Thursday, August 30, 2007

Paperback 9 - Brandon House 705

Paperback 9: Brandon House 705 (PBO, 1964)

Title: Lesbian Starlet
Author: Tony Trelos
Cover artist: Unknown (there might be the faintest trace of a signature in the very lower left corner, but I can't make it out)

PRICE: SOLD! (4-12-08)

Best things about this cover:

  • The title
  • The world's least sexy office
  • The mannish, silver-haired executive with the vacant stare who looks like a blow-up sex doll - is she taking her own temperature or pointing to some dental problem she's having, because whatever she's doing, she sure as hell isn't smoking
  • "I paid for a lap dance, not a desk dance"
  • "And thus concludes part 1 of my bra-removal seminar..."

I like trying to imagine what kind of interaction could possibly have led to the moment depicted on the cover. The back cover is a cheap, two-tone close-up of the front cover, with some choice copy:
Brandon House publishers did a lot of lesbian and other sex-themed paperbacks. The lesbian paperback was a major, popular niche market in early paperback fiction, and lesbian paperbacks are now very, very collectible. This is the most valuable book I've featured so far from my collection. Condition and scarcity and desirability are the three main features that determine resale value. This book is scarce and desirable, but there are a few condition problems. Condition here is a VG (Very Good) - there are some scuffs, and it's a bit dingy, but it's almost perfectly square and appears to be unread (no reading crease on the cover near the spine). It's probably worth around $35-40, and I wouldn't part with it for under $50. I do love the trashy, cheap paperbacks, and there are many, many more to come...


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Paperback 8 - Bantam 302

Paperback 8 - Bantam 302 (1st ptg, 1948)

Title: The Fabulous Clipjoint
Author: Fredric Brown
Cover artist: Ed Grant

Yours for: $27

Best things about this cover:

  • Her dress
  • Her attitude ("What the hell do you want?") - she doesn't look that surprised or threatened, one arm akimbo, the other delicately cradling a lit cigarette. This guy should be menacing, but the whole scenario just makes him seem impotent. The chain stretches across her waist like a metaphorical chastity belt - none for you, young man.
  • Good example of cover art convention: keep man in the shadows, nondescript and gray / make the woman pop. Even though the man dominates the frame, all eyes are on the woman (peek through the locked door almost as good as a peek through a keyhole, which was a common paperback cover convention, actually - we'll see several peephole covers in the coming months)
  • Guy looks like the "gunsel" from the movie "The Maltese Falcon"
Fredric Brown was a great crime fiction and sci-fi writer of the fifties, well known for his taut writing and penchant for humor. Not nearly as famous as he deserves to be. His stuff is highly collectible, especially early paperbacks like this one. The Fabulous Clipjoint is probably his best known work.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Paperback 7 - Pyramid 139

Paperback 7 - Pyramid 139 (1st ptg, 1954)

: I Was a House Detective
: Dev Collans with Stewart Sterling
Cover artist
: photo

Yours for: $9

Best things about this cover:

  • "I Was an Armless Psychopath"
  • "Why, officer, we were just ... this is my ... he doesn't ... we're not ... say, you're handsome."
  • Why is there a giant spotlight - and apparently a smoke machine - in the hotel hallway?
  • This looks like a still from a low-budget production of Sartre's "No Exit"

But wait, there's more. The back cover:

Best things about this back cover:

Publisher couldn't afford real art for the back cover, so he cut-and-pasted photos onto a background drawn by a fifth-grader who hadn't yet mastered perspective, or, well, anything else about drawing. I think that lady is trying to open the "door" with some kind of beverage.

The very first page of this book promises that the book will tell you "what happens when":

  • ... the "Lizzies" and "Queens" have a ball in the lobby [!?]
  • ... a big-business convention brings on the girls - and the girls go wild [whether they show their tits is unclear]


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Paperback 6 - Dell D102

Paperback 6 - Dell D102 (1st ptg, 1952)

Title: Great Smith
Author: Edison Marshall
Cover artist: Robert Stanley

Yours for: SOLD (June '09)

Best things about this cover (Where to begin!?):

  • "I'm ... too sexy for this shirt..."
  • Peek-a-boo pants!? Why not?
  • World's least supportive bra: "Keeps your breasts from floating up toward your face!"
  • "Great Smith"??? "Smith" somehow doesn't go - it's anticlimactic, like "Fabulous Jones." Unless this guy is, in fact, one hell of a blacksmith.
  • I want all of you who read this to start using the exclamation "Great Smith!" in your daily lives in place of profanity.

