Born with nothing and raised on lots more of the same

One of my favorite used book stores closed down a few weeks ago. There are two other good used book outlets remaining in San Diego but the one that closed had the greatest selection and the highest turnover in stock. The remaining store closest to me is kind of stuffy and the one downtown is run by a couple of sharp operators who know the real value of books and have an internet presence to exploit sales, something the one that closed and the other remaining store did not take advantage of. I blame all of you for not reading enough books in print to support it. Shame on you.

The upside to the store closing was being able to snag lots of books that I otherwise thought were too pricey on previous visits at substantial discounts. The W. B. Huie paperbook below, in spite of the visible wear, was still out of my sane price range until the day of the closing sale. Unaware the store was shutting down I had made my usual pilgrimage there and had gathered up a bunch of books and pulp magazines. I was fully prepared to pay full price for them. Instead the proprietor quoted me a cost of seven dollars for the pile. I felt like I was ripping him off and protested, offering more but he declined. I suspect he wanted to avoid the cost of shipping and storing leftover stock and knew the collectibles were going to a good home.

Yay for me!
So represented here are the front and back covers featuring the classic and perhaps most famous cover art by Robert A. Maguire for the novel The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956 re-issue). The book was re-released in conjunction with the movie of the same name featuring Jane Russell. The book is a good read and far more honest about Mamie than the rather sanitized film. The Maguire image on the cover is one of the inspirations for the pulp noir character of Diamond Bomb.

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The Four Cs

Odds are that in the 60s and 70s if there was a television show or semi-popular media property then Dell, Gold Key or Whitman published a comic book adaptation of it. Typically the book lasted only one issue and was probably done to fulfill some contractual licensing agreement. A few titles ran for more than one issue but mostly they were just one off publications created as additional advertising. The art was serviceable and the stories not much different from the show or movie they were derived from. A few of the titles later became notorious for their perhaps unintentionally humorous cover art.

Off-model representations of the original media were the norm, particularly among the early Star Trek comic books published under the Gold Key imprint. It was the painted cover art that made Gold Key stand out from their competitors. They were creative, gorgeous and fanciful and for the most part were far superior to the interior content. There are a few Star Trek and Twilight Zone covers that are just spectacular.

Had Diamond Bomb existed to have been licensed to Dell or Gold Key then she was probably have been revamped more than for the youth market mystery novels. Diamond would have been changed into a wealthy, generic action-adventurer aided by a team of unlikely specialists operating out of a secret base on an island somewhere. Diamond and any supporting characters brought over from her long publication history would have also been rendered terribly off-model and quickly forgotten except as a curiosity to die-hard comic book fans.

Cover and page for Diamond Bomb and her Clarity Commandos adapted from the Gold Key comic book Jet Dream and her Stunt-Girl Counterspies (1968).

If you get the chance to peruse the original Jet Dream comic then I recommend it. While the depiction of the wing of the jet plane cutting through the rioting crowd is the most unintentionally extreme image the book contains it is nonetheless wonderfully goofy. I didn’t do much to change the panels I posted here. FYI, the original battle cry of the Stunt-girl Counterspies was “Jet-A-Reeen-O!” Hard to top that.

Those Meddling Kids

Repackaging and recycling old novels and novelettes is nothing new to the publishing world. As previously mentioned the Perry Mason books have been in nearly continual publication since the 1930s.

Cover art for books had changed drastically since the 1940s. By the time the 1980s came around the layouts were far simpler and an art trend began that was in full force by the time the 1990s appeared and exists to this day. While book covers may have been painted they were more likely to be photographed. Photographs can be easier to manipulate and in many cases are far less expensive. Stock photos have been known to be used in the place of original art. One other difference was that the female form was not in the forefront of the art as in previous eras.

