On the Art of the Book Cover

The perfect cover
The perfect cover

Some of my earliest and fondest “book-memories” are of the kind of paperback books my father and uncles used to read. The kind of books I would find on tables and shelves in various bunkhouses or in the”office” (trailer) at the city dump where my uncles used to work: westerns and detective fiction… cheap paperback books with bright and lurid covers, scantily clad women, and guns. Books I may have been too young to read, but not too young to be very interested in what the covers promised: sex and violence.

A committed… and commit-able…  used-bookstore junkie, I always have my eye out not just for volumes of poetry and works of “serious literature” that I would like to have and read, but also the kind of pulp-fiction paperbacks that caught my eye all those years ago. Not for what is inside the book (though usually I will read as much of the book as I am able) but purely for the sake of the cover art. And art it is indeed….

There are serious collectors of cover art, of the original paintings that publishing companies commissioned to draw-in male readers. Some of the original art goes for astronomical amounts when it comes up on the market. There are also serious collectors on the internet and eBay looking for “mint” copies the various paperbacks that used that art. They are willing to pay handsomely for a book that originally, according to the cover, costs just 35-cents.

Aficionados committed to the art of paperback covers and to the tales told between the covers can be found on scores of websites and blogs. Regular readers of MontanaWriter no doubt have noticed that I link to several of these blogs on the right-side of page. I read and enjoy these blogs, and other like them, regularly.

A great cover and great story

The paper and glue that paperback publishers used… continue to use, as far as I can tell… mean that old paperbacks are fragile things. The cheap price, the more-often-than-not formulaic story, the kind of person most likely to buy the book, inevitably meant that these kind of books were treated hard: read in snatches, in all kinds of weather and locations, passed around, and disposed of when no one wanted to read them anymore. Because of this, copies in good condition can be difficult to find… except of course online.

For me however, the fun is not it acquiring some mint-conditioned collectible, but in “happening” upon one of these jewels in good shape sitting on a shelf along with more ordinary paperbacks in a used-book store for just a buck or two. When that happens – and it rarely does… just a few times a year – I buy the volume, take it home, and read as much as the writer will let me.

Today I am featuring three of my all-time favorite paperback covers that I also happen own. All of them are in pretty good shape and were found in a used book store. The most expensive one I purchased for $2.00. The other two cost a buck.

Another great cover, and great story

In all three of these, I love the whole “graphic” experience of the covers (and I mean graphic in every sense of the word). To me, these are the very pinnacle of paperback art.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!