Spicy Detective, Back in ’41

Spicy Detective September 1941

The September 1941 issue of Spicy Detective magazine (an Adventure House facsimile edition 128-page reprint shown here) may not have been that magazine’s best issue, but it’s certainly representative of that title and the era’s material, complete with the usual cast of hotel house dicks, low-level mugs, scheming femmes fatales and even a phony haunted house. Having read a few Spicy Detectives now via these Adventure House reprints, my tally concludes that this particular issue might just have more florid descriptions of women’s scanty apparel than any other from that period, and considering how the writers could go on and on with that stuff, that’s really saying something.

This time it’s a fellow instead of a ‘frill’ who gets trussed up on the cover, which isn’t as unusual in 1930’s – 1940’s crime pulps as you might assume.  But the illustration still includes the obligatory damsel in distress, her frock obligingly aflutter while she struggles with a menacing thug. Actually, that cover art could apply to several stories inside, since more than one gumshoe finds himself jumped, socked or sapped and ends up hogtied by the bad guys. Fear not: This is an equal opportunity issue of Spicy Detective…the women end up much the same way in most of the stories.

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There are seven tales here, with magazine regular Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective in “Barmecide Bride” as well as stories by William B. Rainey, C.A.M. Deane, Randolph Barr, Walton Grey, Bob Leeson and Stan Warner. Plus, Adolphe Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth makes an appearance in the four-page strip “She Keeps Her Head”, which deals with an axe murderer, and thus, the title. All in all, a lot of reading for two bits, even when a quarter was worth something.

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It’s too bad the pulps rarely credited the artists. Pulp and golden age illustration aficionados have ID’d so many cover paintings from 20thcentury magazines and paperback originals, but the pulps’ interior illustrations are mostly doomed to anonymity. A few from this issue are shown here, ripe with all the ‘spice’ that gave the magazine its name.

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Steranko’s Hornet

The Green Hornet - Jim Steranko

I think I saw this original painting on exhibit at the one and only local paperback and pulp con I ever attended. This is the Jim Steranko cover art done for the first issue of Now Comics’ 1989 The Green Hornet series. I don’t know if the comics/illustration master was a guest speaker or if the piece was being auctioned off, but it was nice to see an original in the flesh.

It was my one and only pulp con, and I was a little dismayed (or creeped out) by all the kinda-scary guys bypassing oodles of collectible 1930’s – 50’s pulp gems to stock up on bags full of genuinely icky 1960’s – 70’s era hard core porn paperbacks. So my visit to the dealers room was brief.

If you missed it, check out the recent Green Hornet post, link below.

https://wordpress.com/view/thestilettogumshoe.com

 

The New Pulpeteers

taya ferdinand shutter - pulpeteers

The July 2019 issue of The Writer magazine’s cover story was focused on literary agents – “Pulling Back The Curtain – What Does A Literary Agent Really Do?” by Kerrie Flanagan, followed by a nice interview with agent Donald Maas (a name that ought to be familiar to any querying writer, genre writers in particular), plus Ryan G. Van Cleave’s article on literary agent contracts. Savvy pro’s might groan and say they’ve read it all before. Newbies might lap it all up, and as for myself — somewhere in between — I always find some bit of new info in these articles, no matter how often I’ve retread the same ground in writers’ magazines or blogs. And seriously, how can you go wrong with an interview with a sage like Donald Maas?

But the article that really caught me by surprise in this issue was Heidi Ruby Miller’s “Introducing The New Pulp…Pulp Fiction Is Back, Baby”, a nice three page look at the resurgence of pulp fiction, distinguishing between the classic pulp era and contemporary writers and starting by acknowledging what was worrisome about mid-twentieth century pulpdom. Defining new pulp, Miller quotes Tommy Hancock of Pro Se productions: “Fiction writing with the same sensibilities, beats of storytelling, patterns of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists and publishers.”

