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Some More Great Pulp & Paperback Cover Art


One of the all-time greats, and a relatively late starter, Ohio born-and-bred Robert McGinnis (born 1926) has painted well over 1,500 paperback covers since the1950s. Although much of his work was published well after the heyday of the many of the other mass-market paperback artists mentioned here, McGinnis' style and subject matter certainly fit in. He's celebrated for his crime and mystery covers, and his unsurpassed depictions of glamourous, elegant women (no disrespect here, or anything, but some of these women were just drop-dead gorgeous--you could eat some of these covers with a spoon).
McGinnis has also painted a considerable number of covers for several other genres, including westerns, gothics, romance novels, historical novels, movie and television tie-ins and a vast number of iconic movie posters, including
Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Odd Couple, Barbarella and a slew of James Bond flicks (which are not unknown to feature beautiful women). He even managed to sneak some of his work onto covers by other artists: that's his portrait of Mike Shayne that was used as a logo in the upper right corner of all of those Shayne covers for Dell.

Look for: "Provocative, seductive, elegant women" is how McGinnis himself describes his favorite subject. Long-legged beauties are the focal point, and often almost the only element on the cover. And check out some of those expressions on some of those women. It's enough to make a old man itch and a young man faint.

Works include:

  • Angel's Ransom by David Dodge (Dell, 1959)

  • Don't Speak to Strange Girls by Harry Whittington (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1963)

  • Covers for Edward S. Aarons, M.E. Chaber, Frank Kane's Johnny Liddell series, Erle Stanley Gardner (including several books featuring P.I.s Cool and Lam, under Gardner's "A.A. Fair" pseudonym), Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott, Brett Halliday's Mike Shayne and Carter Brown's various series.

  • Posters for the James Bond films Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker.

  • Other film posters include Breakfast at Tiffany's and Barbarella.

Related Links


  • McGinnis, Robert E., & Art Scott,
    The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis...Buy this book
    (2001, Pond Press)
    Compiled by long-time fan Art Scott, and featuring a foreward by Richard S. Prather, this book offers a wide range of covers by one of the truly great paperback illustrators of all time. With close to 300 colour reproductions, if someone you love loves old paperback covers, this is the one for him or her.McGinnis has painted well over 1,500 paperback covers since the1950s, and is best known for his crime and mystery covers (he did tons of covers for Prather's Shell Scott, Brett Halliday's Mike Shayne and Carter Brown) and his unsurpassed depictions of glamourous, elegant women (no disrespect here, or anything, but some of these women were just drop-dead gorgeous--you could eat some of these covers with a spoon). "Provocative, seductive, elegant women" is how McGinnis himself describes his favorite subject. Long-legged beauties are the focal point, and often almost the only element on the cover. And check out some of those expressions on some of those women. It's enough to make a old man itch and a young man faint..

  • McGinnis, Robert E., & Art Scott,
    The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (art book)...Buy this book
    (2014, Titan Books)
    McGinnis did it all: movie posters, magazines and, of course, about a zillion paperback covers by the likes of everyone from Brett Halliday to Carter Brown, and one look at this handsomely presented volume (once again put together by long-time McGinnis aficiando Art Scott) will simply have you howling for more, more, more.


Unknown to most crime fiction readers in North America, British illustrator Denis McLoughlin is much beloved in the U.K. for his comic book work, but only began to get any serious recognition for his excellent and powerful hard-boiled detective book covers in the late nineties. Bio-bibliographer David Ashford claims "In the history of British Illustration there is no one who can be reasonably compared to him. He does not fit anywhere into the British tradition...McLoughlin is simply the best."

McLoughlin began his career as a professional artist in 1932, working on advertising and catalog art until 1940, when he was drafted into the army. During his war years, McLoughlin painted murals and portraits, acting as something of an unofficial regimental artist. He began his post-war publishing career by providing cover art for over a hundred hardboiled books for T.V. Boardman from 1948 to 1967, as well as over 550 monthly Bloodhound Detective Story Magazine issues. He has a distinctive and dramatic hard-edged style that demonstrated his astounding mastery of light and darkness, and the influence of the American pulps he collected during the 1930s.

