Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Two-fer Tuesdays: To Each His (or Her) Own

A twice-monthly pairing of book fronts that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Comfort Me with Apples, by Peter De Vries (Signet, 1957); Comfort Me with Love, by “W.E. Butterworth,” aka W.E.B. Griffin (Signet, 1950). Both cover paintings were done by Barye Phillips.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hitting the Links

• Oh, how I wish I were in London, England! Through this coming Saturday, March 24, that city’s Lever Gallery, in Clerkenwell, is hosting “Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies,” a showcase of the original art from paperback covers of that era. “Artists selected for this exhibition,” explains the gallery’s Web site, “include Ian Robertson, Yorkshire born Michael Johnson, who, with his Fine Art background and distinctive style, soon became one of the most sought after illustrators of the period, and a group of Italian illustrators who worked and lived around Soho and Chelsea, including the highly influential and style-setting Renato Fratini, and other colleagues—many of whom had previously worked in the Italian film industry, such as Gianluigi Coppola, Giorgio De Gaspari, and Pino Dell’Orco.” Flashbak, a photo-obsessed Internet resource, collects a handful of the more than 40 works on display, including Fratini paintings that grace several Mickey Spillane books (The Twisted Thing, The Girl Hunters, etc.) and Johnson’s gorgeous artwork for the 1965 novel A Crowd of Voices, by Richard Lortz. Flashbak’s presentation of these pieces is so captivating, I can even forgive the site its misuse of the term “pulp fiction” and its misspelling of Erle Stanley Gardner’s name. If you’d like to see more of the works on display (sadly, in smaller representations), click here.

• I apparently missed spotting this earlier: Mystery Tribune’s choices of “The 53 Best Mystery and Thriller Covers of 2017”—several of which were also rivals last year for honors in The Rap Sheet’s Best Crime Fiction Cover of the Year contest.

• Literary Hub picks33 of the Weirdest Philip K. Dick Covers We Could Find.” That description is totally appropriate.

In a piece for Criminal Element, Eric Beetner looks at some of the ways in which crime-novel fronts can evolve over time.

• Which brings us to Penguin UK’s new-this-month designs for its paperback editions of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Gone are the “block colours, masculine silhouette graphics, and naïve poster-style lettering” of that publisher’s previous Chandler line, replaced by “a subtler photograph[y]-based approach with high contrast [and] full-cap serif typography.” I can get used to this revised look.

• Crime novel covers sure know how to overwork a theme.

• The cover illustrations on Hard Case Crime’s new graphic-novel line, Quarry’s War—penned by Max Allan Collins and starring his series hit man, Quarry—are as powerful as they are beautiful.

• In Men’s Adventure Mags, Bob Deis has posted a new interview with Gil Cohen, who, he explains, “was one of the top men’s adventure magazine artists in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He did hundreds of cover and interior paintings for MAMs. He also did hundreds of paperback covers and movie posters. Then he became one of one of the world’s premier aviation artists, creating fine-art paintings of planes and their crews that sell for thousands of dollars and are used for high-end lithographic prints.” Also check out Deis’ previous interview with Cohen, which has additional artwork.

• And how can I not applaud an Alberto Vargas pictorial? This one comes from a blog that’s new to me, Slice of Cheesecake.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Bennett’s Beauties: Cuddled or Cursed

The Wakefield Witches, by Daoma Winston (Pocket, 1975).
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett.

Connecticut artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012) is probably best remembered as an astoundingly prolific painter of covers for paperback detective, thriller, and mainstream novels. However, he may have been equally productive as a creator of artwork in the fiction fields of Gothic romance, romantic suspense/intrigue, and horror. Over the decades, his talents were applied to façades of books by Mary Stewart, Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy Eden, Virginia Coffman, Barbara Michaels, Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, Andre Norton, Joseph Shearing, and others. Bennett apparently painted the first, 1973 paperback cover for Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (a satirical tale originally released in the States in September 1972). He was also kept busy developing imagery for a frequently ignored sub-genre of love stories: nurse romance novels.

For the final installment in Killer Covers’ “Bennett’s Beauties” series, I have pulled together more than 50 of this artist’s book fronts from the romance and horror categories, all issued by one of three publishers: Pocket, Fawcett Crest, and Berkley. You may notice—as evidenced in, say, Susan Howatch’s The Waiting Sands and Holt’s The House of a Thousand Lanterns (both published back in 1975)—that many of the covers displayed below boast a classic, color-rich character that can be quite different from the paintings he supplied for crime novels. Barrymore Tebbs observes in his Gothic-fiction blog, The Midnight Room, that Bennett, “along with Pocket Books’ art director, Milton Charles [1921-2002], … helped create a lushly romantic and easily recognizable style that was often imitated by other artists throughout the genre’s two-decade heyday.”

“Easily recognizable”? Yes, in many instances Bennett’s diverse artistic touch is clear. But the ubiquity of his handsome covers on the Web seems to have left many folks overconfident that illustrations similar to his must, indeed, have flowed straight from his paintbrushes. (The same thing happens frequently with Robert McGinnis.) It’s hardly uncommon to find novel fronts online that have been mistakenly attributed to Harry Bennett.

Knowing how paperback publishers don’t always go to the trouble of crediting cover artists, Bennett sought to make identifications of his efforts easier by prominently signing his paintings. However, “publishers cropped much of the work to exclude signatures,” explains his youngest son, Tom (who I interviewed here). “My father learned to sign in specific places to ensure his name showed up.” (Notice, for instance, on Whitney’s Sea Jade [1965], how the autograph “Harry Bennett” has been neatly integrated into the wharf planking just to the left of the red-dressed woman. There was no neat way to excise that from the picture).

Tom Bennett, himself an artist, was remarkably patient in helping me to cull cover scans from my computer files that did not actually represent the fruits of his father’s labor. If there are mistakes in the selections below, the fault is mine, not his.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

Incidentally, that last cover—from an early 1970s Fawcett Crest edition of Ammie, Come Home, by “Barbara Michaels,” aka Barbara Mertz—was the second of two fronts Bennett painted for the same novel. His 1969 version is shown below, on the left. The same artwork was adapted (with more mesmerized eyes on the floating woman) for the 1973 Five Star release of The Black Dog, by Georgena Goff.