeley, Beacon and Monarch -- virtually every mainstream publishing house in New York. He began his education at Duke University, but left to serve in World War II. Upon his return, he joined Art Students League, and graduated in 1949. His career took off almost immediately with his first work for Trojan Publications, doing covers for their line of small pocket pulps, such as Hollywood Detective Magazine (Oct. 1950). Maguire did three of the eight covers for this legendary series, and he never really looked bac. His speciality was babes, and he painted some of the best and most memorable femme fatales of the 50s and 60s -- his women are, according to his web site, "passionate yet somehow down to earth, approachable, though sometimes at your own risk. These images compel one to wonder what led up to that instant in time and where it will lead next, the very stuff of timeless art." Dames, Dolls, And Gun Molls, a long overdue tribure by art historian Jim Silke, was released in 2009.

Works include:

  • The Brass Halo by Jack Webb (Signet #1556)
    Our January 2006 "cover"

  • Black Opium by Claude Farrere (Berkeley G-120)

  • Honey West: Dig a Dead Doll by G.G. Fickling (Pyramid #G540)

    Numerous issues of Manhunt

Related Links

  • R. A. Maguire Cover Art
    The only commercial, fully authorized web site dedicated to the artwork of Maguire, administered by his daughter Lynn. You can buy high quality prints, postcards and T-shirts of many of his famous covers -- and even some copies of original paintings that were never used.

Also:

  • Dames, Dolls, And Gun Molls....Buy this book
    By Jim Silke and Robert Maguire
    (2009, Dark Horse)

LEO MANSO
(1914-93)

Leo Manso was an abstract painter and collagist, widely regarded in fine art circles as a leading influence on the art of collage. But he was also perhaps the most distinctive artist to work for Pocket Books between 1943 and 1945, and had a tremendous impact on the company's look. His version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, although perhaps not very exciting -- three hands reaching for the black bird against an orange background -- is one of the rarest and most collectible of all paperbacks.

Works include

  • The Judas Window by Carter Dickson (Pocket Books 231, 1943)

  • The Glass Key (Pocket Books 211, 1943) and The Maltese Falcon (Pocket Books 268, 1944) by Dashiell Hammett

  • The Lady in the Morgue by Jonathan Latimer (Pocket Books 246, 1944)

  • The Canary Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine (Pocket Books 248, 1944)

  • Phantom Lady by William Irish (Pocket Books 253, 1957)

OTHER RELATED COVER ART LINKS

List 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 and Peter Grunder for their eagle eyes.


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