Abbett’s Silver-Age Masterpieces

run for doom robert abbett

Robert Abbett is but one of the many 20th century illustrators often eclipsed by more famous names like Robert McGinnis, Robert Maguire, James Avati, Belarski, DeSoto and others. And he’s also one of the many artists whose paperback cover and magazine illustration work represents but a tiny part of their artistic career, so many of these academically trained artists well-skilled in and much preferring to work in other subjects altogether…Western art for McGinnis and James Bama, Civil War historical painting for Mort Kunstler, and so on. In Abbett’s case, his illustration fame is definitely overshadowed by his renown as a wildlife, landscape and outdoors artist. Born in Hammond Indiana, Robert Kennedy Abbett (1926 – 2015) studied at the University of Missouri and Purdue University, and once he achieved some success in commercial illustration, relocated to Oakdale Farm in rural Connecticut in 1953. There he became entranced with the autumnal landscapes, hunting and wildlife scenes, which became his trademark in his post-illustration fine arts career.

In fact, even within paperback cover illustration, it’s probably his work on many Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Barsoom and Pellucidar books that brought him the most acclaim, much more than general fiction, crime fiction or any so-called ‘sleaze’ books, which so many illustrators had in their portfolios (even if hidden way in the back).

run for doom kane

Working in a style reminiscent of Mitchell Hooks and other ‘silver age’ artists, Abbett had a tremendous command of figure drawing, but still enjoyed abstracted or vignetted backgrounds and settings, which became the trend in the late 1950’s through mid-1960’s. Bird dogs in New England fields may be his primary legacy, but for me it’s the way so many of his characters look precisely like those I imagine for my own in-progress writing (which is set in 1959, after all). Above is the original art for Henry Kane’s Run For Doom from 1962, as well as a so-so found image of the book cover. Below is one of my favorites: Robert Carroll’s 1961 Champagne At Dawn. No, I don’t mean the book. I don’t have it and never read it, and I’m not sure I’d go looking for a readable copy about ‘fly now, pay later girls’. But change that hair color to a deep brunette shade, and that’s more or less Sharon Gardner, AKA Sasha Garodnowicz, AKA the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’. Well, maybe a slightly more ‘curvy’ version of Gardner/Garodnowicz/Gumshoe. I can forego a 1961 novel about stewardesses (I assume in 1961 they weren’t flight attendants yet), but I’d give anything to find a decent scan of the original art from that book!

Champagne At Dawn 1961

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine 2019

To followers, visitors, and all the lovers everywhere out there tonight…those in love, those looking for love, those feeling unloved and even those simply in love with love:

A very happy Valentine’s Day, from the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’.

 

Turner’s Warshawski

v i warshawski kathleen turner

Kathleen Turner as one of the 90’s best ‘stiletto gumshoes’, here in a publicity shot for the 1991 film V. I. Warshawski, the movie adaptation of Sara Paretsky’s award-winning hard-boiled Chicago private detective series.

Who (or what) is the “Stiletto Gumshoe”?

 

What (or who) is the “Stiletto Gumshoe”?

On one hand, it’s the working title of a project I’m currently querying, the first novel in what could hopefully become a mystery/crime fiction series. 

Set in the ethnic blue collar bungalow belt of 1959 Chicago’s south side, a young woman who’s more at home perched on a bar stool in a cocktail lounge than a receptionist’s chair in an office has been between jobs for far too long when she finally lands a gig as a one-man private detective firm’s secretary. But almost before she can cash her first paycheck, she finds herself tangling with blackmailers, crooked cops and brutal murders…including her new boss found plugged full of bullets behind his desk. Discovering that he was a bit of a louse — not altogether dirty, but certainly a little dusty – she concludes that he was still her louse, and is determined to find out who killed him and why. Which puts some mighty scary people on her tail, from Chicago mobsters to political bigwigs (which can almost be one and the same in Chicago), and once she gets to the bottom of things, the press dismissively dubs her the “Stiletto Gumshoe”. They may have been poking fun at the petit twenty-two year old party girl who uncovered massive civic corruption schemes and left two rogue cops shot dead. But even if there’s a fine line between fame and notoriety, she decides to parlay it into a new career, and hangs up her private detective’s shingle right in her old boss’ office. 