This is definitely from the cheesier regions of my collections. Despite its bad condition, and its ordinariness, its cheapness, its run-of-the-millness, I love this book - or this cover, I should say; I certainly haven't read it. Stanley is a great realist cover artist, and though his women always look the same, his art has a softness to its edges that makes it very easy on the eye, very pleasant to stare at. Still, it's hard to imagine someone, anyone, looking at this book in line at the supermarket and thinking, "Wow, that guy is Hot!" That said, I would kill to look like him from the neck down.

This book also has a painted back cover! More art!

Best things about this back cover:

  • "I bring you ... maize" (which here looks like a giant puff of smoke, likely the result of a sticker pull)
  • "Magnificent, lusty love-making" - that's both graphic and oddly tepid
  • I believe that knight to be quite anachronistic, unless Great Smith is jousting in some early RenFest


Friday, August 17, 2007

The Great Paperback Project - Paperback 5: Pocket Books 833

Paperback 5: Pocket Books 833 (1st ptg, 1951)

Title: Of Missing Persons
Author: David Goodis
Cover artist: Ray App

Yours for: $22

"It's OK, baby. Take my hand. I'm a generic non-threatening white man. You've got nothing to worry about..."

Best things about this cover:

  • Preposterously upblown skirt, visible bra, fierce heels - that is one hot ledge-walker. She won't get far in those heels, but who cares?
  • That guy's tie is sweet. I want one like that.
  • The art here is really dynamic - lots of action - and the situation is strange enough to make it really memorable.
  • Is he yelling at her? Trying to help her? Showing her his stigmata?
  • This book is by David Goodis, one of the most collectible and revered hard-boiled writers of the 50's.

I was able to afford this book only because of its slightly shabby condition - note the many creases, and the "5¢" scribbled in ink in the upper right corner. Still, the cover is vibrant enough, and the book itself solid enough, that I'm really happy with it. I really admire the cover artists who paint in a hyper-realist style, with lots of great little details. I especially like those who can capture action or movement convincingly. My favorite covers of all time tend to be ones where the depicted figures are caught in the middle of some movement.

David Goodis was both superior to and typical of mid-50s crime writers. His writing is outstanding, but his life ... well, its arc was like that of many others. Become a writer, have some success, get lured out to Hollywood, lose your soul, kill yourself. Actually, I'm not sure if he was a suicide, but he died very young. Nope, not suicide. Not exactly. Cirrhosis - so he was a heavy drinker, which also puts him in Good Company, writer-wise. He wrote Down There, the basis for the Truffaut movie "Shoot the Piano Player."


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Great Paperback Project - Paperback 4: Gold Medal k1405

Paperback 4: Gold Medal k1405 (unknown, but not a true PBO, 1964)

Title: The Deep Blue Good-By
Author: John D. MacDonald
Cover artist: Ron Lesser (unconfirmed)

Yours for: $8

Best things about this cover:

This seems as good a place as any to talk about the demise of the mass market paperback as a species of popular art. Compare this cover to the last two paperbacks I have featured - the late 50's Gold Medals - and you can see instantly some major differences, none of them good from an artistic standpoint (but very good - crucial - from a marketing standpoint). We see the cover art, formerly the showpiece of the paperback cover, now relegated to a mere artistic gesture, an afterthought, as the author's name and Travis McGee's mug get special highlighting. Note how the girl, and even the title, sort of blend into the purplish background, while the author's name and the McGee portrait pop out because of the use of white. Gold Medal is discovering the secret to book merchandising. Art is nice and all, but we are gonna sell books by name recognition and branding - put the author's name front and center and then create a re-usable icon, rather than an original work of art, to represent the work visually. The girl is nice eye candy, but drawn to a scale too small to be truly hot. Next time you see best-sellers out at Barnes & Noble or wherever, note how many (Danielle Steele, Stephen King, etc.) have the author's name superbig, and maybe even a full-page photograph of the author on the back. Authors' names sell books - hot cover art does not (or not as much - it sells books to dorks like me, but there aren't enough me's in the world to keep a publisher solvent).

So advances in marketing mean disasters in artistry. Brand and replicate. Brand and replicate. It's the fast food model of marketing. Consistency. Familiarity. From a book lover's / collector's standpoint, it's all a bit sad.

