Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Moses Gets Moll’d

I own two very different copies of Roger L. Simon’s The Big Fix: a 1973 first-edition soft-cover published by San Francisco-based Straight Arrow Books, which my friend Byron Rice was kind enough to give me during his trip out to my home in Seattle last summer; and Pocket Books’ 1974 mass-market paperback edition shown above, which I purchased in 1980 (according to a note inside the cover). As much as I enjoy having the former, classic version of Simon’s original Moses Wine private-eye yarn in my library, I find the latter paperback to be more attractive. Its frontal artwork nicely represents several, if not all, of the chief highlights of Simon’s plot, as described on the book’s back—“political sabotage, a Satanist cult in the Hollywood Hills, a fatally beautiful Chicana, and a Harpo Marx-style radical who may have turned mad bomber!”

I’ve pulled that 1974 copy down from my shelves several times over the last half-decade, notably in order to pen a 2013 column about The Big Fix for Kirkus Reviews, and then again late last year when I was editing Steven Nester’s “forgotten books” critique of the same yarn for The Rap Sheet. And in all instances, I have appreciated its cover illustration without ever knowing the identity of the artist. There’s no credit supplied inside this novel, and the only hint at the painter’s identity are the initials “CM” inscribed (very small—get out your magnifying glass!) in the picture’s lower right-hand corner.

When, not long ago, my curiosity finally got the better of me, I started investigating. I turned for assistance to the Today’s Inspiration Group on Facebook, a lively successor to Canadian commercial artist Leif Peng’s long-running design-oriented blog, Today’s Inspiration, and a site with plenty of artists among its members. Peng himself suggested to me that “CM” might stand for Charles Mikolaycak (1937-1993), a man who’s remembered primarily for his children’s book illustrations, but who also created a striking set of covers for Andre Norton’s fantasy novels in the 1970s and early ’80s. It didn’t seem inconceivable that Mikolaycak could have been commissioned to give Pocket’s Fix its façade.

However, graphic artist Mitch Itkowitz weighed in soon after that with what I’ve come to believe is the correct answer to my query. He says responsibility for that Big Fix art belongs to Charles Moll.

Moll is not someone I’d heard of before, and it is not easy to find information about him. Believing him to still be alive, I tried contacting the artist a few times, using an e-mail address supplied by someone with whom he’d had previous contact—but I heard nothing back. Searching the Web is equally frustrating. Here’s a too-short bio of Moll from a pop-culture Web site called Reprehensible Digest:
Clearly an active force during the 1970s, Moll was responsible for several iconic film posters ranging from Bugsy and Logan’s Run to Three Tough Guys and White Dawn. Moll’s publishing credits in the book industry were no less impressive. His works have been associated with many sci-fi legends like Poul Anderson, Barry Malzberg and Robert Silverberg. While Moll is typically branded as a science-fiction specialist, his style and range transcended all genres of publishing. Moll has delivered quality illustrations for horror novels, general fiction and comedy. His clever blend of surrealism and humor often gave his illustrations a hip, futuristic feel.

As an artist, Moll was known to be heavily associated with Warner Brothers Studios. It is unclear whether he was an inside regular or hired gun, but Moll’s works were always well promoted and properly endorsed. With no shortage of professional commissions, Moll was a force to be reckoned with. Whether he is still actively generating brilliant art or has passed on to that great gallery in the sky, one thing is certain—they don’t make artists like Charles Moll anymore.
In addition to those non-SF works already mentioned, this artist also painted covers for books by William Kennedy (Legs, shown below), Eve Babitz (Slow Days, Fast Company), T.A. Waters (In the Halls of Evil), and Walter Satterthwait (the 1980 Dell paperback front of his standalone crime novel Cocaine Blues is displayed on the right). However, Moll’s SF and fantasy credentials are strong, with his art decorating books born from the imaginations of John Brunner, Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, and their ilk. Of Moll’s credentials as a “sword and sorcery artist,” the Finland-based publisher Castalia House wrote this:
The psychedelic era of rock music had a distinctive look for album covers. That artistic style spilled over into mass paperback book covers.

One could argue that Charles Moll was the most psychedelic artist for sword and sorcery fiction paperbacks. ... He painted covers for paperback books in the science-fiction and fantasy genres from 1971 to 1982.

Within the realm of sword and sorcery fiction, Moll like so many others worked for Lancer Books. Moll did the covers for Michael Moorcock’s
The Dreaming City (1972) and The Sleeping Sorceress (1972). ...