Mystery Weekly Magazine

Most of Miller’s overview addresses adventure pulps like Doc Savage, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Pellucidar and Barsoom novels, SF/Fantasy material from vintage Lovecraft, Bradbury and Campbell, etc., as opposed to the mystery/crime fiction pulps. And after all, one could argue that crime pulp never really went away, merely migrated online and into periodic anthologies. Even with the disolution of so many 1930’s – 1960’s pulp magazines, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are still out there, pulpy paper and all. Maybe the writers appearing inside don’t want to be classified as ‘pulpeteers’, or who knows? Maybe they’d be proud to wear to wear the mantle. After all, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has been emblazoned with a violator on the cover for a while now noting “With Black Mask”, and I can’t think of anything that evokes the classic crime/mystery pulp era better.

three modern pulps

Miller’s article concludes with a list highlighting new pulp resources: Sites, cons, podcasts and even print/online pulp publishers, though again, those are more adventure/fantasy pulps than crime. That’s OK. ‘Pulp’ ala Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective, Sally The Sleuth and The Domino Lady may have faded away, or only live in reprints and some questionable revivals, but the noir-ish and hard-boiled flavor of the classic pulp era is still alive in a lot of talented mystery/crime fiction writers’ novels. Still…it sure would be nice if some well-heeled entrepreneur like the fellows who launched the original Hard Case Crime paperback line got a bright idea to launch a for-real ink-on-paper mystery/crime pulp magazine…wouldn’t it?

(Taya Ferdinand illustration from The Writer magazine)

Sveta’s Sirens

Sveta Shubina 2

Graphic designer and illustrator Sveta Shubina may make her living doing stylized logotype designs, but it’s her whimsical take on retro hyper-feminized character illustration that finds her popping up all over the web. Look for more of this Rostov-on-Don, Russia artist’s work at Behance, Instagram and her own gallery/shop at Etsy…and there’s a lot to view.

Sveta Shubina 1

New Zealand’s pinup and fashion designer “The Velvet Decolette”(velvetd.com…a “less bitchy, more kitschy pinup posse”) did a brief interview with the artist, and she explained her influences, some of which ought to be obvious, like Dan DeCarlo, Jack Cole and Bill Wenzel, but also early Disney and Fleisher animation. To complete the homage to those mid-twentieth century cartoonists and pinup artists, Shubina not only replicates their drawing style and the period-perfect costuming, but distresses some of the art itself and fades the hues to add a vintage look. Cute stuff.

Madame Medusa

Basil Gogos

Basil Gogos

The name Basil Gogos (1929 – 2017) is inextricably linked to Forrest J. Ackerman’s beloved monster kidz magazine Famous Monsters Of Filmland, Gogos responsible for so many of the cover illustrations of classic monster characters, all done in his own striking color schemes. But like most postwar illustrators, Basil Gogos did all kinds of work, from prosaic advertising assignments to paperback book covers, pulp magazine covers, interior illustrations even work for the so-called “Mens’ Sweats” magazines.

The Pop Culture Rembrandt

Pop Culture Rembrandt

Check out the Crime Reads.com essay by J. Kingston Pierce: “Robert McGinnis: A Life In Paperback Art”, honoring the prolific American illustrator on his 93rd birthday this Sunday, February 3rd. The article’s tag notes, 93 Years & Thousands of Paintings from a “Pop Culture Rembrandt” and Pierce’s essay does a fine job of sharing McGinnis story and his place among the masters of postwar paperback, magazine and commercial illustration.

Robert McGinnis - Lesbian Covers

Perhaps more than any other artist from that era, Robert McGinnis’ work is almost inseparable from the identities of a number of popular paperback crime and adventure series. Consider at least the well-known ones: Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne, various Carter Brown series, Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott series, John D. MacDonald’s novels including the Travis McGee series, M. E. Chaber’s Milo March Mysteries, Edward S. Aarons’ Sam Durrel spy series, and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books as well as his A.A. Fair Donald Lam & Bertha Cool mysteries. Almost disappoints me that McGinnis only did two covers for one of my own private eye series favorites, Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddel mysteries. But along with these, there were countless stand-alone titles, from crime to romance, westerns to espionage and more. McGinnis only did a few of the postwar paperback era’s lesbian themed books, and took what may be an unfair bad rap for his illustration for Beebo Brinker, but we should remember that illustrator’s often had no more than a brief editor’s blurb to go by, and often didn’t get to read the book itself…if budgets or deadlines would have allowed them to anyway.

