Adriano Rocchi

adriano rocchi 2

I’ve looked, and unless I’m misspelling the artist’s name, I can’t find a thing about Adriano Rocchi. Not just online, mind you. I have several long bookshelves crammed with books on vintage paperbacks, pulp magazines, U.S. and European illustrators and sundry sleaze artists. But…nothing. Now lets guess from the examples I stumbled across that Rocchi is one of the many post-WWII era Italian pulp artists working in Giallo paperbacks, crime/horror/sleaze digests and film posters. If you know more, I’m all ears!

adriano rocchi

I Was A Hideout Honey

Howell Dodd 1951

As is often the case with vintage pulps, it’s not always clear which of the bloodcurdling or teasingly sexy stories the cover art actually depicts. Face it: Sometimes the cover art was commissioned or purchased without any regard for that issue’s individual stories, or before they were even written.

Here, I’m going with “I Was A Hideout Honey” from this 1951 issue of True Cases Of Women In Crime. The classic Howell Dodd gouache illustration (I’ve also seen it credited to George Gross…couldn’t be, though. Right? Experts, please correct me if I’m wrong!) is crammed full of every genre trope and cliché you can ask for: Cigarette dangling from his lips, a bad guy smirks while he fingers his .45. The end table’s littered with an empty glasses, another cigarette smoking away in the ashtray, so you can almost smell that dingy old room. On the divan, the ‘hideout honey’ herself glances his way, resplendent in her filmy negligee, lacy black slip, coyly fussing with her nylons. Who knows what crime’s gone down already or is about to be committed, but Dodd sure nailed it all with this cover art.

True Cases Of Women In Crime 1951

 

Bill Edwards’ Black & Whites

bill edwards 1964 babe magazine #4

I’ve posted Bill Edwards illustrations before, and will again, hopefully along with some explanatory background on this truly intriguing artist, once I get the time.

Some have claimed that the figures in his full color cover art can look a little stiff or his backgrounds too pedestrian compared to some of his contemporaries, which include the genre’s masters like McGinnis, Maguire and others. I don’t now about that, not being an art critic. I do know that his B&W and duotone interior illustrations — surely done fast, probably not for mega-bucks and normally for the bottom-feeders of the fast-fading pulp magazine marketplace — the so-called ‘mens sweats’ – are full of verve and manage a lot of pop with only a one-color palette. Period-perfect retro-sauciness, too, don’t you think? This particular piece is a Bill Edwards gouache on board for a 1964 issue of Babe magazine.

‘Babe’ magazine? Yikes.

Can’t Go Wrong With EQMM

EQM519-Cover

I understand why publishers prefer readers to subscribe to their magazines, which can sidestep costly distribution and retailer discounting and enable better readership forecasting and print runs. But I happen to like buying my Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (still called the original title Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine on the perfect-bound spine) at the store. There’s something delightfully retro about those digest-sized books with their flimsy cover stock and pulpy interior paper. Paying a cashier (in cash) and walking out with a copy just feels right, somehow. Like I should be buying a pack of filterless Luckies and some Beechnut gum to go along with it.

EQMM March April 2019

EQMM has been at it for nearly eighty years now. That’s a heck of a lot of crime fiction, and almost too many writers to count when you think about it. I’ve heard some folks dismiss the publication as too soft, old fashioned, or even ‘cozy’, though my response to that is simply, “Hey, have you actually read it?”

The fun of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is that you get to read a little bit of everything, and can do so at a reasonable price. I don’t have the new May/June 2019 issue yet and actually just finished the March/April issue, with tales from Bill Pronzini, Joyce Carol Oates and Carolyn Hart. Harley Mazuk’s “The Road From Manzanar” was a sprawling and thought-provoking piece of literary fiction about a former volunteer in the Spanish Civil War now faced with combat again as the U.S. enters WWII, and Mazuk somehow managed to condense this amazing tale down to 18 perfect pages. R. J. Koreto’s “The Girl On The Roof”, a delightfully dark bit of adultery and murder with a good ‘gotcha’ ending, and Robert S. Levinson’s bittersweet Golden Age Hollywood tale “All About Eve” were particular favorites this issue.

