In the 1959 premiere episode of The Twilght Zone, Earl Holliman explores a town completely deserted. After helping himself to some ice cream from the drug store soda fountain, he encounters wire spinner racks full of paperbacks, one of which is filled entirely with copies of the ominously titled “The Last Man on Earth.”
In the age of the electronic book, wire book racks (as well as drug stores that serve ice cream) are things of the past. In the golden age of the paperback, though, they were how books made their way to the masses. Drug stores, supermarkets, newsstands, and even gas stations, each had spinning paperback racks somewhere; And, from there, the rugged cowboys, monstrous space aliens, and wicked femme fatales on the book covers all vied for your attention and your 35 cents.
Sensational subjects combined with high chroma colors and visceral textures all did their part to earn paperback artwork the word “lurid” in the mouths of the mid-century elite. But, with photography dominating today’s commercial art world, a new audience for the mass-market paperback art of yesteryear has emerged amongst hipsters, academics, and fans of the outre´. In response to this new-found appreciation is Breathless Homicidal Slime Mutants: The Art of The Paperback by graphic design instructor Steven Brower.
For vintage pop culture buffs, “Slime Mutants” is a treat, a panoply of paperback cover art primarily from the late 40s through the early 70s. The author Brower, himself an artist, lets the art speak for itself and wastes no space with text explaining or critiquing it. Aside from forewords and introductions, the only text is a concise 20 page history of the mass-market paperback – beginning with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press! And while that may sound a bit staid and superficial, it’s actually more interesting and informative than one might think.
Always more populist than hardback cover art, paperback art of the golden age appealed to a more diverse readership; And Brower’s selection of art in “Slime Mutants” does the same. All the expected genres are covered: science-fiction, horror, western, mystery, romance, and adventure. Then it goes a few steps further with cover art from humor books, underground homosexual lit, juvenile delinquency novels, classic literature, and even quickie “current events” books.
So, if visceral visuals with are your thing, this collection is sure to please. Be sure to pick up Breathless Homicidal Slime Mutants. Just don’t expect to find it in a wire spinner rack.
Universe Publishing, 2010
Trade Paperback; 304 pages
$24.95 US; $29.95 Canada