? that's the word that won't leave my brain this week. I'm knee-deep in some of the most collectible, crime-filled, hard-boiled, pulpiest books imaginable. The covers are often so bad that they're good.
It all began with Kurt Vonnegut's Dell First Edition of The Sirens of Titan. This copy was nestled in with some minor science fiction titles, all with fabulous cover art and the distinctive flavor of the late 1950s.
Is it a good book? I have no idea; I've never read it, but others assure me it goes even beyond "good." With a cover like this one, do I care? No, I want to take it home with me and revel in the colors, the overall wackiness of it. The philosophical question that is obviously being asked by the artist is: "If you strike a sultry pose in outer space, can anyone see it?" The execs at Dell knew that their customers down here on earth would see it, buy it, and maybe even read it.
The binding is in great condition after 48 years, but the pages are turning brown ? the curse of the books and magazines we know of as "pulps."
This space is too limited to give a comprehensive history of pulp and paperback publishing, but if you're interested in the authors and artwork, you might want to grab a copy of Paperbacks, USA: A Graphic History 1939-1959 by Piet Schreuders. He covers the major European and American publishers during the twenty years outlined in the title, and touches on the history that began with Tauchnitz publications in 1809.
One of the most appealing aspects of this genre is that the cover art seldom has anything to do with the story told within the pages. Take a look at this Dell cover for Dashiell Hammett's Blood Money.
There is a character named Red, but I haven't yet found the woman wearing the red dress in the story. Often the cover of a paperback novel was artwork already owned by the publishing house rather than a specially commissioned piece for a particular novel. With a few changes to the type, the art for a cover could be used over and over again.
Here's the back of the Hammett cover, showing where the action in Blood Money takes place.
The genre is worth more study; here are a couple of suggestions for books related to the pulp publishing phenomenon: Pulp Culture: the Art of Fiction Magazines by Frank Robinson; Pulp The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps by Otto Penzler.
Our Hawthorne and Cedar Hills stores attract a good amount of collectible mass markets, so if you're in town you might want to stop by and browse. Fill up on vintage covers online at www.bookscans.com. And no matter where you are, enjoy the picture below!