In a way, EQMM and the companion digest, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are the closest thing we still have to the old pulp magazines. Sure, I could get either for my phone or tablet. But what’s the fun of that? The print digests simply feel right in my hands. There’s that subtle but tangible scent of that newsprint paper stock. And I’m still hoping I’ll stumble across a downtown newsstand or Mom-n-Pop corner store where I can buy my next copy…maybe with a pack of filterless Luckies and some Beechnut gum.

Heck, I don’t even smoke filterless Luckies…

EQMM Dec 1953

 

 

Who’s Rescuing Who? Just Askin’…

CNDA G-Men Detective Nov 1948 copy

Pulp magazine cover illustrations can be beautiful, lurid, hokey or sexy, though they don’t always make perfect sense. Still, it can be fun to decode them. Browse a few and see for yourself if you aren’t occasionally befuddled by just who’s the hero, who’s the villain and who’s the victim. Case in point: The November 1948 issue of G-Men Detective with a colorful action-filled illustration by pulp-maestro Rudolph Belarski (A Canadian edition shown here, I think).

 Scenario 1: Racing to free the woman on the sofa, the woman in the red dress has just removed her gag and is about to untie her friend when the gangster, kidnapper or generic gun-wielding gangsterish bad guy appears. Or…

 Scenario 2: That green scarf wasn’t a gag at all. The fellow with the cigarette tucked between his lips and brandishing the .45 automatic is no gangster. He’s a cop, private eye or generic good-guy, arriving just in the nick of time to rescue the the blonde haired woman in white who’s struggling on the sofa, about to be strangled by the evil woman in red. Or…

Oh hell, you could come up with another scenario for this one.

Modernism On Main Street

American Pulp Scan

A 4.29.19 Inside Higher Ed article by Scott Jaschik (linked via Literary Hub) reports on Stanford University’s announcement that it will no longer support the school’s university press, which pulls in an impressive $5 million a year and publishes some 130 books annually, but still needs additional support from the university. Citing a smaller anticipated payout from the institution’s endowment, Provost Persis Drell announced and end to the press’ $1.7 million supplemental annual funding. That endowment, by the way, is worth more than $26 billion. $26 billion. I suppose all schools are watching their budgets more carefully now that film and television stars may be unable to grease the admission wheels for their privileged broods.

Jaschik’s article caught my eye because I’d just finished two books this week (always have more than one going at a time), one a university press title. Now, university press books can be a mixed bag, and it pays to skim them carefully before racing to the cashier. Topics can be diluted by rampant pedantry, and already dense text might be colored by pontificating professorial authors’ insistence on putting their own Marxist, feminist, deconstructivist or other ‘ist’ spins on otherwise interesting subjects. But none of that was the case with University of Minnesota professor Paula Rabinowitz’ excellent American Pulp – How Paperbacks Brought Modernism To Main Street (2014, Princeton Press).

Clearly, Paula Rabinowitz loves vintage paperbacks. Her fixation traces back to pre-teen years reading ‘grown up’ paperbacks swiped from her mother’s nightstand. No, not Harold Robbins, Mickey Spillane or Jacqueline Susann. Rabinowitz vividly recalls a sixth grade summer spent in her backyard with Doctor Zhivago. In fact, her particular interest in vintage paperbacks – as avid investigator, collector, reader and scholar – are the many classics and serious literary books the post-WWII publishers put out alongside the hundreds (make that thousands) of bloody mysteries, westerns, science-fiction and sundry seamy novels that can only be labeled ‘vintage sleaze’. Rabinowitz is especially intrigued by the evolution of serious and sometimes controversial literature, originally published in handsome pocketbooks with simple cover art created by leading graphic designers, which morphed into new editions sporting lurid cover illustrations that were right at home beside the hard-boiled dicks, serial adulterers and six shooter horse operas.

American Pulp was a perfect follow up to Richard Lingeman’s The Noir Forties that I’d recently finished (link below). Both books zero in on a tumultuous period in American history to probe how entirely new (or at least reinvented) media crept into the mainstream and reshaped pop culture, fine arts and society, from race relations to gender roles, sexual identities and more. Rabinowitz quotes a 1951 New American Library pocketbooks ad: “There is real hope for a culture that makes it as easy to buy a book as it does a pack of cigarettes”. In the case of Rabinowitz’ subject —the post-WWII paperback book – it’s particularly ironic that this seismic shift in Americans’ reading habits occurred precisely as the TV age began. Rabinowitz argues that 1940’s – 1960’s paperbacks didn’t simply mirror evolving social mores, but actually shaped them, providing crucial guideposts for the cultural underground, sexual liberation, gay women and men, anti-establishment rebels and others. And most importantly, not just in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but in Peoria, Oshkosh, Missoula and every little burg across the country. The books’ cover art often played vital roles in conveying the subtle cues and subliminal messages to intended audiences, and Rabinowitz explores this in depth. So it’s intriguing that American Pulp’s own cover isn’t lifted from a vintage paperback. No McGinnis, Maguire, Avati or DeSoto here. The book uses “Portia In A Pink Blouse”, a 1942 painting by Guy Bene Du Pois, depicting ‘Portia’ holding a paperback edition of her own novel.