More than likely the covers were, if not abstract, dark and moody, probably consisted of props generic to a mystery tale and usually no more than three were shown. A glove, a knife and a glass of wine or a gun, a key and a letter or some combination of vaguely mysterious items would usually be shown on the cover, typically blurred or in soft light. The photographic covers of recent years, particularly among the mystery titles, are notorious for following thematic trends if not blatantly ripping off each other. There are more than a few internet sites devoted to swiped art and themes of mystery and other novels. The far more generic and arty covers also ensured that women buyers were not alienated by the sexy cover art. As in the 1970s name recognition of either the author or main character became the major selling point for books. While traditionally a big name always helped push a book out the door in earlier eras it was in many instances the niche market of young men hooked by the tease of wanton females that closed a sale. Of course, this is not restricted to the book market.

But when simply slapping on a new cover on an old story wasn’t enough then publishers diversified a bit by going after the youth market. The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and to a lesser extent The Three Investigators were very popular among younger readers. The Hardy Boys series had existed for decades and several volumes were produced. The original novels were re-written and updated to be more contemporary with brand new stories. In the 1970s the Hardy and Drew franchises outgrew their previous media flirtations and could be found in prime-time television, Saturday morning cartoons (as members of a crime-solving rock band), comic books and brand new novels. Unfortunately both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew television shows were popular not for the quality of the production but the attractiveness of the stars, a short-sighted but typical Hollywood endeavor.

Before the decline of libraries in America it was an easy task to locate complete sets of both versions of the Hardy books. Among many fans some of the 1940s versions of the books were preferred over the rebooted stories but that was not always the case. The 70s re-telling of the novels were more “realistic” and were all about solving white-collar crimes, usually with the aid of their father. The original novels occasionally drifted into the fantastic. The 1940 version of Disappearing Floor has such plot elements as sonic fear machines, mind control rays and a honest-to-gosh Science Villain. In many ways Frank, Joe and Nancy were not as accessible to readers as the Investigators. While the Hardy gang and Drew often traveled the world with their professional and successful families fighting crime the Investigators hung out in a junkyard, grifted a car company out of transportation and acted stupid around adults in order to fake them out. The Three Investigators books were a much funner read because they were more like the average young reader, fallow in resources and having to succeed primarily by using their wits. Where Nancy would just pop on down to the local FBI building to have one of the guys run fingerprints in the super-computer, the Investigators would be the kind of guys who would have to compare prints themselves with a cracked magnifying glass they salvaged from the junkyard using a personally-gathered database of suspects they fooled into handling polished drinking glasses. They were hard core.

If Diamond Bomb had existed to have been re-written for the young adult market then she would have been subjected to a radical personality change. She would no longer be a reformed thief and she wouldn’t shoot people in the legs to make a point. Men would be pals to and not meat toys. Diamond would have been essentially rebooted as a Nancy Drew clone. She would be younger, sweeter and didn’t use guns, except in a situation where she would tremulously point it at a villain who would then take it from her and hold her hostage. Diamond will have been in a non-threatening and chaste relationship with a steady boyfriend that her father approves of. Her adventures would have been technically exciting but not really dangerous. Diamond would invariably be kidnapped by the bad guy but would manage to free herself and solve the crime just as the police arrived to apprehend the criminal.

The above mock-up book cover for Diamond Bomb #1 – Those Meddling Kids was adapted from a Nancy Drew publication.

Porny Mason

Throughout the two decades prior to the 1970s publishers had pretty much saturated the market with reprinted science fiction, adventure and mystery and were searching for new consumers. The 1970s offered a new opportunity in marketing. Continuing the practices of the 1950s and 1960s previously published stories were repackaged and some cases edited to take advantage of the perceived growing culture of sexual adventurism.

Sex and sexuality was explored as never before in popular culture media as cinema, television and print added eye-catching imagery to their products. One of those franchises that took advantage and one might say suffered from the advertising culture were the Earle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason collections of the 1970s. The Perry Mason character had been in nearly continual print and produced in other entertainment forms since the first story was published in 1933.

The photographic covers of the 1970s re-issues of the Perry Mason stories are a perfect example of recognizing, understanding and exploiting pop culture. Gone were the bombshells and hard-boiled dames of previous years. Now the books attracted a new audience by taking advantage of the pornography industry’s emerging though short-lived legitimization.

