Frazetta’s Femmes Fatales

Frazetta 2

Just how many late 20th century budding artists first started scribbling their own muscle bound barbarians and sword wielding valkyries after ogling Frank Frazetta’s (1928 – 2010) Conan paperback and early Warren magazine cover paintings, who’ll ever know. For many, the man’s work was the look of dark fantasy for decades. But he was more than Cimmerians and death goddesses, and had a flare for 50’s-60’s style bad girlz when given the chance. There’s not a broadsword or wizard in sight among these.

Frazetta 1Frazetta 3

Love Stories.

Gorgi Omnibus

If you write mystery, crime fiction or have the audacity to say you’re trying to write that often elusive thing called ‘noir’, then hit your touchpad or click your mouse and get to crimereads.com for managing editor Dwyer Murphy’s excellent tribute to James M. Cain (link below), whose birthday was just this week (July 1, 1892). I won’t quote passages from The Wit, Wisdom And Noirs Of James M. Cain – 25 Of The Greatest Lines Ever Written By A Crime Fiction Master, but will only encourage you to relish those that Murphy wisely selected, which include riveting lines from Cain’s novels as well as the master’s thoughts on writing and language. Keep in mind (as Dwyer Murphy points out) that Cain didn’t really consider himself a crime writer as such, much less ‘hard-boiled’ or a purveyor of anything called ‘noir’. He felt that he was writing love stories. Love gone tragically bad, doomed love, deadly love, perhaps. But love nonetheless. There’s a lesson there, I think. One day when I’m much smarter I’ll have learned it.

Omnibus 2

Tempting as it is to use any of the many original editions of his novels for some visuals for this post, or the 1940’s – 60’s era paperback reissue gems or even the much more tawdry 1970’s and later editions, I grabbed some omnibus editions and collections here instead. Aw heck, they’re all good.

Omnibus 1

https://crimereads.com/the-wit-wisdom-and-noirs-of-james-m-cain/

Duillo’s Crooks & Molls

Duillo 3

Like many of the academically trained artists from the post-WWII era of paperback and pulp magazine illustration, John Duillo’s real interest wasn’t gangsters, gumshoes or femmes fatales, much less the damsels in distress (more accurately, women in peril) that he’s best known for. His real passion was western art and the Civil War. Still, a fellow has to eat, and following a stint in the U.S. Navy, Duillo studied art with Adja Junkers and photography with Berenice Abbott, then worked in commercial illustration, as an art director, set designer and a photographer. From 1960 onward, Duillo is credited with over 500 book covers, constantly in demand for expertly rendered westerns in particular. Search online, though, and you’ll likely be scrolling through a gallery of his color cover illustrations for the late 1950’s through early 1970’s men’s “adventure” magazines, apparently called upon when women in peril images were needed…which seemed to be all the time for those particularly weird publications, and lets just say the images became increasingly ‘perilous’. Quite sinister, in fact. If the 1930’s shudder pulps’ covers seem a little pervy to modern eyes, the so-called ‘men’s sweats’ are diabolically so. WWII Nazis and Japanese soldiers, Cuban revolutionaries, Soviet KGB officers, motorcycle gang leaders and sundry robed and hooded cultists abound, and all of them are gleefully tying up women and threatening them with bizarre tortures – whips, racks, snake pits, alligator ponds, blowtorches, iron maidens — you name it — or in the ‘tamer’ pieces, more conventional forms of sexual assault. Yikes. We’ll skip those here.

John Duillo 1

Cowboys roping steers and rebels waving stars-n-bars flags aren’t my thing any more than than leering sadists. It’s too bad John Duillo didn’t get more illustration assignments for routine mystery/crime fiction book covers or the remaining crime fiction magazines that were still left during his peak years. He was a talented artist, and I’d love to see what he could’ve done with more gangsters, gunsels, gun molls and gumshoes, given the chance.

JohN Duillo 2

The Blonde Viper

The Blonde Viper 1

Viper Bionda – “The Blonde Viper” – is the original protagonist and title of a series of 1970’s Italian erotic crime comics, with some 30+ issues in its original run, the character then also appearing in other titles like Wallestein and Baghera, stepping far afield from crimes and mere bedroom play and increasingly combatting supernatural threats like vampires and sundry other monsters. All silly stuff, but a lot of the art – covers and interior panels alike – are intriguing. Finding post-able images from Euro-Sleaze comics, pulps, and Giallo crime novels can be challenging since so many are just a little too out-there for me. This one’s from the prince of perversity himself, Emanuelle Taglietti, and may just be one of the tamest pieces of cover art he ever did.

taglietti

Noir City

Noir City No 26Received last week: Issue Number 26 of the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine, 83 sumptuously designed pages laid out by Art Director Michael Kronenberg, with articles on the Chicago mob’s interference in the Hollywood labor movement and how that set the stage for the Blacklist, novelist/screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, collecting film noir posters, Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, an interview with writer Jason Starr, comparing/contrasting Mickey Spillane’s novel Kiss Me Deadly with the film version and much, much more. If you like things you see here at “The Stiletto Gumshoe”, you’ll love The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City magazine. Go to the organization’s site, browse around some, and by all means become a contributor, not only to help support their film preservation efforts but to get your mitts on this gorgeous and informative publication. Link below…

