Saturday, March 14, 2009

Books, part 1: Judge them by their covers

When I was about 13 and living in a small town in Minnesota where my grandparents also lived, I detasseled corn as a summer job. When the job was over and I got what seemed at that time to be a huge paycheck, I made a mad dash for the fantasy section of the mall bookstore. I knew one author I would be looking for-Edgar Rice Burroughs-but other than that, I don't know if I had any specific plans. I just went in and looked at the covers that looked cool and bought something like 20 paperbacks. Many of them were those great Ace books of the 70's, like the ones you see below with covers by Roy Krenkel and the incredible Frank Frazetta.

Frank Frazetta tends to be overlooked outside the fantasy community (where he is justifiably a god). The fact that he illustrated comics and genre fiction seems to relegate him to the back room of pulp illustration in the mind of art critics and historians. But I challenge anyone to find a fine artist who can match the intensity, the constantly smart compositions as well as do each piece in a few hours (in oils, no less). Below you will see a few of the seminal Lancer Conan covers he did, as well as Rogue Roman...a sexy gladiator romp I bought just for the cover.

Have you bought books just because they had covers you liked? There are many others I could list if I had the time or space...many of them by Frazetta. The publishers knew he could sell a book, no matter how good or bad the contents were, and they used him relentlessly. I have heard stories of him doing a painting overnight, and drying it in the oven to get it done faster. And he had such an amazing visual memory, most of his work was done without reference. The guy deserves a same place of honor in the halls of fine art that he has in fantasy art.

I am no Frazetta, but I have done my share of book and comic covers. In the 1990's especially, I did a ton of covers for Revolutionary Comics (unauthorized bios of rock stars, mainly) and Caliber Comics. You can see a few below.

The painting of U2 was the first one they ever used, after having seen it in the San Diego Comicon art show sometime around 1990 or so. I remember for some reason having to meet the guy from Revolutionary in a Subway sandwich shop in the general area of their offices in downtown San Diego...I guess they were having some sort of trouble and were keeping mum on their location. Sadly, that same guy I met with, Todd Loren, was killed not too long after that. I continued to work for Revolutionary, which by then, was being run by his parents. A few more below...

I consider the one on the upper left (Metallica) one of the best ones I did for them. Below, you will see some of the wacky combinations that came about when they decided to reprint stories together. I mean, come on...George Clinton and Winger???

Some, like the Metallica and a few others below, were fun experiments in multimedia. The Elvis on the right has many collaged elements, along with both watercolor and acrylic paint. The one in the middle (girls of rock, including such hard rocking girls like Paula Abdul...oh boy) has an actual belt glued to the board. Also, the McCartney piece above has actual dirt and flowers sitting on the painting.

So, tell me...have you ever judged a book by it's cover...and then bought it?

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