In addition to his cover art, he also began working in the comics field after the war, painting covers and drawing interiors for Boardman Books's comic wing (and, indeed his first story, based on Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn, was just the first of many comics that would deal with historical topics. He also did a series of adventures featuring a hard-boiled detective named Roy Carson, whose occupation seemed to slide back and forth between private detective, amateur sleuth and police officer, depending on the vagaries of the plotline. McLoughlin continued producing comics in the adventure, crime, science fiction, and western genres for years, and, in fact, as of 1998, was still cranking out Commando, a war comic.

Look for: Lots of dramatic light and shadows, and strong, powerful lines, often rendered in black and white. Vaguely cartoonish at times. In fact, Francis Hertzberg's book about McLoughlin refers to him as "The Master of Light & Shade."

Works include

  • Lady, That's My Skull by Carl Shannon
    Pictured here. Despite the almost-cartoony exaggeration of this black-and-white cover, there's no denying the implicit sense of menace present in the shadows. A coloured rendition was used for Francis Hertzberg's bio/bibliography of McLoughlin.

  • Tweak the Devil's Nose by Richard Deming
    Ho! What fun! What a babe! And then you notice, right under her friendly, "Here-they-are, boys!" breasts, how McLoughlin's worked in a crime scene.

  • Murder Can Be Fun by Fredric Brown
    A gun with a silencer, a dossier, a Santa mask, all caught in a spotlight. Simple, but effective..

Also of interest


One of the newer breed, unfortunately taken away from us too soon (he passed away from cancer in 2015 at the age of 52), Orbik's art may have been less flashy and trashy than the pulp mag covers of the past, but it's obvious where he got his inspiration. He did a lot of paperback and comic covers, most notably for HardCaseCrime and Marvel, and taught at the California Art Institute.


Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Palacios worked for American newspapers as an illustrator and translator of comic strips. In the mid-forties, he shared a studio with several other freelance artists and did a number of covers and endpapers for Bantam. His endpapers had a strong cartographic quality and served a similar purpose to Dell's mapbacks.

Works include:

  • The Gift Horse by Frank Gruber (Bantam 2, 1945)

  • The Fog Comes (Bantam 23, 1946) and Dead Center (Bantam 62, 1946) by Mary Collins


Parkhurst was a prolific artist who worked as a freelance illustrator before opening his own Manhattan advertising agency. When the Depression hit and the magazine advertising biz went kaput, he began working as an illustrator for the pulps, most memorably for Harry Donenfeld's Trojan line. He did some interior work, including a couple of comic strips (including one featuring private eye Betty Blake), but he drew acclaim for his often racy and suggestive covers for such pulps as Complete Detective Novel, Hollywood Detective, Private Detective, Romantic Detective, Romantic Western, Short Stories, Spicy Adventure, Spicy Detective, Spicy Mystery, Spicy Western, Triple-X, Wild West Stories, and West Magazine.


One of the cover artists for the early Fawcett Gold Medals, Phillips started doing paperback cover work in 1943, after working in the advertising department of Columbia Pictures in the early 40's. His work was much in demand, and he did covers for Avon, Bantam, Dell, Pocket Books, and Signet, although he is most remembered for his numerous Gold Medal covers, including some of the early Shell Scott's.
His speed (he consistently turned out four finished paintings a week) and his ability to work in a variety of styles lead to his being referred to throughout the industry as "The King of the Paperbacks".

Works include:

  • Case of the Vanishing Beauty by Richard Prather (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1950)
    Typical, even generic shot of a woman in distress, but very effective use of fog. Eerie. Later both the covers and the books got much sillier...