Never Kill A Client 1963

McGinnis’ style evolved with the times, becoming increasingly abstract, vignetted and decorative, rooted less in fully rendered interior/exterior scenes. By the time photography and all-typographic styles began to dominate the paperback market’s covers, the artist had moved successfully into film posters and other assignments (likely more lucrative) while pursuing his own fine art work, predominantly western art. The excellent book Tapestry- The Paintings Of Robert E. McGinnis edited by Arnie and Cathy Fenner does a wonderful job of juxtaposing selected McGinnis commercial illustrations with non-commercial paintings, seeing both in a fine art context.

kill now pay later 1960

For many, Robert McGinnis’ striking nude (or nearly so) vixens and elongated, preening sixties-chic coquettes are what he’ll be remembered for. Myself, I’m drawn to the more flesh-n-blood figures, my all-time favorite the seated woman in a simple green dress and long brown gloves from the cover of Never Kill A Client, a 1963 edition of a Mike Shayne mystery (above), and an illustration I keep handy since it so closely resembles my own imaginary character, the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’. Some real favorites are shown here in this post, including the fetching femme fatale perched on a private eye’s desk from Kill Now, Pay Later (1960), or the bar room pianist tickling the ivories where McGinnis’ trademark longer-than-long legs draw his attention from Murder Me For Nickels. The iciness of the subdued colors in a very risqué for the time, Exit For Dying (1956) may just be the single sexiest piece of cover art I’ve ever seen. But I’ll always love the comparatively prosaic and fully-rendered scene of the redhead alighting from the backseat on Day Keene’s Too Hot To Hold from 1959.

Murder Me For Nickels

I’m never comfortable with labeling one artist, author, musician or any other creative as ‘the best’. There are masters and there are followers and many at levels of skill, talent and popularity in between. For me, there are several artists from those golden and ‘silver’ ages of paperback, pulp and glossy magazine illustration that comprise the top tier. McGinnis, of course would be there, not only as a superior figurative artist but also as a master designer, possibly demonstrating more stylistic diversity than any of his peers and contemporaries. And of course, those contemporaries are, for the most part, retired or deceased now. Bittersweet, but maybe that’s for the better, so they don’t have to reckon with an Adobe-ruled Illustrator/Photoshop world.

Robert McGinnis Exit Dying 1956

Do follow the link below to J. Kingston Pierce’s “Robert McGinnis: A Life In Paperback Art” essay and gorge on the many reproductions. It’s a far more eloquent tribute than anything I could muster up. Still, a heart-felt happy 93rd birthday to the ‘”Pop Culture Rembrandt”, Robert McGinnis.

Too Hot To Hold 1959

https://crimereads.com/robert-mcginnis-a-life-in-paperback-art/

 

The Cheaper The Crook, The Gaudier The Patter.

cheaper the crook

Alan Axelrod packs a lot of info into this digest-sized 200 page trade pb, The Cheaper The Crook, The Gaudier The Patter: Forgotten Hipster Lines, Tough Guy Talk, And Jive Gents. The title comes from the 1941 Warner Brothers proto-noir classic The Maltese Falcon. I’d have to get out of my comfy chair to rifle through my bookshelves to see if it’s in Dashiell Hammett’s novel (which I’m not going to do, sorry). Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade gets this particular gem, spoken in reply to weasel of a gunsel Wilbur Cook’s idle threats.

This isn’t a dictionary or laundry list of period slang so much as an light-hearted but still detailed etymology of 1930s through 1950’s expressions, phrases and buzzwords. And if you’re a writer working in period settings, books like this one are as useful as your thesaurus when the dialog starts to feel bland, or worse, a little too ‘now’. If you’re not, it’s still fun, so you can sprinkle period slang into your own words an see if anyone knows what the hell you’re talking about.