Actually, the book is filled with illustrations, including a number of vintage paperbacks you don’t often see and some must-see period newsstand shots. And, it’s readable from beginning to end. But fear not! If you forget you’re reading a scholarly tome, this just-under 400 page hardcover devotes nearly a fourth of its page count to notes and appendices. So, it’s a university press book, all right. Just a very readable one, and a good one for any fan of postwar pop culture to check out.

Still, lets hope that Stanford University comes to its senses and funds its portion of the 125 year-old Stanford University Press. The last thing we need is another institution reallocating precious resources to athletic programs and costly capital campaigns while their core learning functions wither.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/04/07/the-noir-forties/

C. C. Beall

C C Beal

Cecil Calvert Beall (1892 – 1970), better known as C.C. Beall, isn’t a big name among vintage paperback and retro pulp magazine illustrators. Actually, his reputation is mostly due to a series of high profile WWII era war loan drive posters.

c c beal - 3

Beall learned under master figure drawer George Bridgeman, surely a familiar name to any former art student, and studied at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. While most contemporaries worked in slow drying oils or fast drying (but extremely tricky) gouache, Beall worked primarily in traditional (transparent) watercolors, though in a distinctive heavy manner, only ocassionally combining them with charcoal or gouache for selected commercial assignments. His patriotic war era propaganda ad and poster illustrations were so successful that he was temporarily made an employee of the U.S. War Department, and was present at the final Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri in 1945, where he painted the official portrait of the event.

CC Beal - 2

But like many working artists of the time, Beall did all kinds of work, from glossy magazine illustrations to advertising, film studio assignments and book covers, including his darkly gorgeous painting for Bruno Fischer’s 1950 House Of Flesh from the preceding post. Some more of his non-military work is shown here. And heck, I’m throwing in the cover art from House Of Flesh one more time for good measure.

Walk In Fear CC BeallsSiagon Singer CC BeallsFarewell To Arms CC BealDark Interlude CC BeallsCC Beall House OF Flesh 1950 Art

Mosley, Ziskin & More In Strand Magazine

strand magazine feb - may

Short fiction by hard-boiled maestro Walter Mosley (not that short, actually), plus a terrific interview with neo-noir author Don Winslow, who James Ellroy has labeled “the master of the dope war novel”.

And more: A short and dark delight by one of my absolute favorites, James W. Ziskin, author of the incredible Ellie Stone mystery series. I humbly confess that Ziskin’s series triggered (or perhaps validated) some of my initial thinking for my own ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ work, suggesting that a female protagonist in the late 50’s/early 60’s could be every bit as intriguing as the more often deployed Roaring Twenties, Depression-era Thirties, Postwar Forties and early Fifties…and thank you Mr. Ziskin for that!

All that and more is in the new February – May 2019 issue of Strand Magazine, which I just picked up after work Monday.

A Noir-ish Icon

Mort Kunstler

An often-seen and often-ogled illustration by pulp-art maestro Mort Kunstler, who’s still with us, I believe, and in his early nineties. Kunstler’s pulp magazine, paperback covers, and men’s ‘sweats’ magazine cover art and interior illustrations may be cherished by fans of all that’s retro, kitschy and sleazy, but the artist would understandably prefer to be known for his incredible historical art, his many epic Civil War paintings in particular. Nonetheless, this bit of 20th century naughtiness is from a February 1970 issue of Men magazine and seen often enough to almost be a noir-culture icon, replete with a spartan room, a rugged shoulder-holstered bad guy with gun in hand and a table covered with stolen loot. Just how many gals were still rolling on nylons by 1970, I don’t know, but some pulpy clichés almost demand to be retained, don’t they?

Men 1970

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