The Missing Witness

perry peterson the missing witness 1954 copy

Perry Peterson (1908-1958) enjoyed a successful career doing illustrations for the more prestigious ‘glossies’ like the Saturday Evening Post, Liberty and Ladies Home Journal, so you won’t find his work on tawdry crime pulps, or even very many paperback covers for that matter. Romantic or comical (or both combined) couples were Peterson’s stock in trade, and he did it well. Still, you sense that the artist might have longed for the occasional mystery subject, and clearly had a nice touch with painting a sense of fear, impending threat and danger, as in his 1954 illustration for “The Missing Witness” by John and Ward Hawkins shown above (the full two-page spread below), plus several other examples shown here.

perry peterson the missing witness 1954

Sadly, Peterson passed away at only 50, his career cut short when magazine illustration assignments and PBO covers were still in demand, so we’ll never know what he might have done with less ‘lighthearted’ subjects. Stunning work from one of the lesser known mid-twentieth century masters, though, aren’t they?

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The Cutie.

The Cutie 2

Ken Laager’s deceptively simple (but simply stunning) cover art for the Hard Case Crime 2011 edition of Donald Westlake’s The Cutie (originally tiled The Mercenaries, from 1991).

The CutieThe Mercenaries

Hughes, Heels And A Rodent Or Two.

adam hughes 2014

Full color photo-realistic comic covers are where you look for Adam Hughes’ work. Black and white and so utterly simple is not what you expect. Maybe someone’s not expecting her to be packing a lethal looking automatic either. As for the rats (yes, they’re there, just look in the shadows) in this stylish piece of art from 2014…well, you’ll have to explain them to me.

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.

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Duillo’s Crooks & Molls

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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.

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One Bullet Left.

Aly Fell 2010

UK artist Aly Fell may be better known for witches, warriors and fantasy art, but definitely needs to try some more retro crime flavored scenes. Don’t know if woman’s a ‘stiletto gumshoe’ herself, a gumshoe’s client or a D.A.’s Gal Friday, but it seems she’s concluded that the jig is up and it’s time to make a quick exit. Like, a permanent one. From 2010.

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.

Natasha.

Paul Gulacy - Natasha

Sure, I get it: We’re supposed to go for Marvel’s Black Widow when she’s sporting her form-fitting black catsuit. But in artist Paul Gulacy’s capable hands, I think she looks every bit as lethal in a trenchcoat. I’ve posted an example of Gulacy’s take on Natasha Romanova before (link below). He does have a way with black and white, doesn’t he?

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She’ll Be Dancing On His Grave.

Giovanni Di Stefano Charleston 1976 for Bonnie 171

Who knows what he put her through? Who knows what he did to her? No matter, he got what he deserved, and now she’ll be dancing the Charleston on his grave, if he gets one.

Cover art by Giovanni Di Stefano from 1976 for Gangster Story-Bonnie, the Euro-Sleaze magazine.

Gangster Story Bonnie magazine

 

 

 

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