Saturday, July 30, 2011

Site of the month

At Elisa Rolle’s page page her Behind the Cover gallery has some nice vintage era cover scans accompanied by richly detailed commentary .... the posts include lesser known cover artists like Ann Cantor and Denis McLoughlin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Gilded Man

Title : The Gilded Man
Author : Carter Dickson
Cover art : Nicky Zann
   [N. Y. : International Polygonics Ltd, 1989. Pseud. John Dickson Carr. (Library of Crime Classics). A Sir Henry Merrivale mystery. Cover art : Nicky Zann. First published in hardcover, N.Y., Morrow, 1942. Also issued as Death and the Gilded Man.]

style ***
substance **
collectibility *

Nicky Zann’s cover for the reissue of the Gilded Man must rank as one of the creepier examples of retro-vintage. International Polygonics did an entire series of classic mystery reprints in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most of them with quirky, offbeat covers, a number of them done by Nicky Zann. Unfortunately it seems that the company went out of business around 1995. However, their books are still very much available.

Pocket Books, 1947
Pan, 1961

Berkley, 1966

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chronicles of Nana

What is one to make of Pocket Books’ 1941 edition of Emile Zola’s Nana with its lurid cover of a torch singer in a transparent white dress? It’s back-cover blurb declared, “she squandered fortunes, ruined lives, with sublime contempt and abandon -- yet her disease-ridden days were spent in squalor and oblivion.” Is this art or trash?
   -- Paula Rabinowitz, Black & White & Noir : America’s Pulp Modernism, pp. 81-82.


Emile Zola’s classic novel Nana has been well served by the publishing industry [1]; even the most cursory glance at LibraryThing or Google Images reveals covers which likely number in the hundreds. Classic era vintage, modern, and all shadings in-between have gotten into the act, but for vintage pb buffs the sine qua non are the two, alas anonymous, ‘scandalous’ covers from the unlikely source of Pocket Books, which was usually conservative in its cover art. Both versions depict the title character in all her (more or less) unclothed glory, and it's debatable which one is actually the more risqué cover. The 1945 printing is particularly effective with all those voyeuristic, tuxedoed silhouettes in the darkened theater. A nice creepy touch.

Anyway, perhaps the folks at Pocket thought better of the racy treatment and reverted to form in the 1954 Pocket Cardinal reissue, which is pretty tame in comparison. Avon's take on Nana’s Mother is similarly bland [2], the décolletage-rich depiction of the title character notwithstanding. And speaking of restrained, there are a couple of James Avati sketches (later used for Bantam 2811) posted by the redoubtable Piet Schreuders. While technically proficient they fall far short of the Pocket covers in sizzle.

[1] A good sampling of Zola covers can be found here
[2] Avon returns to lurid form, however, with Piping Hot, a (spurious?) Nana-esque title from the Zola oeuvre

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dell 896 (1954)

Title : The Butcher's Wife
Author : Owen Cameron
Cover art : William Rose
  [Cameron, Owen. The Butcher’s Wife. N. Y. : Dell Books, 1954. No. 896. Cover art : William Rose. First published, Simon & Schuster Inner Sanctum, 1954.] 

"Two lovely ladies on his mind, and two dead dames on his hands." – front cover.

style ***
substance **
collectibility *

  I confess to not being familiar with author Cameron or cover artist William Rose.* Cameron apparently wrote some mystery novels in the 1950s set in California. For the Dell reprint of Butcher's Wife, cover artist Rose provides a knockout cover, quite an improvement over the rather bland hardcover original. The woman in the foreground is rendered in loving detail featuring peach and off-orange tints for her dress [which is nicely matched in the lettering], along with a pouting mouth and a defiant upturn of the head. The shadows in the background of a man carrying a [presumably] naked, dead woman, help to conjure up a sinister, macabre atmosphere. 

* A little research reveals artist Rose to be yet another of the 1950s unsung heroes of vintage cover design. His covers tend to be a synthesis of Mitchell Hooks-like expressionism and James Meese naturalism.   

Inner Sanctum, 1954