Hmm… an Englishman to gut with my new blade. And here I was planning to go home and shave my monobrow.
We were talking recently about Harlequin’s early days as a publisher of more than romance fiction. Above is another example—Bats with Baby Faces by W. Stanley Moss, a former British Army officer who wrote such best sellers as Ill Met by Moonlight and A War of Shadows. Bats with Baby Faces, the title of which references bat-like masks rather than actual bats, deals with intrigue and smuggling in the Deir-ez-Zor region of Syria, and in Cairo, where Moss lived in a villa that became a hub for the British social set. The most famous of his numerous real-life adventures occurred during that period, and that time also served as inspiration for much of his fiction. Harlequin’s edition of Bats with Baby Faces was published in 1952, and the cover art, with its mean caricature of an Egyptian who’s so swarthy he’s—bizarrely—purple, is uncredited. More Harlequin here and here.
Good morning, students. Let’s get right to it, shall we? Lesson one will cover how to look fuckable.
Canadian publishers Harlequin are known these days as romance specialists but in the company’s early days it had more range. Exhibit A: Oliver Anderson’s School for Love, which deals with a learning institution where guys are taught to score babes, and upon graduation each automatically earn the affections of a wealthy widow. Why are there so many widows around? No idea. The war or something. When is a strapless leopardskin mini-jumpsuit appropriate? Anytime you want, when you have the whip skills to back it up. 1953 copyright.
Whatever gets you through the night.
Paul Anna Soik is another great pulp artist who we hadn’t gotten to previously, but better late than never, especially when we’re talking about this particular cover. The scene is London's Soho district near Charing Cross Road, and he presents an image of two listless souls in an urban night infused with streetlight glare, marquee glow, and a sort of carnivalsque seediness. We know the location because the Palace Theatre is in the background. The book is a realistic look at vice and prostitution, and we can assume the woman here is a hooker, though an improbably upscale one to be soliciting. But Soik lived in Canada, so maybe he wasn’t all that familiar with London street trade. This is a Harlequin book, and Soik was basically a Harlequin house artist who painted numerous covers during the company’s early years. This one, which we think is one of his best, appeared in 1955. We’ll have more from him later.
Where there’s smoke there’s desire.
Above is a cover for Ronald J. Cooke’s The House on Craig Street, produced by an artist known only as D. Rickard for Harlequin in 1949. That’s the year Harlequin was launched in Toronto, Canada, and we gather that Rickard painted many of the company’s early covers. We had actually seen his work around quite often without knowing who painted it. But we always took note of it, and now that we've attached a name to the output, we’re officially on Rickard's bandwagon. His style reminds us of many of the French covers we share—i.e., verging on impressionistic, as opposed to the realistic work you see from many of the top American artists.
Moving on to the fiction, Ronald J. Cooke’s tale here involves a young advertising man who wants to make it big, and the action is set mainly in Montreal of the 1930s. Though there is a love interest, or even two, this book isn't one of the romances with which Harlequin earned its enduring fame. Cooke went on to write two more novels, and some non-fiction, including books like the popular Money-Making Ideas for Retirees. He also wrote tons of business articles for magazines and trade publications, exciting stuff like “How To Get Better Results for Your Mail-Order Business” and “Labour-Management Ideas That Yield Big Dividends.”
D. Rickard painted another cover for The House on Craig Street for News Stand Library’s U.S. run of the book, which you see at right. Depicting the same scene, this alternate version, also from 1949, seems to us a bit less evocative than the Harlequin cover, almost cartoonish. Anyway, we’ll have more work from this interesting artist later, but if you want to see some now, follow the link to this small collection. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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