Well, that’s my‘stiletto gumshoe’. 

 

But I’m also intrigued by the many other ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from mystery and crime fiction novels, vintage pulp fiction magazines, retro and current television and films, comics and graphic novels. From Sally The Sleuthto Mrs. TreeSally O’Neil The Undercover Girlto Miss FuryHoney Westto Jessica Jones, there are a lot more female private eyes, detectives, cops, costumed crime fighters, crusading district attorneys and snoopy reporters than you might think. 

Honestly, I simply adore all things ‘noir’. And ‘noir’ is clearly a much more inclusive aesthetic than simply Film Noir from the mid-twentieth century. I choose to shoehorn in the countless kitschy 40’s-50’s crime fiction paperbacks along with the illustrators who created their memorably garish covers. Sure, I love the classic films noir, but enjoy B-movie crime melodramas and series and contemporary ‘neo-noir’ films as well. I’m particularly intrigued by the surprising number of fine artists and commercial photographers who draw upon the tropes and clichés of classic noir cinema and pulp art in everything from serious gallery paintings to trashy – but darkly gorgeous – fashion photography. And since it seems that half the recent films and television series are adapted from comics and graphic novel sources, I get a real kick out of mystery/crime fiction comic art, from the quaint titles and characters of 50/60/70 years ago to the hipper, grimmer and sometimes shockingly dark material some cool creatives are generating today. Some of it features ‘stiletto gumshoes’. Some rely on Chandler-Hammett-Spillane clones…those more familiar gumshoes in wingtips.

Well, they’re welcome here too.

alexa mazzarello

 

“A writer’s blog that not.”

Huh? That’s what the masthead’s subtitle says. And this is a writer’s blog. But then, it’s also not.

Yes, I am a writer. Previously published in multiple genres in the small press scene and did reasonably well for that marketplace. Which is like an actor saying they’ve been successful in community theatre or an artist saying that they’ve done well in sidewalk art fairs. Fine, but hardly the validation most creatives long for. Still, with rights to those projects reverted, I’ve dabbled a little with doing it myself at Amazon in print and Kindle eBooks to keep a couple of those projects alive. Also, I had the opportunity to work on the business end of trade book publishing for a while, which was a good learning experience and a real eye-opener. But don’t look for anything about those undertakings here.

I’m still a writer, of course. Either you are, or you aren’t, right? It’s not like you can just turn it off. The fingertips inevitably get itchy for the keyboard, don’t they? At the moment I’m shopping around one recently completed novel via the normal query process (with all the customary frustrations that entails), while hard at work on its sequel for what’s intended as a noir-ish period mystery/crime fiction series.

Not surprisingly, that first book is titled The Stiletto Gumshoe. Hey, it made sense to buy the domain in case I wanted it later, and since I have to park it somewhere, I might as well put it to use.

But I’ll call this “a writer’s blog that’s not” because too many writers’ blogs I follow and sites I visit can get a bit depressing. You’ve seen them too, I’m sure. Daily reports on the writer’s progress, crammed with tedious minutiae explaining an all-too-frequent lack of progress. Rants against the industry gatekeepers (agents and editors). Partials of work-in-progress that mean absolutely nothing to the reader since we don’t have the whole manuscript in hand and have no idea what we’re reading. Or worse, the relentless self-published self-promoters populating their blog or website with redundant cover pics and links to buy their book…which inevitably produce blogs and sites of the same damn book cover shown over and over and over…

All of those are great in small doses. Comprising all of a blog or site’s content? Not so much.

So, if the time comes when I have some exciting news to share, I’ll do so. But till then, there’s a lot to share about other things. Recent reads, interesting sites and more. And since this is called “The Stiletto Gumshoe”, it won’t surprise you to discover that I’ll focus on mystery/crime fiction books, authors, films, art, pop culture, blogs, websites and more. If my own tastes lean more towards the dark and noir-ish (however you choose to define that) rather than the ‘cozy’…well, noir culture can be found in everything from comics to fashion editorials, vintage illustration to fine arts, collectible paperbacks to television series. So, if any of that might interest you – and I hope it will – stick around.

 

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