Friday, August 6, 2010

Fawcett Premier No. T-480, 1968

Title: Seize the Day
Author: Saul Bellow
Cover art: uncredited
  [Introduction by Alfred Kazin. The Masterworks Series. The anonymous cover art of expressionistic cityscape recalls Robert Jonas’s city scene for the 1940s Penguin reprint of James T. Farrell Short Stories. The book title and author's name are inserted against a blue backdrop resembling the sky. A sparse but curiously effective cover design from the twilight era of the great vintage paperbacks].

style **
substance **
collectibility *

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Popular Library 247, 1950

Title : Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep  
Author : Richard Sale
Cover art : uncredited
  [First published in hardcover, N. Y., Simon and Schuster, 1936. "Love, violence and hate on the high seas."  The basis for the 1940 film Strange Cargo starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford].

style ***
substance *** 
collectibility **

"They were fugitives from horror."

Not Too Narrow’s
cover art features a tough guy menacing an island maiden (love the bright red/orange sarong the girl is wearing!). Popular was one of the foremost practitioners of vintage style cover art, but here, for one of their most unforgettable cover designs, the artist is alas unattributed. The story takes place in the Caribbean but the girl’s appearance and garb suggest a Polynesian setting. In any case, whoever the cover artist may be, it’s classic Popular Library/Belarski-esque – intensely hyper-realistic; bright colors; bad guy menacing girl theme.   “A strange tale with a supernatural hovering of wings throughout.” – review, C. Richard Lanman, Atlanta Constitution, April 26, 1936, p13A.

Dell No. 146 (1946)

Title: The Man in Lower 10
Author: Mary Roberts Rinehart
Cover art: Otto Storch  

Dell 146 is a mystery about a train ride with murder, robbery & romance -- are their any other types of train rides? At any rate, Lower 10 benefits from terrific front cover art by Otto Storch of surrealistic vision of anthropomorphized train. Back cover : map of The Washington Flier – Scene of Murder.

style ***
substance **
collectibility *


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The pulp heritage

“The pulp magazines were all about three things : action, adventure and sex – not necessarily together or in that order.” – Peter Haining, The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines.

“What is it about pulp art that makes it stand out as unique, different from the kind of cover art featured on books and magazines today? Only its outrageousness. It dared to be wild, and too much was never enough.” – James Van Hise, quoted in : Robert Lesser, Pulp Art.

The pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s were the direct precursors of the classic era vintage paperbacks [1], with both the pulps and pbs favoring sensation-laced stories and spicy cover art. The pulps’ influence also extended to the earthy 1950s men’s adventure magazines [2]. Indeed, the men’s magazines of the 50s might be seen as the last gasp of the pulps, even if their general style tended more to the postmodern.

As for vintage paperbacks and the pulps, the differences were more a matter of degree, not content; for all their flamboyance the vintage pbs generally had a more restrained, elegant tone in packaging and message [3], in some cases even aspiring to real literary pretensions.

But ultimately it’s the very over-the-top outrageousness of the pulps, referenced in the aforementioned quote, that, to my way of thinking anyway, makes them so much fun, even more so than the vintage pbs. Speaking of outrageous, my personal favorite genre was the ‘shudder pulps', in all their Technicolor, high-camp glory.

In any case, and paralleling the comeback in recent years of vintage pbs, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the pulp magazines, and some of my favorite survey volumes include : Peter Haining, The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines (Chicago, Chicago Review Press, 2001); Robert Lesser, Pulp Art : Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines (New York, Gramercy Books, 1997); Lee Server, Danger Is My Business : An Illustrated History of the Fabulous Pulp Magazines (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1993); Max Allan Collins, History of Mystery (Portland, Collectors Press, 2001), pp. 32-57.

[1] Curious – perhaps not so curious – that at the same time the pulps were dying out (ca. 1946) the vintage pb’s were just beginning to hit their stride.

[2] Here I’m thinking more of titles like Argosy, True, Saga, Adventure and For Men Only. These had the hardcore blue collar ethic of the pulps; the other 1950s men’s magazines like Playboy and Esquire - and even low-rent cousins like Cavalier and Rogue - with their ersatz intellectual tone, upwardly mobile audience and slick production values, were just a little too civilized to be considered genuinely pulpy.

[3] Especially so after the show trials Congressional investigations of 1952-53.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Quote of the month

“Mickey Spillane is just about on the same low level of phoniness, and as far as I’m concerned just as unreadable. I did honestly try to read one just to see what made them click, but I couldn’t make it. Pulp writing at its worse was never as bad as this stuff.”   
   -- Raymond Chandler, on Mickey Spillane (letter to Dale Warren, 11 January 1952, referenced in : Selected letters of Raymond Chandler, ed. Frank MacShane, N. Y., Columbia University Press, 1981,  p310.)