Moll did some work for Ace Book including “Andre” Norton’s
Huon of the Horn (1973). He also did some covers for Signet/New American Library. Some of you may remember covers for Poul Anderson paperbacks. …

During the late 1970s, most of his work was for Pocket Books. The style became less psychedelic. Moll did the covers for reprints of four of John Jakes’ “Brak” series in 1977-78. ...

Moll has had a few isolated paperback covers since 1982. His style of trippy dippy cover art was of a specific time. He is truly a forgotten sword and sorcery artist.
It’s not difficult to locate examples of Charles Moll’s excellent artistry on the Web. In addition to the previously mentioned sources, The Ragged Claws Network offers these specimens, and Flickr features a whole page devoted to his work. The book covers and two film placards below show the broad extent of his talents.

Click on any of these images to open up an enlargement.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!

Love Me Now, by Fan Nichols (Monarch, 1963). Cover illustration by Rafael de Soto. The back-cover can be enjoyed here.

READ MORE:Sweetheart Sleuths for Valentine’s Day,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Adopting Crider’s Baby

Texas author and blogger Bill Crider, probably best recognized for having penned a long-running, lighthearted mystery series starring Sheriff Dan Rhodes (Dead, to Begin With), died yesterday evening at age 76. I didn’t know him well, but I had tremendous respect for his work, his generosity in regards to other writers, and what can only be called his gentlemanly demeanor. Knowing that Crider’s remaining time among us was short (he spent the last year and a half undergoing medical treatments for a virulent variety of cancer), I had recently been thinking of a way to honor his memory once he was gone. I ultimately settled on continuing, in The Rap Sheet, a popular feature from his own blog: “PaperBack.”

Almost every day for the last seven-plus years, Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine posted the front and back covers from a vintage paperback—primarily crime novels, but with science fiction and horror fiction titles thrown in occasionally. I can’t promise to keep up that sort of pace, but I think Bill would appreciate my extending the life of his “PaperBack” postings, even if only on a once- or twice-a-week basis. And I believe Killer Covers readers will enjoy what becomes of this series. Click here to keep up with all the offerings.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Because I Needed a Marlowe Fix …

Terror Is My Trade, by “Stephen Marlowe,” aka Milton Lesser (Gold Medal, 1956)—the seventh novel in his series featuring globe-trotting, Washington, D.C.-based private eye Chester Drum. Illustration by Gerald Powell.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Can We Ever Get Enough of McGinnis?

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini, by Cynthia Von Buhler (Titan Comics, 2018). This is part of a new 1920s-set mystery thriller series “with a sinister twist!”

Last week, when I decided to celebrate Killer Covers’ ninth birthday by creating a gallery of nine vintage paperback fronts I’d added to my files over the last year, but had not found a reason to post before, it required my culling through hundreds of scans to choose just a few favorites. The rest I held back for (I hope) future use.

Amid that process, I decided to leave out several works by Robert McGinnis, the renowned cover painter who has enjoyed more than his fair share of attention from this blog (including a very recent mention). Only days later did I start to regret my decision, and feel a need to spotlight those façades separately. So what we have here are five superior specimens of McGinnis’ artistry—a new hardcover illustration at the top, followed by four classic paperback scans I was pleased to add to my collection over the last 12 months.

The Young Lovers, by Julian Halevy (Dell, 1960). You can enjoy McGinnis’ original art for this paperback by clicking here.

The Pagans, by Barbara Harrison (Avon, 1970).

The Coach Draws Near, by Mary Savage (Dell, 1972). Savage was the third and final wife of Davis Dresser, who—under the pseudonym Brett Halliday—penned more than 50 novels about Miami private eye Michael Shayne. Savage is also remembered for her 1963 modern witchcraft yarn, A Likeness to Voices.

A Peak in Darien, by Roswell G. Ham Jr. (Avon, 1960). This could have been included in my gallery of suburban yarns.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Shindig Suitable for Softbacks

Bedeviled, by Raymond Mason (Hillman, 1960).
Cover art by George Ziel.

Today marks a full nine years since I launched Killer Covers as a companion blog to The Rap Sheet. During the last 12 months I added a variety of regular features to the posting lineup here, all designed to increase activity on the page. In addition, I put up several galleries (including one highlighting books with the word “business” in their title and another that showcased fronts with women exposing themselves to men), presented a month-long celebration of American cover artist Harry Bennett, and expanded a few previously popular themed posts (such as this one featuring blondes and another focused on peeping toms). Killer Covers is still a work in progress. I don’t think I have yet found its perfect mix, one that allows me flexibility but that also keeps me attentive to its expansion. Maybe by the blog’s 10th anniversary in January 2019, I shall feel as if things are going as smoothly as possible here, but I haven’t reached that point yet. Nonetheless, this blog is now nearing 750 posts in total, and has already recorded more than 1.25 million pageviews.

