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.

Modernism On Main Street

American Pulp Scan

A 4.29.19 Inside Higher Ed article by Scott Jaschik (linked via Literary Hub) reports on Stanford University’s announcement that it will no longer support the school’s university press, which pulls in an impressive $5 million a year and publishes some 130 books annually, but still needs additional support from the university. Citing a smaller anticipated payout from the institution’s endowment, Provost Persis Drell announced and end to the press’ $1.7 million supplemental annual funding. That endowment, by the way, is worth more than $26 billion. $26 billion. I suppose all schools are watching their budgets more carefully now that film and television stars may be unable to grease the admission wheels for their privileged broods.

Jaschik’s article caught my eye because I’d just finished two books this week (always have more than one going at a time), one a university press title. Now, university press books can be a mixed bag, and it pays to skim them carefully before racing to the cashier. Topics can be diluted by rampant pedantry, and already dense text might be colored by pontificating professorial authors’ insistence on putting their own Marxist, feminist, deconstructivist or other ‘ist’ spins on otherwise interesting subjects. But none of that was the case with University of Minnesota professor Paula Rabinowitz’ excellent American Pulp – How Paperbacks Brought Modernism To Main Street (2014, Princeton Press).

Clearly, Paula Rabinowitz loves vintage paperbacks. Her fixation traces back to pre-teen years reading ‘grown up’ paperbacks swiped from her mother’s nightstand. No, not Harold Robbins, Mickey Spillane or Jacqueline Susann. Rabinowitz vividly recalls a sixth grade summer spent in her backyard with Doctor Zhivago. In fact, her particular interest in vintage paperbacks – as avid investigator, collector, reader and scholar – are the many classics and serious literary books the post-WWII publishers put out alongside the hundreds (make that thousands) of bloody mysteries, westerns, science-fiction and sundry seamy novels that can only be labeled ‘vintage sleaze’. Rabinowitz is especially intrigued by the evolution of serious and sometimes controversial literature, originally published in handsome pocketbooks with simple cover art created by leading graphic designers, which morphed into new editions sporting lurid cover illustrations that were right at home beside the hard-boiled dicks, serial adulterers and six shooter horse operas.

American Pulp was a perfect follow up to Richard Lingeman’s The Noir Forties that I’d recently finished (link below). Both books zero in on a tumultuous period in American history to probe how entirely new (or at least reinvented) media crept into the mainstream and reshaped pop culture, fine arts and society, from race relations to gender roles, sexual identities and more. Rabinowitz quotes a 1951 New American Library pocketbooks ad: “There is real hope for a culture that makes it as easy to buy a book as it does a pack of cigarettes”. In the case of Rabinowitz’ subject —the post-WWII paperback book – it’s particularly ironic that this seismic shift in Americans’ reading habits occurred precisely as the TV age began. Rabinowitz argues that 1940’s – 1960’s paperbacks didn’t simply mirror evolving social mores, but actually shaped them, providing crucial guideposts for the cultural underground, sexual liberation, gay women and men, anti-establishment rebels and others. And most importantly, not just in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but in Peoria, Oshkosh, Missoula and every little burg across the country. The books’ cover art often played vital roles in conveying the subtle cues and subliminal messages to intended audiences, and Rabinowitz explores this in depth. So it’s intriguing that American Pulp’s own cover isn’t lifted from a vintage paperback. No McGinnis, Maguire, Avati or DeSoto here. The book uses “Portia In A Pink Blouse”, a 1942 painting by Guy Bene Du Pois, depicting ‘Portia’ holding a paperback edition of her own novel.

Actually, the book is filled with illustrations, including a number of vintage paperbacks you don’t often see and some must-see period newsstand shots. And, it’s readable from beginning to end. But fear not! If you forget you’re reading a scholarly tome, this just-under 400 page hardcover devotes nearly a fourth of its page count to notes and appendices. So, it’s a university press book, all right. Just a very readable one, and a good one for any fan of postwar pop culture to check out.

Still, lets hope that Stanford University comes to its senses and funds its portion of the 125 year-old Stanford University Press. The last thing we need is another institution reallocating precious resources to athletic programs and costly capital campaigns while their core learning functions wither.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/04/07/the-noir-forties/

Going To Glendale?