Thematically most of the photographs would not be out of place if transferred to the film box covers of 8mm skin flicks. They were unapologetic come-ons. While the sexy covers may have generated some sales I recall that my mother and grandmother, who were ESG and Perry Mason fans from way back and read mystery novels on a regular basis, would not touch these books when they debuted. The idea put forth by the covers of Perry Mason, a mental image undoubtedly influenced by years of exposure to Raymond Burr, boinking his clients during huge orgies must have been a turn-off for them. I know that it is for me.

As far as I know new scenes of swinging, weed-fueled bacchanals were not edited into the old stories, though that was not true for all of the work in other fields. Sex scenes were often added semi-randomly to many reprints, most predominately for the science fiction crowd. Often I was surprised to discover SF stories that I had read in old collections when reprinted had several paragraphs tossed in devoted to sex scenes. Undoubtedly in order to keep the interest of a reader and hook them for future sales.

If Diamond Bomb had existed to have her adventures reprinted in the early 1970s then her artistic covers may have been similar to all the others on the news stands and would have been just as exploitative. One exception to the sexy themes of the covers would be the intent of the art. Being a female character it would be unlikely that Diamond would be portrayed as dominant a character as Perry Mason had been. In diametric opposition to whatever established characterization existed, Diamond would almost certainly be depicted not as strong or an aggressor but as being submissive, willing and sexy, a toy for the other characters and an intriguing tease for the prospective buyer.

I’m the only Darb here

Diamond Bomb - Dalliance Is Murder (May 1939)

I’m having a blast with the my new mystery-thriller-pulp character, Diamond Bomb. It may not be worth a visit here to anyone else but there are no comic books featuring Krypto out this week yet and as much as I enjoy Green Lantern there isn’t anything I can add to the discussions that are already out there. All the Diamond Bomb posts are is provenance, anyhow.

Here’s a wiki page mock-up about the character featuring actor Joan Blondell as the character.

Knot A Bad Girl

In the 50s and 60s and even well into the 70s old pulp series found new audiences as the relatively inexpensive and in some cases, public domain, stories of the 30s and 40s were repackaged as cheap paperback books. While considered to be disposable entertainment by both the industry and consumers many of these books featured the work of artists who were masters of their craft and examples of their work are much sought after by collectors. The nature of the industry and the readers of the time ensured that mint copies of the books are exceedingly rare and in many cases the original art is lost forever.

One of the more popular artists of the era was R. A. Maguire, who specialized in his depictions of sexy, dangerous women. Maguire typically turned in a classic work no matter the theme, whether it be crime, adventure or sleaze.

If Diamond Bomb had existed to have her fictional Pulp adventures reprinted in the 60s boom of crime novels then I would definitely would have insisted she be envisioned by Maguire.

Original art The Brass Halo by R. A. Maguire. Check out his gallery at R. A. Maguire Cover Art , you won’t be disappointed.

Diamond Bomb

Female lead characters were poorly represented in the Pulp Era of magazines. For the most part any magazines that featured women in the lead were usually written for titillation for male readers or the young adult female audience. Unless the book was aimed at the homemaker, no pulp titles with a woman carrying the series comes immediately to mind. So in a flash of inspiration that struck when I was browsing through some Pulp and Noir art I made one up.

Diamond Bomb is a tough, practical dame from the mean streets of the city who isn’t afraid to use a gun. Her past is hidden in mystery but some whisper she was the favored gun moll of notorious bank robber and cop-killer Michael “Boatswain” Sweeney.

Rumor has it when she fell out of favor with the ultra-violent “Boatswain” Sweeney the former Moll was marked for death. The hard-boiled blond went on the run, determined to gain revenge for the murder of her sister by single-handedly taking down the greedy criminal empire of the “Boatswain” Mob.

The Diamond Bomb pulp magazine mock-up is based on the classic July 1947 Black Mask magazine cover by Norman Saunders. The Black Mask pulp cover was used because it featured a blond packing heat and was easy to manipulate. Ideally though, in my mind the character resembles a “Maguire Girl“. I have one of the Robert Maguire paintings specifically in mind that I feel perfectly represents the character of Diamond. Once I get the book of his collected art out of storage I’ll post it up.