She's dangerous, untrustworthy, and cruel—but hey, what beautiful woman doesn't come with a little baggage?
We'd been meaning to get to Milton K. Ozaki, aka Robert O. Saber for a while, and when we came across Murder Doll we took the plunge. Plotwise, Chicago private eye Carl Good finds himself in the middle of an out-of-town gangland takeover. This is no ordinary invasion—the head honcho is rumored to be the beautiful ex-mistress of an eastern mobster. The problem is nobody knows exactly who she is. Good is hired to find this bombshell criminal, as he coincidentally acquires both a hot new secretary and a hot new girlfriend. Hmm... Maybe one of them is not what she seems. This is a mostly unremarkable mystery that even a trip to a nudist colony can't elevate, but it started well, with a clever nightclub murder, and it's very readable in general, so we'll give Ozaki a pass for this lusterless effort and hope he dazzles us next time. It came from Berkley Books in 1952 and the cover artist unknown.
I've come to kidnap you—for another book cover.
Above you see two covers for Robert O. Saber's thriller Too Young To Die, the first from Graphic Books, and the second from Australian publisher Phantom. The art at top, which we think is brilliant, was painted by Walter Popp, a well known paperback and men's magazine illustrator who we've talked about several times. You can see some of those examples by clicking his keywords at bottom. His cover was copied by an anonymous artist for Phantom's re-issue. So as always we come back to the question: Why were publishers able to copy original art, but not to use it outright?
Assume you're Walter Popp and you've already been paid by Graphic for the use of your art. Phantom comes along and asks you to reuse it. It's free money in the sense that you've already done the work, and it's more exposure for your talent. So why not say yes? Since there's no reason in the world to say no we can only assume he was never asked. Looking at it from the other side, if you like Walter Popp's cover work but can't obtain the right to use it, how is it that you can get away with publishing a near exact copy? We posed that question to Bob over at the authoritative website menspulpmags.com, and he said that he thinks copycat covers that were not actual reuses of the original skated under copyright laws, and generally nobody paid much attention to them.
Bob also offered these insights:
Some of the artists who worked for mid-20th century men's adventure magazines and paperbacks that I've talked to have said they sometimes got paid small reprint fees for reuses of their work, but often did not. In the case of the men's adventure magazines, I know the artists typically only sold first publication rights and the artists who were most business savvy, like Mort Kunstler, made sure to get their originals back from the company or get fees for reuses. But some artists just turned in their illustrations to the art directors and didn't bother to get them back to track whether they were reused.
Some magazines that published multiple men's adventure magazines, like those put out by Martin Goodman's Magazine Management company, often reused illustrations in several different issues and sometimes used a magazine illustration on the cover of a paperback published by their paperback subsidiary (Lion Books in the case of Magazine Management), or vice versa. I show an example of a Samson Pollen painting used on a Lion paperback and a Mag Mgt. men's adventure mag in a recent post on my blog here.
There are many other examples of men's adventure mag illos being used on both a paperback cover and in a men's adventure magazine. For example, Pyramid published both paperbacks and Man's Magazine and many Pyramid cover paintings showed up as illustrations in Man's. I don't know if artists typically only sold first use rights to paperback publishers or all rights. I suspect it varied with the publisher. I do know many paperback cover paintings were reused both on other paperbacks and in men's adventure mags.
I also know that Gil Cohen, who I recently interviewed for my blog, told me he sold only first rights to Pinnacle for the roughly two-hundred Executioner/Mack Bolan paperback cover paintings he did. I'd guess that whether an artist got paid for reuses depended on how honorable the publishers were. Mag Mgt. and Pyramid actually treated their artists pretty well, from what I have been able to glean.
However, it seems pretty clear that many low budget men's adventure mags and paperback publishers just ripped artists off by reusing their artwork without paying them. I think that practice was pretty common and there was really no way for artists to keep track of all reuses back then. They would just have to happen to run across them on newsstands. And even then, they might not think it was worth the hassle of trying to do anything about it. Pulp art was basically viewed as "disposable" artwork without a lot of resale value back in the '50s, '60s and '70s. I think most artists were more concerned about getting their next assignment than trying to get smaller reprint fees for past work.