John D. MacDonald is one of the first real stars - big sellers - of the P.I. genre, and he has his many, many fans, though I'm not exactly one of them. His plotting is good, but he overwrites, and doesn't have an authorial voice I find appealing. This book is the first in the very popular Travis McGee series. Here's a link to a gallery of covers of John MacDonald's other paperback books.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Great Paperback Project - Paperback 3: Gold Medal 899

Paperback 3: Gold Medal 899 (PBO, 1959)

Title: Bier for a Chaser
Author: Richard Foster
Cover Artist: Barye Phillips

Yours for: $12

Best things about this cover:

  • The title - my general hatred of puns is well documented, but this one is so cheesy and forced (like the title of an "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoon, e.g. "Field of Screams," "Dazed and Contused," "Remembrance of Things Slashed," etc.) that it actually works.
  • The woman, and the body (which looks like it's going by on a conveyor belt, or else relaxing in corpse pose) form an upside-down cross.
  • Peek-a-boo nightie - Collectors love these. The art here is fantastically subtle because while she is covered by a nightgown, it is quite clear that this killer is not wearing panties. She did, however, find the time to put on a fierce pair of red high-heeled shoes. She's not big on practicality, this one.
  • Even though she has dropped the gun, I am still totally counting this as part of my "Girls With Guns" collection.

The back cover copy makes this book sound dreadfully generic (I haven't read it, just as I haven't read the Vast Majority of my collection): "Remember my name - it's Pete Draco [I've gotta steal that]. It's even money you'll be seeing it in the headlines soon." I'm sorry, what was your name again?


Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Atlantic, Sep. 2007

"Schoolkids? Fuck schoolkids."

OK, normally I like to keep my blogging apolitical. The tone of most political writing tends toward the shrill in our culture, and I have no interest in adding to the largely useless and redundant Bush-bashing that many of my friends / colleagues go in for on a daily basis. That said, I have to share with you (whoever you are) the following paragraph from Joshua Green's article, "The Rove Presidency," which appears in the current Atlantic, because it absolutely blew me away. It's astonishingly revelatory / disheartening. Keep in mind that the Atlantic (my favorite non-Buddhist, non-Oprah magazine) is pretty far from a liberal rag. Very far. Anyway, here it is. Read it and weep. Seriously, weep. It's pretty sad.
Dick Armey, the House Republican majority leader when Bush took office (and no more a shrinking violet than DeLay), told me a story that captures the exquisite pettiness of most members of Congress and the arrogance that made Bush and Rove so inept at handling them. "For all the years he was president," Armey told me, "Bill Clinton and I had a little thing we'd do where every time I went to the White House, I would take the little name tag they give you and pass it to the president, who, without saying a word, would sign and date it. Bill Clinton and I didn't like each other. He said I was his least-favorite member of Congress. But he knew that when I left his office, the first schoolkid I came across would be given that card, and some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president's autograph. I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it." Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition with Clinton and asked the president if he would care to continue it. "Bush refused to sign the card. Rove, who was sitting across the table, said, 'It would probably wind up on eBay,'" Armey continued. "Do I give a damn? No. But can you imagine refusing a simple request like that with an insult? It's stupid. From the point of view of your own self-interest, it's stupid. I was from Texas, and I was the majority leader. If my expectations of civility and collegiality were disappointed, what do you think it was like for the rest of the congressmen they dealt with? The Bush White House was tone-deaf to the normal courtesies of the office."
This just reminded me that political persuasion has come to mean far less to me than "civility and collegiality" in terms of whom I'm likely to vote for. If you can't be decent, then I don't care if you agree with me on every political issue. You'll never, ever get my vote. And I don't care if my not voting for you means we might have a President Romney. I just don't care anymore.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Great Paperback Project - Paperback 2: Gold Medal 698

Paperback 2: Gold Medal 698 (Paperback Original [PBO], 1957)

Title: The Baby Doll Murders
Author: James O. Causey
Cover painting: Barye Phillips

Yours for: $12

Best things about this cover:

  • Alliteration!
  • Mere mention of "marijuana" drives the resale value of this book Way Up
  • She is in color, while teenage lothario with the bourbon is not - clearly he is one of her "games"
  • Smoking in bed - if you're going to feature hot women on your covers, they should be one or more of the following things: a. in their underwear, b. drinking, c. smoking, d. armed, preferably with a gun (I have a whole "Girls With Guns" subsection in my collection). We get 2 out of 4 here, which is pretty good