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Signet, 1958)

  • The Big Caper by Lionel White (Frederick Muller Gold Award, 1961)


One of the most successful pulp artists of the century (and BOY! Could he do babes!), Saunders moved effortlessly from the pulps to paperback illustration. He was born in Minnesota, and took a mail-order art course, which eventually landed him a job at Fawcett Publications from 1928 to 1934. But he left there to go study art under Harvet Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art in New York, with dreams of becoming a freelancer. He succeeded. He had a sold rep for being able to do it all, do it all extremely well, and, even more important, doing it on time. He did westerns, mysteries, detective, sports (his baseball covers-- full of weird angles and offbeat perspectives-- are especially exciting), weird menace and science fiction (under the name of Blaine). during his heyday, he routinely cranked out over a hundred paintings a year, all of great quality. After World War II, Saunders moved to the burgeoning paperback field, doing covers for Ace, Bantam, Dell, Ballantine, Lion and Popular Library.

Saunders also did bubbledgum cards, including Batman cards in the sixties, the notorious Mars Attacks series, and Wacky Packs, which lasted through most of the seventies and made millions for Topps.

Related Link:

  • normansaunders.com/
    A website devoted to Norman Saunders, created by his son David. Includes countless covers for pulp detective magazines and currently the most complete checklist and archive of his work.


Who says they don't do 'em like they used to? Long before Hard Case Crime made it safe for pulp cover art again, San Francisco fine artist Owen Smith was keeping the flame alive, through his painting and scupture.

I've been a fan of Smith ever since 1996 or so, when I first noticed his work on the cover of The Low End of Nowhere, a novel by Michael Stone featuring his hard-ass Denver bounty hunter and sometime private eye Streeter.

Smith's work subsequently appeared on a few other Streeter novels, but then I began to notice his work -- he has a very distinctive style -- popping up all over the place. An Aimee Man album cover (for which he won a Grammy). Maureeen Dowd's Are Men Really Necessary? Numerous magazine covers, including The New Yorker, Mother Jones, and, I think, Sports Illustrated. He's done some great painting of boxers. And Springsteen.

Owen's illustrative work is a marvel of swirling, pulpish impressionism; a celebration of blue-collar solidarity and defiance that harkens back to the days of public works programs and working class murals as much as it does pulp magazines. It's not really "realistic," but it's vibrant and muscular and there's a throbbing, almost disturbing visceral energy about the way he portrays the people in his paintings. There are no wimps or delicate pretty people in his work -- everyone's built like a bruised brick shithouse.

Any doubt about Owen's pulp bonafides? His official web site opens with a quote from Chandler.

Notable Works include

  • The complete Streeter series by Michael Stone: The Low End of Nowhere (1996), The Long Reach (1997), Token of Remorse (1998) and Totally Dead (1999).
    I first became aware of Smith's work here, and I can still feel the rush. So retro, and yet defiantly fresh and modern.

  • Mother Jones (March/April 2008 cover)
    Something else again. The theme and title of the issue (and presumably the illustration itself) is "Torture Hits Home" and if you don't think a simple illustration can shock or disturb you, if you can look at this and not squirm, if you can study this picture and simply shrug it off, we all know which side of the torture debate you stand on... Look at that illustration. Look at it close. This is pulp. This is hardcore. Well done, Mr. Smith.

  • The Maltese Falcon Street Posters
    A series of posters commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission as part of its Market Street 2008 Program, to commemorate Dashiell Hammet's private eye classic, and featuring characters from the novel. The posters were on public display from Monday, June 16th, to Thursday, September 18th, 2008 on (where else?) Market Street.


By far the most prolific Dell artist -- next to Gerald Gregg -- was Robert Stanley. Stanley worked for Dell from 1950 to 1959 and his covers were a major component of the publisher's "look" of the fifties. Concentrating on mysteries and westerns, Stanley always produced covers with action (men fighting, cowboys riding, women threatening or being threatened). Most of the men on his covers he patterned after himself; his men are serious, stern, and usually fully clothed. He patterned most of his women after his wife Rhoda; they are alluring, menacing, terrified, and occasionally semi-nude. Stanley's daughter and father-in-law also stood in as models from time to time.