So there you have it, from someone who has spoken to many of the creators from the period. The art was just difficult to keep track of back then. As copies go, Phantom's Walter Popp rip-off is a decent one, though we've seen much better. We have another example of the practice you can check out here. And we're now sure our longstanding suspicions about the usage of celebrity images, which we've discussed several times, fall into the same category. Thanks to Bob for his answers, and we recommend that pulp fans check out his expansive and incredibly informative men's magazine website.
Why on Earth are you bringing up that till-death-us-do-part stuff now? Neither is us is going to die for a long time.
Above, great cover art for Robert O. Saber's Murder Honeymoon, a digest style paperback from the Australian imprint Phantom Books, 1953. The art originally fronted Saber's 1952 Original Novels thriller City of Sin, which you see at right, and was painted by the always amazing George Gross. Saber was aka Milton K. Ozaki, and we've featured him quite a bit because he seems to have always managed to have his books illustrated by the best. Though the art on these two books was basically the same, the novels were different. This is the first time we've come across identical art for separate novels by the same author.
There. I shot him. Now will you get off my back about never helping you out around here?
Above, the cover of Sucker Bait by Robert O. Saber, aka Milton K. Ozaki, 1955 from Graphic Books. Rich men pay $1,000 for entry into the Purple Door Club, where they procure the services of Chicago's most beautiful prostitutes, but also become targets for blackmailers. Hero Carl Good is accused of murdering one of the women and has to clear himself by finding the real killer. Good thing he's a detective. The cool cover art here is by Robert Maguire.
These are people who definitely pay attention to the poles.
When you look at lots of paperbacks sometimes a common thread suddenly jumps out at you that went unnoticed before. Such was the case a few weeks ago when we noticed the large number of characters on mid-century covers leaning against poles—light poles, telephone poles, sign poles, etc. We suggested someone should put together a collection, but of course we really meant us, so today you see above and below various characters deftly using these features of the urban streetscape as accessories. Art is from Benedetto Caroselli, Harry Schaare, George Gross, Rudolph Belarski, James Avati, et al. You can see a couple more examples here and here.
For better or worse, in sickness and health, women in pulp don’t have a heck of a lot of choice about it.
Pulp is a place where the men are decisive and the women are as light as feathers. We’ve gotten together a collection of paperback covers featuring women being spirited away to places unknown, usually unconscious, by men and things that are less than men. You have art from Harry Schaare, Saul Levine, Harry Barton, Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, and others.
Good boy. Now that you’ve got begging mastered let’s see how you do at playing dead.
Above, Marked for Murder, written by Robert O. Saber, aka Milton K. Ozaki, published originally in 1955, with this edition from Australia’s Phantom Books appearing in 1956. Artist unknown.
No, the other gun, silly. The one that matches my shoes. The one with the pearl inlay. Geez, men are so dense.
Above, the cover for Robert O. Saber’s, aka Milton K. Ozaki’s Chicago-based tale of crooked cops and robbers A Time for Murder, 1956. The artist here is Walter Popp.
The cover changed substantially between editions but the weirdest bit stayed.
Remember our set of paperback covers featuring women who had died with their eyes agape? Here’s another to add to the list, which we saw over at Bill Crider’s blog. It’s Robert O. Saber’s The Affair of the Frigid Blonde, published in 1950 by the Handi-Books imprint of Quinn Publishing Company, Inc. This one is a bit strange, though, because of the three men seemingly hovering in mid-air to get a look through the deceased’s skylight. We chalk the bizarre perspective up to artistic license, or maybe we’re just not seeing it right. In fact, maybe she’s not even dead. Maybe she’s just in a state of shock. If we saw three guys floating above our skylight we’d fall into a stupor too. But no, the synopsis makes clear she’s dead.
Anyway, Robert Saber was a pseudonym used by Milton K. Ozaki, who also published frequently under his own name. The book also appeared in Australia as The Deadly Blonde in 1953, published by the Australian imprint Phantom Books, with slightly altered art. Among other details, what looks like a robot but is probably supposed to be a lamp was removed from the background, a clock disappeared, a humanoid shadow at the far right edge vanished, and the woman’s undies were made less sheer (though the floating guys still get a pretty interesting angle). All in all, this is very instructive example of how cover art changes between editions of pulp paperbacks. We’ll dig up more examples later.
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