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Make Believe Paperbacks

Those of us who love vintage paperbacks of all kinds also enjoy seeing “make-believe” or fake paperbacks, mockups of the real thing used for ads, movies, magazine articles, etc. A good example was the poster for the film PULP FICTION. Appropriately for that title, the poster showed Uma Thurman reading a vintage digest. The poster itself also looks like an old pulp cover, with artificial aging and creasing, and a ten-cent price. This brilliant art was also used on the DVD, the soundtrack and the published screenplay.

Then there were the old MAD and TRUMP magazine parodies where they would show how the paperback publishers of the day would reprint the classics with sleazy covers, as in TOM SAWYER with a new cover highlighting not Tom or Huck but a busty Becky Thatcher undulating for Tom on the cave floor.

It was very common for men’s magazines of the postwar era to offer a “book bonus”, an abridged version of a hardcover or paperback. Some of them were never books at all, just long novellas written just for the men’s magazine and never reprinted. Normally these “book bonus” stories would have classic interior illustration, but they rarely featured a mocked-up paperback cover for a non-existent book. An exception to that was a series of MAN’S DARING covers in 1965. In addition to the usual cheesecake and flashy blurbs, the MAN’S DARING magazine cover included a fake paperback cover as that month’s book bonus, complete with a title and author and flashy “vintage sleaze”- style cover art by the late great John Duillo. The usual men’s mag staples – delinquents, cleavage and Nazis – were all featured. Here are a couple examples of sleazy 60’s paperback books that never were, except on the cover of MAN’S DARING:

MAN’S DARING cover images courtesy of our friends at www.vintagesleaze.com


The under-rated 2005 Shane Black film KISS KISS BANG BANG is loosely based on a Mike Shayne mystery called BODIES ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM by Brett Halliday, and one of the many in-jokes in the movie is a series of references to sixties private eye “Jonny Gossamer”, star of TV, movies and old Mike Shayne-style paperbacks. In one scene at a party, a few of the old paperbacks are pulled off a bookshelf, and to the delight of vintage PB fans everywhere, the covers look exactly like Dell Mike Shayne paperbacks by Robert McGinnis. They look exactly like McGinnis because they ARE McGinnis. The filmmakers were wise enough to enlist the original cover artist to do the vintage-style mock cover art for the film. Luckily for us, McGinnis is still working and even does covers now and then for the Hard Case Crime series.

McGinnis did four fake paperback covers for KISS KISS BANG BANG. Art Scott, the author of THE PAPERBACK COVERS OF ROBERT MCGINNIS, told me that the art director on the film was purposefully attempting to create the look and color palettes of vintage paperbacks for scenes in the film.

The secret behind the success of the McGinnis pastiches is a lifetime of awareness, among book collectors and mystery readers at least, of the 88 great Brett Halliday covers McGinnis did for Dell. For fans of make-believe paperbacks, these four are the coolest. (You can find a fine checklist of all of McGinnis' s covers in the book by Art Scott mentioned above.) I will be offering a collection of Mike Shayne Dells by Robert McGinnis during the summer of 2008 on eBay, and I encourage you to look there anytime for the work of one of the greatest living paperback artists.

Here are the four Jonny Gossamer paperback covers created by Robert McGinnis for the movie.


Compare the look and feel of those mock-ups to the real thing:


Note: in 2012, the fabulous web blog MensPulpMags.com explored the rest of the MAN'S DARING faux paperback covers: http://www.menspulpmags.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

Lynn Munroe Books