Monday, June 26, 2006

Vintage Paperback Books Part II

I have two rooms in the basement, both stuffed to the ceilings with books, old magazines, comics, all of the ephemera of an obsessive-compulsive like me. My wife doesn't like to look at all of this, and who can blame her? Thank god I got rid of over 2/3 of my collection over the years, or we'd be living in a shed in the back, and the books would have taken over the house.

Still, I venture downstairs every few days. Going into either room, reaching into any random stack will produce book treasures that make my eyes water from nostalgia (or, more likely, from the dust that comes off the books).

Anyway, I have dug out some of my favorite old paperbacks to share with you, specifically those with covers by Richard Powers, one of, if not the greatest paperback cover artist of the 1950s and 1960s. I love his surreal visions, which perfectly capture the moods of the science fiction books he was illustrating. I love the way his abstracts also included identifiable figures, usually human, but not always.

The title to this book makes it sound more sexy than it is. It must've raised some eyebrows when it came out, but the bold graphics probably also caught the eye under the raised eyebrow. You can see the little human figures running along the top of what looks like a tracked vehicle, while other human figures appear on the right, under the explosion.

A really unearthly spaceship zooms toward a Stonehenge landscape and some abstracted, but recognizably human figures. Love those explosions of his. They blowed up good! They blowed up real good!

Wilson Tucker was a science fiction fan who became a popular s-f writer. He also wrote mysteries, but I haven't seen any of his books in print for years. The design elements on the cover are superb, and the colors are bold. I'm sure it sold a lot of copies in its time. Maybe not enough to sell Tucker as a writer, but enough to keep Powers' artistic legend alive.

Of all the Powers' covers in my collection, this is my all-time favorite. I bought this book, and its companion, Zacherley's Midnight Snacks, when they came out in 1960 or thereabouts and read them to death. This is a copy of Vulture Stew I found in the past couple of years. I love the image of Zacherly, who I knew only from Famous Monsters Of Filmland Magazine. Zacherley was a TV horror-show host in the Philadelphia, but we didn't see him in the boonies out in Utah. His image in Famous Monsters was enough to get him a following, and apparently Ballantine Books decided putting his name and image on a cover--a Powers cover, yet!--would sell some books. Apparently they were right.

According to Powers' biography, he was art director and chief artist for Ballantine Books, but he must've worked for all of the major publishers. Check out the variety of publishers just from the four books I've shown here.

Because Powers was so popular books with his covers surface all of the time, so you can find them fairly easily in used bookstores, thrift stores and the like. The best thing is, they are so distinctive you can spot them instantly.

Ciao for now, El Postino

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