By way of commemorating this anniversary, I have put together nine vintage paperback façades. These scans aren’t linked by a common theme. But they have all been added to my computer files over the last year, and I haven’t found a reason to post them before. Furthermore, I am fond of them all. I hope you enjoy them, too.

Love Cult, by Harry Whittington (Lancer, 1962.)
Cover art by James W. Lampp.

Missing! by Michael Avallone (Signet, 1969).
Cover art by Robert Heindel.

The Flying Eyes, by J. Hunter Holly (Monarch, 1962).
Cover art by Jack Schoenherr.

The Love Seekers, by Jay Carr (Beacon Signal, 1963).
Cover artist unidentified.

Operation Super Ms., by Andrew Offutt (Berkley Medallion, 1974). Cover art by Mel Crair.

Six Graves to Munich, by “Mario Cleri,” aka Mario Puzo (Banner, 1967). Cover artist unidentified.

Make My Bed in Hell, by John Sanford (Avon, 1957).
Cover artist unidentified.

Hot to Trot, by John Lahr (Fawcett Crest, 1975).
Cover art by Morgan Kane.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Vote for Your Favorite Fronts

Just a reminder that today begins the final week of The Rap Sheet’s Best Crime Fiction Cover of 2017 contest. We have 15 finalists, all of which have slowly been accumulating support from readers. At this point, the top five contenders are: G-Man, by Stephen Hunter; Blackbird, by Michael Fiegel; Follow Me Down, by Sherri Smith; Day In, Day Out, by Héctor Aguilar Camín; and The Fall of Lisa Bellow, by Susan Perabo. But that lineup could well change.

This poll will remain open until midnight on Friday, January 12. Everyone who wishes to participate is given one chance to vote, though at that time you may cast your ballot for as many candidates as you prefer. The results of our survey will, of course, be reported after all of the votes are registered.

If you haven’t already chosen your favorites, please do so now!

FOLLOW-UP: This survey’s top five vote-getters are revealed here.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

To the Nines

Robert McGinnis’ name has come up one or two times in this blog, I know (OK, maybe one or two thousand times), but that’s because even now—approaching his 92nd birthday on February 3—he continues to turn out excellent work. This coming October, for instance, a new painting by McGinnis will be featured on Hard Case Crime’s reissue of Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Count of Nine, shown above.

That book, you might remember, is the 18th original entry in Gardner’s series starring clever but oft-comical Los Angeles private investigators Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. The author saw it reach print initially back in 1958, under his by-then-familiar pseudonym, A.A. Fair. This is how Hard Case describes the plot: “Hired to protect the treasures of a globe-trotting adventurer, Bertha and Donald confront an impossible crime: how could anything be smuggled out of a dinner party when the guests were X-rayed coming and going—least of all a 6-foot-long blowgun? But that’s nothing compared to the crime they face next: an impossible murder …” The publisher goes on to promote its reissue of The Count of Nine as the novel’s “first appearance in bookstores in half a century!”

Hard Case has already brought out paperback editions of three other Cool and Lam yarns over the years: Top of the Heap, The Knife Slipped (apparently intended as the series’ second installment, but not released until 2016), and Turn on the Heat. McGinnis provided the cover image for The Knife Slipped; and now an even more beautiful example of his art will introduce this year’s trade-size edition of The Count of Nine. But that’s nine months away yet! In the meantime, let’s revisit four earlier fronts for Gardner’s tale.

Click on any of the images below to open an enlargement.

Clockwise from upper left: Pocket Books edition from 1962, artist unknown; Pocket edition from 1969, with cover art by Mitchell Hooks; Heinemann UK edition, 1959, with art by Stein; and Pocket edition from 1966, with an illustration by Harry Bennett.

Incidentally, you can read a Count of Nine excerpt here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bennett’s Beauties: Frank Kane

Part of a month-long celebration of Harry Bennett’s artistic skills.

During the early 1960s, Harry Bennett created a unified series of cover illustrations for several of Frank Kane’s novels featuring New York City private eye Johnny Liddell. I’m the proud owner of a few of these editions, though I haven’t read them all yet.