Film Noir Foundation Site

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

 

Dakota North

By Michael Lark 3

No surprise that Marvel’s Dakota North, created by activist, essayist and writer Martha Thomases along with artist Tony Salmons, was eclipsed by Jessica Jones. Thomases’ groundbreaking much-more-than-a-detective simply appeared 15 years too early, in a marketplace that hadn’t matured enough to embrace smart, accomplished and utterly lethal female characters. Mind you, Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty already paved the way five years earlier with their memorable Ms. Tree. Today? Indie comics and the majors alike are teeming with Dakota North, Ms. Tree and Jessica Jones clones.

Dakota North - 4 Covers

Former fashion model, daughter of a CIA agent and now owner of her own private investigations firm headquartered in New York, with satellite offices in Paris, Rome and Tokyo, Dakota North only had a five issue mini series in 1986-87, then made numerous appearances in various other Marvel titles. Dakota North was slated for another series in 2006, but that never materialized.

Dakota North

Nonetheless, Thomases’ creation was an important character, and finally available in a trade pb compilation, Dakota North – Design For Dying released this time last year, which includes those first Dakota North issues plus a number of (though not all) her appearances in other titles.

Dakota North - Cover

The terrific B&W illustrations included at the top and below are by Michael Lark. And, in keeping with ‘great minds think alike’: I scheduled this post in the middle of the week of the 23rd-29th (most of my posts are pre-scheduled days ahead of appearing), and when I scrolled through posts at my blog aggregator (Bloglovin…very handy tool!) I see the venerable Not Pulp Covers at Tumblr posted a Tony Salmon Dakota North page.  Mind you, Not Pulp Covers is clearly run by a much greater mind than mine!

By Michael Lark 2By Michael Lark 1

Panty Raid?

Break The Black Panty Spy RIng Charles Copeland

I see this ‘silver age’ pulp interior duotone illustration all the time at Pinterest, Tumblr and wherever, though rarely credited. I suppose that sometimes it’s just because the posters are…well, lazy. But maybe in this case it’s because the source’s title is just so darn silly: A Charles Copeland illustration for “Break The Black Panty Spy Ring” by Maxwell Hamilton from the February 1960 issue of Stag magazine. And no, I personally don’t own any so-called ‘men’s sweats’ rags. Doesn’t mean I won’t browse the artwork from Copeland, Bill Edwards, Samson Pollen and others from that peculiar post-pulp-heyday genre. And that has to be one of the silliest titles among those magazines’ many, many outlandish story titles.

An Embarrassment Of Riches

New books waiting to be read hereabouts usually are left on one particular endtable right next to my favorite reading chair. I pass it constantly, so any library books stare back at me as a reminder to return them on time. Normally there are a few books stacked there, and should I fall behind, a couple more might pile up.

But right now, there’s an embarrassment of riches piled high on the endtable. Whether that’s because I’ve really fallen behind in my reading or simply have acquired too many books the past couple weeks (much more likely), I couldn’t say for sure. And I’m not even counting the stack of half a dozen Adventure House trade pb pulp reprints of 1940’s Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery magazines I got just last week. All I know for sure is that there’s a lot of reading to catch up on this summer.

I’m holding off on Phillip Kerr’s final Bernie Gunther novel, Metropolis and James Ellroy’s This Storm till I can really hunker down with them. Those two are books to be savored. Fingers crossed: Unless something intervenes, I’m on schedule for a four-day getaway next weekend. Sure, I could spend it swimming, canoeing and hiking. But an easy chair, a fireplace and either Kerr or Ellroy sounds good too. Maybe I’ll flip a coin.

Knowing that I have a couple more books reserved at a nearby bookstore and due in this or next week, and one or more backordered from the online behemoth, I can only hope that old endtable is sturdier than it looks.

  • Robert J. Randisi’s Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora – A Private Eye Writers Of America anthology
  • Jump Cut by Libby Fisher Hellman
  • Ka-Chow: Dan Turner In Pictures by Robert Leslie Bellem and Adolphe Barreiax
  • Hollywood Detective with Dan Turner, Queenie Starr, Betty Blake and more
  • Metropolis by Phillip Kerr, the final Bernie Gunther novel completed before the author’s untimely death.
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, author of the great The Historian and The Swan Thieves
  • Speakeasy by Alisa Smith
  • This Storm by James Ellroy, the second entry in his new L.A. Quartet (Perfidia being the first)
  • Where Monsters Hide by M. William Phelps, a rare true-crime book (rare for me, that is)
  • The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook
  • The Best Of Spicy Mystery – Volume 1
  • Westside by W. M. Akers

I’m nearly through Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora as I write this, but will surely be done with it by the time this appears, so more about the one shortly.