Works include:

  • Michael Shayne's Long Chance by Brett Halliday ((Dell 866, 1955)
    Bob Stanley as Mike Shayne.

  • The Long Escape (Dell 405, 1948), Plunder of the Sun (Dell 478, 1949), and The Red Tassel (Dell 565, 1950) by David Dodge
    Bob Stanley as Al Colby.

  • Nightmare Town (Dell 379, 1950), A Man Called Spade (Dell 411, 1950), and Blood Money (Dell 486, 1951) by Dashiell Hammett
    Bob Stanley as Sam Spade.

  • Fools Die on Friday by A.A. Fair (Dell 542, 1951)
    The only altered Dell cover -- a painting that appears in two different versions. The original is blatantly sexual; the revised cover (Dell 1542, 1953) is considerably tamer. The reason for the change is unknown. Either the hardcover publisher (Morrow) or the author (Erle Stanley Gardner) may have objected to the original.

Related Link


Joseph Szokoli was the man who -- more than anyone else -- brought airbrush art to pulp magazines. Reminiscent at times of the work Gerald Gregg was already doing for Dell Mapbacks, Sokoli's work nonetheless had a vibe all of its own -- an often surrealistic, impressionistic and offsetting sense of chilly eeriness (and moon-faced babes) that he brought not just to the covers of the Spicy/Speed line of detective pulps, but also numerous western and romance pulps, most published by Harry Donnefeld.

He also worked as the jack-of-all-trades graphic artist for the Barreaux Art Agency, a favourite of Donnefeld's, doing layouts, paste-up, mechanicals, lettering and photo retouching of "errant nipples or pubic hair on the photos of the artists' models. He even did the overpainting of H.J. Ward's iconic painting of Superman.

Look for: A chilly eeriness, impressionistic illustrations occasionally bordering on the abstrac t; moon-faced, clothing-challenged babes; incredibly loutish, almost subhuman thugs with jaws like steam shovels.

Works include:

  • Covers and internal artwork for Hollywood Detective, Snappy Romances, Underworld Detective, New Western Magazine, Spicy Detective, Speed Detective, Saucy Detective, Pep "tec" Tales, Leading Western, Private Detective Stories, Super-Detective , Spicy Western Stories and Leading Love.

  • Szokoli also wrote and drew the Polly of the Plains strip for Spicy Western Stories.

H.J. Ward

Despite his short life (he died of cancer at the age of 35), Hugh Joseph Ward cut a wide swath, responsible for some off the most sensational and iconic pulp mag covers of all time, working for Munsey, Dell and Popular, but mostly for Culture Publication's notorious Spicy line -- which means his stuff is right in your face, full of virtually naked babes and drooling, laviscious ghouls (along with the occasional impossibly broad-shouldered hero). He also did painting for George Trendle's radio syndicate, and was thus responsible for some of the earliest visual images we have of The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and yes, Superman.

Works include:

  • Covers for Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, Spicy Detective, Spicy Mystery, SpicyWestern, Ace-High Magazine, Western Story Magazine, Red Star Detective, Wild West Weekly and Sure-Fire Screen Stories.


  • H.J. Ward...Buy this book
    (2001, The Illustrated Press Inc.; by David Saunders)
    The best reference book on the life work of legendary pulp artist H.J.Ward ever, meticulously researched and beautifully produced, with over 500 illustrations, including more than 75 original pulp cover paintings as well as a biography, family photos, and a comprehensive checklist.

    Pulp historian David Saunders, by the way, is the son of
    Norman Saunders (1907-1989), the legendary pulp illustrator. His website, pulpartists.com, provides biographical information on many classic American illustrators, including his father,


List compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Randal Brandt for his big helping hand with 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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