Oh! Heh heh. You had something on your shirt and I was... er... just going to stab it for you.
It's been a while since we featured Michel Gourdon's work, so above you see a cover for L'évadée de Saint-Lazare by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, for Paris based publishers Éditions Robert Laffont, number 29 in its series Collection Rex. The book is about a ruthless criminal named Fantômas, who wears a blue mask and black gloves. He was one of the most popular creations in the history of French literature. Souvestre and Allain wrote thirty-two books about him between 1911 and 1913. That's not a typo. They wrote fast, about a book a month, and were greatly helped by the money earned by selling him to the movies, where he became a stalwart of France's early silent cinema. Éditions Robert Laffont republished the books during the 1960s, with Michel Gourdon illustrating all of them, and the above edition coming in 1963. Rear cover below. We'll probably get back to Fantômas later.
French publisher Editions Ferenczi had a Verrou unique way of doing things.
Collection le Verrou (The Lock Collection) consisted of 205 pocket-sized crime novels published in France by Editions Ferenczi from 1950 to 1959. Some were written by French authors using pseudonyms that sounded English or American, while other writers used their real names, such as Alexandra Pecker (yes, that's a real name) and René Poupon (idem). Other books were written by U.S. or British writers and had been previously published. For instance, above you see Le singe de cuivre by Harry Whittington, which you might know as The Brass Monkey, and below you'll find entries from Lawrence Blochman and English scribe Peter Cheney, better known as Peter Cheyney. The art on these books is generally quite colorful. The cover above was painted by Michel Gourdon, and below you'll find another piece from him, many efforts from Georges Sogny, and a couple from as-yet-unknowns. We really like Ferenczi's output, so expect us to share more covers from this publisher later.
I shot the director. But I didn't shoot the D.O.P.
A DOP, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the Director of Photography, the director's creative right hand on a movie set. J. P. Ferrière's Marie-meurtre, which is entry #573 in Editions Fleuve Noir's long-running Spécial Police series, is about a woman whose visiting brother dies in her home of a heart attack, and whose demise is immediately followed by the arrival of a Parisian gangster looking for a cache of stolen jewels. This would normally be a disconcerting development, but Marie has an enemy and the gangster's presence turns into an opportunity for long sought revenge. The book was published in 1967 and it has Michel Gourdon artwork, possibly only tangentially related to the actual content. Since our French is bare bones at best we couldn't pore over the book to find the connection to the cover art. But when you come up with a good caption you just have to run with it.
Well, if that's the way you feel about it, fine—I'll go to the damn grocery store with you.
Here's how food shopping works around here. When we go to the market we buy only enough for a day or two because we want to prevent food from going over, but when the Pulp Intl. girlfriends go they buy more than they can carry. Therefore, when we go alone we never get everything they want, and when they go alone they never have the help they need. We're thinking of buying them a donkey to solve that problem. Paul Kenny's Consigne impitoyable has nothing to do with any of that. It's an espionage thriller featuring the long-running character Francis Coplan, aka FX 18, who works for SDECE (Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage). The series, which was credited to Kenny as a pseudonym but written by Belgian authors Gaston Van den Panhuyse and Jean Libert, was immensely popular and sold tens of millions of copies globally. As you can see, Consigne impitoyable had two nearly identical covers, presumably representing two nearly identical occasions when extra persuasion was needed to get Coplan off his ass to help with the shopping. He may need to buy a donkey too. Both editions had Michel Gourdon cover art and appeared in 1958.
She's not out of the woods yet.
This is your regular reminder that Michel Gourdon was a top notch illustrator, though his brother Alain was the one who attained legendary status. Michel was more of a workhorse, though, painting many hundreds of paperback fronts, which probably contributed to him producing the occasional less-than-stellar effort. But this piece for Pierre Courcel's, aka Roger Jean Tribot's La haine qui rôde, aka The Hatred that Lurks, is Michel at his best. The sports car and female figure are nice, but the background of trees and sunlight is particularly beautiful, we think. It's from 1965 for Editions Fleuve Noir, entry #483 in its long-running Collection Spécial-Police.
Traffic mishaps reach an all-time high.
Below, assorted paperback covers pairing mortal danger and automobiles, including many examples from France, where the theme was particularly popular. Thanks to all the original uploaders on these.
Man, he had tiny feet. Suddenly it's hard to remember why I thought he was so dangerous.
Above, a Michel Gourdon cover for Serge LaForest's Les mains propres, aka Clean Hands, for Collection Special Police from French publisher Fleuve Noir. LaForest was a pseudonym used by Serge Arcouet, who wrote 140 novels as LaForest, Russ Rasher, Tony Stewart, and—we love this one—John Lee Silver. Actually, he shared Silver with two other French writers Pierre Aryaud and Léo Malet. Remember those trips to France we took? These Fleuve Noir paperbacks are staples in every secondhand bookstore you find, probably because very close to a billion have been printed and sold from 1949 until today. Les mains propres is from 1960
He might have broken the law, but he had a higher calling.
What’s an illustrator to do when he doesn’t have a model? Borrow a celebrity. And if you’re going to use a celeb you might as well take inspiration from the best. French artist Michel Gourdon decided upon the era’s most celestial sex goddess Raquel Welch for his cover of M.G. Braun’s Sam et Sally—Le sang du ciel, published in 1972 by Editions Fleuve Noir as part of its Collection Spécial Police. This would not be the last time Gourdon used Welch as a model, but it’s probably the best example.
This sort of appropriation was not unique to Gourdon. During this same period Italian artist Mario De Berardinis used Playboy Playmate of the Year Cyndi Wood for his poster promoting the film Giro girotondo... con il sesso è bello il mondo, Sharon Tate was used for at least two late 1960s paperback covers, Lavar Burton was borrowed for the front of an ultraviolent Italian fumetto, Ornella Muti provided the physical basis for the main character of the vampire series Sukia, Beba and Fiona of the Pornostar comics were based on two showgirls from Striscia la notizia, and none other than Iggy Pop appeared on the cover of Elvifrance’s Wallestein.
All of these examples using celebrity images for profit would be violations of intellectual property laws today, we’re fairly certain, but we could be wrong about that. Were they illegal in the past? Not in Italy, apparently—Ornella Muti must have known her image was being borrowed, since she worked primarily in Italy and Sukia was published there. Same goes for the Striscia la notizia showgirls. Maybe they were flattered. If so, they should have looked inside the comics, where their characters were ripping throats out and shanking dudes in the groin. In any case, we love curiosities like these, and we’ll doubtless run across more later.
Faced with this position surrender is the only option.
Here you see a pose that appears over and over in vintage paperback art—one figure looming menacingly in the foreground as a second cowers in the triangular negative space created by the first’s spread legs. This pose is so common it should have a name. We’re thinking “the alpha,” because it signifies male dominance and because of the A shape the pose makes. True, on occasion the dominator isn’t male, sometimes the unfortunate sprawled figure is depicted outside the A shaped space, and sometimes the art expresses something other than dominance, but basically the alpha (see, that just sounds right, doesn’t it?) has been used scores of times with only minor variation. You’ll notice several of these come from subsidiaries of the sleaze publisher Greenleaf Classics. It was a go-to cover style for them. We have twenty examples in all, with art by Bob Abbett, Robert Bonfils, Michel Gourdon, and others.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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