The Poetics Of Pulp.

Spicy Detective Reprint

The Poetics Of Pulp? A couple weeks ago, I commented about precisely that (link below).

Each mystery/crime fiction enthusiast (or writer) has to find their own way to process what’s merely retro-fun vs. what’s infuriating in mid-twentieth century pulp fiction. I noted in that prior post that W.M. Akers, author of the newly released novel Westside (just got my copy a few days ago) grappled with this very issue when using old pulp tales to do research for his re-imagined hard-boiled fantasy 1920’s New York City. The rampant racism, homophobia and relentless misogyny that was so pervasive in old pulp tales is hard to digest, yet the allure of the rapid-paced storytelling and slang-filled vintage prose can be so addictive.

It’s the language that always gets me, rarely the plots. Imagine yourself a 1930’s – 1950’s pulp scribe, churning out tales month after month for multiple titles and publishing syndicates in order to reliably put three squares on the table. The most imaginative writer might dream up some nifty set-ups and create a compelling scene or two for each story, but eventually it would become increasingly difficult to concoct genuinely unique solutions for so many mysteries. Inevitably, things start to become contrived, maybe even outlandish, if not downright silly.

So be it. While the best of the bunch might still suffer from those contrived plot resolutions, they were wrapped up nice-n-neat in wonderful language brimming with authentic (or entirely fabricated) street vernacular that could sometimes be — dare I say it – ‘pulp poetry’ when done right.

There aren’t many actual pulp magazines in my bookcases, not being a collector. Reprints and omnibus books? Those I have. Adventure House reprints of Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery, for example, are a real treat since they’re cover-to-cover reissues of the original magazines, complete with all ads, illustrations and even the crummy two-column linotype typesetting that can make your eyeballs spin.

The July 1941 Spicy Detective Stories (a 2005 Adventure House reprint, 128 page glossy cover perfect-bound trade pb) has seven stories plus a four-page “Sally The Sleuth” comic strip. A couple of the stories are a snore, a couple are actual stinkers. But the two that lead off the book are gems (albeit gems with ridiculous conclusions). “The Second Slug” by Justin Case (get it?) is from that writer’s long-running “Eel” series about a gentleman thief of “courageous action and questionable morals”. Here the Eel earns an easy C-note just to accompany racketeer Knuckles Orio to an after-hours nightclub audition of a naïve young fan dancer, supposedly to ensure that Knuckles behaves himself. But it’s just a setup to provide the gangster with an alibi when his fiancée is murdered. The ‘Eel’ has to keep the law at bay and duke it out with Knuckles’ thugs, but manages to romance the young fan dancer while solving the crime. Some clues and even the final resolution are a bit far-fetched, but what makes the fast-paced story sing is the Damon Runyon style prose. ‘Justin Case’ – one of several pen names used by writer High B. Cave – was an ardent fan of the Bard of Broadway’s stylish “present-tense, first-person narrative style”.

Next up is Robert Leslie Bellem with a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, “Death By Arrangement”. Bellem’s Dan Turner tales are notorious for logic-defying solutions to their crimes, and this one’s no different, a spin on the locked-room mystery with a pistol rigged up to a grand piano’s keyboard. I adore Dan Turner pulp stories and even the Dan Turner comics, though I’m tempted to skip right over the final paragraphs or panels when the crimes are finally solved. But Bellem’s language always gives me a thrill. Here’s the opening of “Death By Arrangement”, where the Tinsel Town gumshoe has just arrived at a Hollywood bigwig’s swanky cocktail party:

“The read-haired cupcake in the low cut emerald evening gown dished me a kiss that jostled me all the way down to my fallen arches. And then somebody hung a hand on my shoulder, spun me around and measured me for a swift poke on the horn.” Dan recovers his composure before returning the blow. “But I braked my duke when I tabbed the bozo who was trying to paste a mouse on my smeller…it isn’t polite to lower the boom on a half-pint drip like him, not with my dimensions. You don’t drive tacks with a sledgehammer.”

 I can only fantasize about crafting a phrase as cool (and as corny) as “paste a mouse on my smeller”.

Adolphe Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth series was a Spicy Detective staple with two to four page B&W comic strips in each issue. In “Dangerous Delivery”, Sally investigates a refugee murdered over a rare stamp worth $35,000, and of course manages to end up in trouble and out of her clothes by the second page. This July 1941 Spicy Detective issue’s cover by Allen Anderson depicts a damsel in distress who could almost be Sally The Sleuth herself, and not unlike Sally, isn’t waiting to be rescued but using a conveniently placed candle to burn through her bonds…and also just like Sally, is doing so in powder blue silkies.

Hate ‘em. Love ‘em. Or simply find a way to compartmentalize the vintage pulps to process the bad and savor the good. Me, I’ll stay conflicted even while binging on the ‘poetry of pulp’.

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