Vixens, Vamps & Vipers

vixens vamps & vipers

I adore 1930’s – 50’s crime comics and even some costumed superheroes from that period…well, one at least: Batman. But it was a boys’ club, after all, and it takes some digging to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’, with not a lot to show for the search. Mike Madrid has done a lot of the digging for us, in his first book The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy And The History Of Comic Book Heroines, then Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines Of Golden Age Comics.

supergirls & divas

A year later, Madrid decided to give the villainesses their due, and rightly so, since it may be that crime and villainy were just about the only way mid-twentieth century women in comics could assert themselves, after all. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Villainesses Of Golden Age Comics is a handsome 250+ page book from Exterminating Angel Press and should be a must-read for fans of vintage comics, and in particular, anyone interested in women’s roles in mid-20th century pop culture. The book reproduces 22 different 1940’s-50’s comic stories along with well researched but very readable background information on the characters themselves, their superhero/crime fighter opponents, and the writers and artists who brought them to life. Notable female villains like Madame Doom, Veda The Cobra Woman And Skull Lady are here, but more prosaic crooks and femmes fatales were the most fun for me. For example, National Comics’ 1943 Idaho, who reminds me of a wisecracking Barbara Stanwyck in a 1930’s screwball comedy or crime caper. As the book states, these characters “both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes”. Female superheroes and women crime fighters from the capes & tights variety (and demure little skirts, in most cases) to the plucky girl reporters, private eyes and DA’s were few enough. Perhaps the only way for female characters to be allowed to fully assert themselves alongside or against the era’s goody two shoes heroes was as villainesses, and there are some memorable ones in this book that’ll surely send you poking around online and digging in vintage comics bins for more.

madame doom

Hard-Boiled Dames.

hard-boiled dames

Hard-Boiled Dames (1986), edited by Bernard Drew says it’s “A brass-knuckled anthology of the toughest women from the classic pulps”. This anthology features women detectives, reporters, adventurers and even a few criminals from 1930’s pulp fiction magazines. Marcia Muller notes in her preface, “Although the courageous independent female sleuth may have, for whatever reasons, gone somewhat out of fashion in the suspense fiction of the 1950’s and 60’s, she was very much in evidence in the pulp magazines of the 30’s and 40’s.”

21st century mystery/crime fiction fans of the more hard-boiled variety could easily think that the genre was populated with no shortage of female sleuths (the bad-ass ones, that is) all along. Not so, of course. Before things exploded in the early 1980’s, thanks to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and some others, there’d been nearly thirty years of ‘blonde bombshells’ like Honey West, Mavis Seidlitz, Marla Trent, and weirder still, Cherry Delight, The Baroness, The Lady From L.U.S.T. and other one-shots and series focused more on the protagonists’ looks and bedroom antics. While the 1940’s through the early 50’s had a decent run of smart, hard-fighting female private eyes, reporters, district attorneys and sundry cloaked/costumed crime fighters, it was relegated to comics much more than pulp fiction or novels. You really have to dial back to the 1930’s pulp era to uncover the female detectives and their associates, and some of the best are featured in this book.

I read my first Carrie Cashin story in Hard-Boiled Dames, and then went hunting for more. Carrie looks “like a demure brown-eyed stenographer in a tailored jacket and tweed skirt”, and in front of clients often defers to her “broad-shouldered assistant Aleck, to allay any clients’ concerns about a woman detecting”. But Miss Cashin is the head of the Cash And Carry Detective Agency, the first to leap into danger, and clearly the brains of the outfit. This anthology includes author Theodore Tinsley’s “The Riddle In Silk”, in which Carrie (with assistant Aleck in tow) investigates a bloody murder in a mansion on the requisite dark and stormy night, which leads them back into the city and ultimately to the waterfront docks on the trail of a stolen pair of silk stockings which “may mean the difference between peace and war in Europe”, the hose containing secret coded messages.

Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady is here too, in “The Domino Lady Doubles Back”, along with Katie Blayne, Trixie Meehan – 15 stories in all, each accompanied by 2 page introductions about the authors and their characters, and reproductions of the original pulps’ illustrations. If you see this book around, snatch it. It’s a good read, and a real eye opener about

 

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