The Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators.

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Pulp magazine and vintage paperback collectors have done a darn good job of tracking down writers’ pen names and identifying cover artists’ unsigned works. But the artists and illustrators who banged out the black & white interior spot illustrations – surely for starvation rates that wouldn’t buy a cup of java and a sinker – sadly will remain anonymous for the most part, with very, very few ever credited, and even the pulp experts often stumped. I sometimes think of them as the anonymous residents of the Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators, such as these examples pulled from a couple issues of Spicy Detective magazines from 1940.

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Mario De Berardinis.

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Espionage, horror and Euro-sleaze film poster illustrations (and layouts) by Italian illustrator Mario De Berardinis (1931 – 1977).

The De Berardinis surname just seems to go along with artists for some reason, with the 1950’s – 1970’s era Italian poster, digest and paperback cover illustrator on one hand, but also Rosetta De Berardinis, a Washington D.C. abstract painter, and of course Olivia De Berardinis, the popular glamour and erotic art illustrator, though none are related in any way to my knowledge.

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A Cigarette Break.

bedtime standin 1965 robert bonfils

Time for a smoke while the boys conduct business?

Curt Aldrich was a pseudonymous house name used by Nightstand, Leisure and other paperback publishers for sleaze titles, and credited as the author of 1965’s Bedtime Standin, for which the unusually dark-hued Robert Bonfils cover art is shown here (Bonfils typically a fan of the brightest hues on his palette).

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

Sometimes They Got It Right.

Startling Detective 1952

Given a choice, I’ll always go for illustration over photography when it comes to vintage pulp fiction and true crime magazines and paperback covers. Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into the whole true crime magazine arena anyway, finding the oldies a little ho-hum and most of the ‘modern era’ stuff really, really creepy. (Though that’s based on browsing only a few issues, to be fair.)

But, I’ll be the first to concede that the genre boasted its share of nifty covers, many of the artists working interchangeably between the mystery/crime fiction titles and true crime mags. The photographers? Well, they were usually a bargain-basement lot shooting on the cheap in low-rent set-ups with models who definitely hadn’t just come off Vogue assignments. Still, there are some good ones, and the March 1952 issue of Startling Detective magazine happens to be one of my favorites.  I may have no interest in reading about the “Murder Trail Of The Roving Rapist”, “Irma’s Night of Horror” or any of the other gruesome stories inside, but Fawcett art director and art editor Al Allard and Phil Cammarata got got it right for that issue.

Anybody Can.

1938

Originally from Drive In Theater Of The Mind (via Browse The Stacks) at Tumblr: Apparently no one had to wait for Kindles, Nooks, 99-cent eBooks or bargain-priced bundles to pen their deathless prose for every possible perversion. The “Famous Jack Woodford” already knew way back in 1938 that anybody can write a sex novel.

Damn, I think I’ve been wasting my time agonizing over these noir-ish hard-boiled crime manuscripts all along…

And They’re All-True.

al rossi true advetures march 1957

The men’s adventure (or so-called ‘sweats’) mags were what they were and I can’t say I’m much of a fan. Heck, even pulp mag veteran Mort Kunstler did his cover illustration for the March 1957 issue of True Adventures magazine under a pen name (brush name?), which tells me it wasn’t considered a premier venue. But, the interesting art often lurked inside those publications, with some nifty mystery/crime fiction halftone and duotone spots and spreads from Bill Edwards, Charles Copland, Gil Cohen and others.

Now I’m not sure which of that issue’s “true” tales the Al Rossi B&W illustration shown above was done for. Was it “Woman’s Secret Shame” or “Die, Little Lovely”? I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have been for “What Are Your Homosexual Tendencies?”, but then, those were very different times…

True Adventures March 1957

‘Sin Money’: What Crime Fiction Dreams Are Made Of…

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I’m a softie for compromising photos as a mystery/crime fiction caper staple, enough so that they were the go-to starting point for my own Stiletto Gumshoe’s initial plotting. Just upgrade those B&W glossies to smartphone screens, JPG’s and some frillies that aren’t over fifty years old, and this could still be a sleazy scene from a savvy blackmailer’s or modern-day peeper P.I.’s playbook. But it’s a Robert Bonfils illustration for Don Elliott’s (Robert Silverberg) Passion Pair, a 1964 Leisure Books paperback: “The blackmailers are Jim and Lois MacIntyre, smooth and polished in all the tricks of the trade…and their trade is love…until the pictures are developed. Then the shame and degradation of their victims becomes reflected in a negotiable check…the only true sin money.”

Ahhh, ‘sin money’. It’s what steamy crime fiction dreams are made of.

robert bonfils 1964

The Mic’s Art, Not The Book.

love thief 1962 Micarelli

Oh, Orrie. Another ‘shattering novel of a nymphomaniac’. I can guess how Orrie Hitt’s 1962 Love Thief  goes, having read my share of Hitt’s novels, and I’ll wager this is one of those postwar paperbacks boasting a cover that’s way better than the book itself.  The art’s often listed here and there as uncredited, but is attributed to Clement Micarelli in some locations. Well, I’m going with that.

Nicknamed Mic to family and friends, Micarelli took his first Rhode Island School of Design figure drawing class at age 12 in 1941, and vintage paperback and retro sleaze enthusiasts have treasured some of his late 1950’s illustration gems for years since. The artist passed away at age 79 in 2008.

Love Thief 1962

Bill Edwards’ Black & Whites

bill edwards 1964 babe magazine #4

I’ve posted Bill Edwards illustrations before, and will again, hopefully along with some explanatory background on this truly intriguing artist, once I get the time.

Some have claimed that the figures in his full color cover art can look a little stiff or his backgrounds too pedestrian compared to some of his contemporaries, which include the genre’s masters like McGinnis, Maguire and others. I don’t now about that, not being an art critic. I do know that his B&W and duotone interior illustrations — surely done fast, probably not for mega-bucks and normally for the bottom-feeders of the fast-fading pulp magazine marketplace — the so-called ‘mens sweats’ – are full of verve and manage a lot of pop with only a one-color palette. Period-perfect retro-sauciness, too, don’t you think? This particular piece is a Bill Edwards gouache on board for a 1964 issue of Babe magazine.

‘Babe’ magazine? Yikes.

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