2019 Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show

While I’m about to step out for some quick Saturday AM errands (which might include a bookstore stop…maybe) I’m not planning any two thousand mile treks this weekend. Anyway, there’s an annual vintage pulp, paperback and collectibles show ‘round these parts each Spring, if I was so inclined. I’ve gone to a couple of these shows to see the original cover art and illustration art exhibits, but kept my credit cards safely tucked away in my wallet. Fortunately, (being a fan of retro illustration and postwar crime fiction) I’m rarely gripped by the collector frenzy, which can be as dangerous as a gambling addiction for the weak-willed. But for those of you in the Los Angeles area, the Vintage Paperback Collectors Show & Sale in Glendale this Sunday sure looks like the place to be. And I do like that Robert McGinnis illustration chosen for their poster!

Blues For A Dead Lover

Blues For A Dead Lover albert nuetzel cover 1962

Never read it. Never even saw an actual copy. For all I know, it might be wonderful…or unreadable trash. A lot of vintage sleaze and retro-racy crime novels are, after all. (The latter, that is.)

But I absolutely adore that title, Blues For A Dead Lover. And the saucy cover illustration by Albert Nuetzel ( 1901 – 1969) on this 1962 Uptown Books paperback is pretty nice too. Nuetzel was a movie studio artist and painting instructor in Los Angeles, and unlike this cover art example, best known for his science fiction pulp magazine and paperback illustrations.

Pulp Fictioneers

Pulp Fictioneers John Locke

I suspect that many had-boiled crime fiction fans – readers and writers alike – tend to romanticize the legendary writers from the mid-twentieth century pulp and paperback originals era. I know I do. We have this image of a grizzled wordsmith in a dumpy third floor cold-water walkup, street noise and curbside trash smells wafting through an open window and rattling the yellowed venetian blinds, a second hand desk or wobbly card table with a pint of no-name rye whiskey on one side, a pack of unfiltered Luckies beside an overflowing ashtray on the other, and a temperamental Underwood in the middle, the writer pounding away some first-draft-is-the-only-draft tale of murder and mayhem oozing with just-sexy-enough-to-get-by eroticism, the wrinkled pages headed for Startling Detective or Women In Crime magazine.

And then you think about what that all really would’ve been like, and have to wonder what’s so damn good about the imaginary scenario.

Pulp Fictioneers – Adventures In The Storytelling Business edited by John Locke (Adventure House, 2004) goes a long way to dispelling some of the nostalgic romance. This intriguing read collects over one hundred articles, letters and miscellany from Writer’s Digest, Writer’s magazine and Author & Journalist from the 1920’s through the 50’s which provide a real-life glimpse of the pulp era from both the writers’ and publishers’ perspectives. Low per-word pay rates, production snafu’s, fly-by-night publishing scams, story rejections, puzzling writers’ guidelines, declining newsstand sales and much more – the pieces all make for a compelling read about sides of the marketplace that have nothing to do with The Shadow or Dan Turner Hollywood Detective. One thing’s clear here: Writer’s groused about editors and the markets then as much as they do now, and like all creatives, felt the world was treating them most unfairly. For those of us so entranced by the garish H.J. Ward and Norm Saunders covers and the shoot ‘em up stories, Pulp Fictioneers provides a healthy antidote to romancing bygone eras.

Hellcats, Vixens & Vice Dolls

hellcats vixens and vice dolls

Hellcats, Vixens & Vice Dolls – Women, Crime And Kink Of The Fifties, is a companion volume to editor David Jacobs’ Hoodlums, Hopheads & Hepcats, both books collecting particularly sleazy examples of 1950’s true crime magazine stories. It’s unclear where all of the 50 pieces in this 350+ page book originally appeared. There’s only a brief 3-1/2 page introduction from Jacobs, but the individual stories don’t list what magazine they came from, or even what year they appeared. The only clues are in the book’s front matter, where Police Dragnet Cases magazine issues from 1955 through 1961 are noted as the source for a lot of stories…possibly all of them. To tell the truth, I’m really not sure. But then, this is no scholarly tome. It’s a sleaze-read all the way, and many (though by no means all) of the pieces are retro-raunchy fun. It’s divided up into three sections: “Dope” with 7 pieces, “Vice” with 20, and “Mayhem” with the rest, those including various thieves, murders, gun molls and general bad girlz. Sure, it’d be nice to have each piece credited with a tidbit or two about the authors, their pen-names, the magazines…something. Still, reading this collection is a lot cheaper than buying up a few dozen issues of musty overpriced collectibles.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