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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BIG GUNS, BOLD GUMSHOES, AND BAD GIRLS

SELLING A BOOK BY ITS COVER

 
There was no lack of pulp fiction in the 30's, 40,s and 50's.  Literally thousands of paperbacks, many by writers who did nothing but pump out books with provocative titles and tantalizing cover art.  Drugstore Novels, Dime Novels, Detective Magazines.  Writers who quickly faded into obscurity.  Artists who attracted cult followings.  Guns, fedoras, and most often a scantily clad dame in peril...or just plain bad.
 
Girls Out Of Hell, Bad Girls, Dames Can Be Poison, She Tried To Be Good, She Couldn't Be Good, Blonde Hellcat, Marijuana Girl, Pleasure Girl, Pit Stop Nympho, Deadlier Than The Male, Big City Girl, Gang Girls, I Prefer Girls, and on and on...
 
 
Along with the sultry babes there were the clever and catchy titles...and the alluring tag lines...
 
She knew what she wanted...a man to take her away from the dirt road and one-room shack she called home.
 
Betty was easy to get...but hard to hold.
 
And from D for Delinquent (no...not a Sue Grafton title)...She was strictly for the boys.

 
And there were the suits and ties, the hats, the handguns close by...and sure...why not a vixen, too...
 
 
It was not only the once obscure, now vanished drugstore novels that used sex and violence out front to promote sales.  Publishers used these eye-catching titles and images for books that would eventually become genre fiction classics...as these editions of some very well-known and admired crime novels illustrate...

 
Bondage and leggy blondes in London and Paris...
 
 
Philip K. Dick (the android in the fur coat and little else), George Orwell (Big Sister with cleavage), and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (sirens indeed)...
 
 
And let's not forget good old Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade...

 
We have recently seen a return to the pulp cover art tradition...certainly influenced by what has now become a classic image for a new generation...
 
 
Hard Case Crime has published out-of-print classics as well as new titles with striking old-school cover art...including two recent titles by this up-and-comer...

 
Down & Out Books has recently published titles with covers paying homage to the classic artwork of the golden age...

 
Could this brand of pulp cover art be used to boost the sales of classic literary fiction...replete with babes, allusions to Hollywood icons...and tag lines like these...
 
She's...no angel.
 
When it came to loving...he knew which Daisy to pick.
 
Here's looking at you Cathy.
 
Someone thought so...

 
I leave you with the burning question...can you really tell a book by its cover...
 
And I also leave you with a book cover I put together myself...maybe someday I will write a book to represent it...
 

 

3 comments:

  1. I have to ask about that "Blade Runner" cover. Dick never wrote a book of that title. The hairdo, fur coat and title are all from the film. Is this for real?

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  2. John—The cover you refer to is a perfect example of how a novel titled "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (which didn't exactly fly off the shelves when first published in 1968) by a little known (at the time) science fiction writer oddly named Philip K. Dick (whose name is conspicuously absent from this particular cover)—might attract more attention by tieing it into the hit 1982 movie, "Blade Runner", and the actor already known and loved by so many as Han Solo and Indiana Jones—(not to mention throwing in the scantily clad woman-droid). And there is no arguing that movies sell books—from "Pride and Prejudice" to "Lord of the Rings" to "Les Miserables"—film adaptations have landed classic literature onto modern bestseller lists—and reissues of those classics use movie images on their reimagined book covers—to attract those who are more familiar with the names of film actors than with the names of the characters they portray. It is the book cover as 'packaging'—as well thought out and market researched as the cereal box and the beer commercial. It is all silly and interesting and someone must believe it works. And the bottom line—if it inspires a prospective reader to look inside the book—that's fine with me.

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  3. The craziest thing is that the title comes from a forgotten novel by Alan E. Nourse (pretty much forgotten himself) called "The Blade Runner," about a guerrilla medical operation. William S. Burroughs wrote a film treatment (never produced) using the title. Hampton Fancher, who wrote the screenplay for the Scott movie was a huge Burroughs fan and had a copy of the obscure treatment. He thought "Blade Runner" just sounded cool and much better than the working titles they had been using and including it in (I believe) a single line of dialogue in the movie. It's a strange business.

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