Prezio’s Crime Scenes.

victor prezio. the scene of the crime

Victor Prezio (born 1924) is one of those unsung heroes of the postwar pulp and paperback cover art era, largely eclipsed by better known names but responsible for a lot of illustrations you’ve likely seen many times at leading retro-art and kitschy-culture sites. These two Prezio pieces almost bookend the artist’s evolving style: Early on, working as richly shadowed and every bit as painterly as a James Avati cover illustration, like the grim piece above appropriately titled “Scene Of The Crime”. Then later, much more casual (and surely faster and for less money) brushwork dashes out the scary image below for a sleazy 1966 Real Men magazine cover. Westerns, gothic romances, and no shortage of women-in-peril illustrations for the “men’s adventure” magazine market, Prezio did it all, and is (I think) still with us, but presumably retired by now.

victor pezio real men cover sept 1966

From Muskrat To Mink To Murder.

Howell Dodd 1953

This work week’s enough to drive me to drink. And it calls for a really large drink (and I’m not much of a buzzer, mind you).

Just like the gal down to her last few smokes in the Howell Dodd illustration from the June 1953 issue of True Fact Crime magazine, I could use a large one too. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more than thirty cents for it. But we all know that two bits and a nickel will only buy trouble, and in her case, will lead her down a bloody road “from muskrat, to mink, to murder” as the magazine’s lurid teaser lines stated.

You just gotta love those old pulp magazine copywriters.

Her Predicament.

her predicament victor olson 1957

I think (but can’t verify) this 1957 Victor Olson illustration is for a glossy magazine short story called “Her Predicament”. Which leads to all kinds of questions about precisely what her predicament might be: Fiction being what it is, a crime may have been committed. Or, is she just surprised to discover a woman in her bed?

Dangerous Bluff.

thornton utz sat eve post 1960

Illustrator Thornton Utz depicting a tense standoff for Thomas Walsh’s Dangerous Bluff (”Who would give in, the detective or the gunman with the human shield?”) from the Saturday Evening Post in 1960.

Meese’s Ann Avery.

The Murder Of Ann Avery - Art

Gorgeous James Meese 1956 cover art for Harry Kuttner’s (1915-1958) The Murder Of Ann Avery,  the second in the Michael Gray psychoanalyst murder mystery series, which lasted for only two more novels before the author’s untimely passing at age 43.

A 30’s-40’s Era Stylist: Mario Cooper

M Cooper 1

President of the American Watercolor Society from 1959 through 1986, Mario Ruben Cooper (1905 – 1995) authored multiple how-to books on the challenging medium, and often worked in watercolor for his commercial illustration assignments, unlike so many contemporaries working in oils or gouache. Born in Mexico City, Cooper grew up In Los Angeles, later studying on the east coast at Columbia University and the Grand Central School of Art.

M Cooper 7

His commercial career flourished through the 1930’s and early 1940’s with covers and interior story illustrations for Collier’s, Esquire and other glossies, which included multiple Agatha Christie mysteries and hard-boiled crime fiction thrillers. After WWII he taught at the Pratt Institute, then was assigned to document the history of American aviation for the military, many of his pieces from that era still in the Pentagon’s collection. Cooper is a Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame inductee.

M Cooper 3M Cooper 2M Cooper 4M Cooper 5M Cooper 6

You Never Know Where The Art Will Appear.

lou marchetti Duotone

A dark duotone cover illustration for Edward Multon’s 1963 De Gouden Berg (a Dutch book, I think) is shown above. I’ve never been sure how this all worked back in the day, this being artwork by Lou Marchetti from the 1958 paperback edition of Holly Roth’s The Sleeper. Artists’ agents resold their illustrations when they could? Or, foreign publishers just ‘appropriated’ them? The latter seems more likely, but I’m just guessing about that.

The Sleeper 1958

I don’t read Dutch so I haven’t read Multon’s De Gouden Berg. Or The Sleeper either, for that matter. But I’m going to assume that someone gets tied up in something somewhere in Holly Roth’s cold war espionage novel, since the Lou Marchetti cover art and an earlier Lion Books edition depict a damsel in distress. In fact, I think the original hardcover edition showed a fellow all in knots, so maybe everyone got trussed up in The Sleeper.

The Sleeper 1955

Worthy of a novel on her own, Holly Roth – better known to some by her K. G. Ballard pen name – was a model turned journalist who then became a successful mystery and thriller novelist, but came to an untimely and mysterious end when she went overboard off a yacht in the Mediterranean.

You never where the art will appear, and you never know where a rambling post will end up.

A Mid-Fifties ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’.

True-Detective-October-1954 mort kuntsler copy 2

This particular true crime pulp cover has been one of my personal favorites and residing in a ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ folder stuffed full of 1950’s/60’s photos, ads and historical references. Sure, you’ll find more exciting, violent, lurid or blatantly ‘sex-ified’ covers among 1950’s crime fiction and true crime pulps than this October 1954 issue of True Detective magazine, which touted cases inside like “The Murder Minded Lawyer Of Lake Wales” and a double-length feature, “Daughter’s Revenge”. This particular plainly attired snoop was but one of many vintage paperback and pulp magazine covers that planted the seeds of inspiration for my own current projects, and could almost be ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ herself.

Often as not, postwar pulp and paperback covers weren’t even credited. I’ve seen this one attributed to Mort Kunstler at more than one site now, but in what may or may not be more authoritative art auction sites, it’s credited to Lu Kimmel (1905 – 1973), so I’ll go with that. Smack my forehead…I always thought it was a photo, not an illustration.

A Pulp Godfather.

Mort Kunstler Book

Mort Kunstler – The Godfather Of Pulp Fiction Illustrators by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle (and Mort Kunstler) was the first book to arrive as I replenish my woefully empty to-be-read spot on the writing lair’s endtable. Mind you, the actual reading went quick, this very handsome 130+ page 2019 hardcover being a little light on text. But the nine-page intro by Mort Kunstler himself (as told to Robert Deis) was an intriguing read nonetheless. As he explains right at the start, “The word Kunstler means artist in German”, his immigrant father (an amateur artist himself) kept the spelling, and the rest was probably destiny.

The book’s heavy on Mort Kunstler’s pulpy ‘men’s sweats’ and adventure magazine illustration work, filled with WWII combat scenes, Cold War era spies and exotic safaris, with only a few examples of the master’s crime pulp work included. But trust me, it’s worth it for that intro alone, even if you’ve already seen many of the illustrations included here at any of your favorite pulp, vintage illustration and retro-kitsch sites and blogs.

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