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).
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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 and illustrator Owen Smith was keeping the flame alive.
I've been a fan of Smith and his pulpy cover illustrations for books and magazines for a long time, ever since 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 and, I think, Sports Illustrated.
Owen's illustrative work is a marvel of swirling, pulpish impressionism 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 pretty people in his work -- everyone's built like a bruised brick shithouse.
Notable Works include
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.
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.
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.
OTHER RELATED COVER ART LINKS
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.