Barye Phillips was a fine and incredibly prolific paperback cover artist. You can tell this is a late 50's cover (the beginning of the end of the paperback's Golden Age) because Gold Medal (GM) is trying to pass off an incomplete painting as artsy. A lame B&W repro of her graces the back cover. Part of posting and commenting on my collection on-line will be trying to pinpoint what defines the style of different artists and eras. Phillips (who always signs his stuff "Barye") did amazing, full-cover art (much of it GGA, or Great Girl Art) for GM throughout the early/mid-50s. He was probably their most active artist. We'll see much more of his works in the coming weeks / years.

Monday, August 6, 2007

"Simpsons" Avatar

Create your own "Simpsons" avatar at

Here's mine:

Here's the one that makes me look my real age, but ... I can't get the wrinkles AND the glasses - a real design flaw in the software, if you ask me.

The Great Paperback Project - Paperback 1: Ace Double D-27

As some of you know, and most of you don't - why would you? - I have a fairly sizable collection of Vintage Paperbacks. They date from about 1939 (the beginning of mass-market paperbacks) to about the mid-'60s, when book design (especially the covers) started to get unimaginative and ugly. I like beautiful books. With libraries so abundant, there is little point owning books any more unless they a. are very useful to you, or b. are beautiful. Cheaply made books with stupid, generic, cooked-up-in-some-marketing-lab covers depress the hell out of me. Someday, I will share with you my theory of contemporary book design (including the ironic similarity between the cover art of "women's literature" and snuff films), but for now, I begin a much happier project - putting my beautiful books on display, web-style! A few times a week, I will post a new picture of a vintage paperback cover from my collection. At that rate, my entire collection should be on-line in about ... 12-15 years. May we all live that long.

These covers will appear in no particular order (just as the books sit on the massive shelves next to me). I pull book off shelf, I scan, up it goes. I hope to spread some wee bit of appreciation for the beauty of mid-century paperbacks. I knew nothing about them until I stumbled on pictures in Robert Polito's great Jim Thompson biography. I found out that I could Never afford any of Thompson's paperback originals (not true, I own a couple now), but when I went into one of the many local used bookstores in Ann Arbor, I found that there were lots of Thompson-era (i.e. '50s) paperbacks lying around, lots of them with sensational cover art, and often available for reasonable prices. So I started buying. And buying. And Buying. This is what I did instead of writing my dissertation. Seriously. Thank you, Mellon Foundation. I know I didn't get my dissertation done during my fellowship like I was supposed to, but I amassed a hell of a paperback collection, so your money was well spent.

Paperback 1: Ace Double D-27 (PBO / 1st ptg, 1953)

Titles: Double Take / The Fingered Man
Authors: Mel Colton / Bruno Fischer
Cover artists: [Julian Paul] / Norman Saunders

Yours for: $17

"Don't shoot him! He's doughy. Shoot me between the shoulder blades instead."

Best things about this cover:

  • She is hot
  • Tag line: "She Was Hard To Meet And Deadly To Know" - "Meet" and "Know" are like the least active active verbs ever ... unless "Know" is biblical, in which case I take it back
  • Brightness of her clothes (and lips) against drabness of the rest of the scene
  • Love the "Killer's Eye View" - you'll see a number of these in my collection
  • The gun is her spine - lots and lots of interesting / disturbing juxtapositions of women and weapons in my collection
  • That's the roomiest interior I've ever seen on a standard automobile

And on the Flip Side...

"OK, ma'am, first thing you're going to want to do is stop choking yourself."

Best things about this cover:

  • Her insane eyes, and insaner mouth
  • The haunted phone that has wrapped its tentacle around her arm and is now forcing her to choke herself
  • The gigantic, unmelting blocks of ice that look like three cars trying to pull into a narrow glass tunnel
  • The original title: "Quoth the Raven," HA ha. Literary!
  • The artist's signature ("Saunders") nestled along the edge of the newspaper

Ace Doubles are iconic mid-century paperbacks. Almost all paperbacks cost just a quarter from 1939 well into the '50s, but Ace Doubles were a little more, for good reasons. Double the content, double the cover art. Value!

One down, a couple thousand to go.