W H Chong is book cover designer based in Melbourne. From his first cover design job, a souvenir booklet to mark 1990 Collingwood AFL Grand Final victory, he has gone on to become Design Director for Text Publishing and has won multiple awards for his covers for young adult fiction, crime, classics and literature. Below is an interview I did with him on what is involved in a good cover design and his favourite cover designs from the science fiction reading of his youth. It originally appeared in the now defunct online magazine Spook, in August 2015.
How did you get into book design?
The correct answer is by accident. I started designing newspapers in the eighties and then I started doing magazines in the early nineties. When Text Media [now Text Publishing] started as an imprint of books run by Diana Gribble in the nineties, I was there, so I did the design. Because in the old days, people just did stuff. It was all very much a case of people putting something together that they were learning how to do as they went along. Design just needed to be done. Some of it included books. That was no big deal. There was no specialty. You weren’t learning to be a neurosurgeon; you were just doing things with scalpels, so to speak.… Read more
San Francisco based crime writer Domenic Stansberry recently sent me a copy of a book he has just put out through his very cool looking small publisher, Molotov Editions. The book is a re-released edition ofThe Syndicate by a little known Black crime writer, Clarence Cooper Jr.
I hope to write about the Molotov Editions reprint of The Syndicate, the cover of which is included below, in a future post. For now, however, I want to talk about the Cooper novel I have read, The Scene, also published in 1960. And if The Scene is any guide I am pretty sure I will dig The Syndicate.
The book set in a nameless US city, and deals with the bleak, dead end lives of the junkies, prostitutes and criminals who populate an area of it, known as ‘the Scene’.
A myriad of characters shift in and out of the story: there’s Rudy Black, a ruthless, showy pimp and up and coming pusher, part of a network of dealers working for a mysterious criminal called ‘the Man’, who controls the flow of narcotics in the Scene: Black Bertha, who also deals to support her and her daughters but doesn’t use herself; and Miss Dalton, the Man’s loyal secretary.
In late 2017, LA based author, Eric Beetner and I discussed doing a crime reading reading on YouTube to mark the release of novels we both had coming out earlier this year through the same publisher, Down and Out Books. The idea sort of grew from there to encompass an author either based in or who had written fiction from at least one country in continent on the earth (with the exception of Antartica).
For reasons which are obvious in retrospect, but didn’t seem so at the time, putting this together was not as easy as we thought it would be and took a long longer than we planned. In particularly, my take home lesson is crime fiction from Latin and South American is really underexposed outside that region.
Anyway we decided to call our YouTube reading Continental Crime. Hopefully you find a new voice you like and get exposed to the wonderful world of reading books from different cultures. A big thanks to Eric’s editing skills for pulling the final product together.
An aspect of pulp culture I don’t cover very often on this site is the world of men’s pulp magazines. While the late 1940s saw the pulp novel take over from the pulp magazine as the most successful and overt manifestation of pulp culture, the magazines did not die out completely. Quite the opposite. The pulp magazine morphed into the true crime magazine, a phenomenally successful format that continued until the very early 1990s. Another successful manifestation was the men’s pulp magazine, titles such as Men, Stag and Swank.
Men’s pulp magazines combined hard hitting fiction with over the top ‘non-fiction’ exposes of various mid century obsessions – sex in suburbia, white slavery, black magic, crime, out of control youth, etc – and lavish, high sexualised illustrations. A large number of these magazines appeared in the 1950s, when the format was at its height, and they continued to be published until well into the 1970s before they died out.
I am not sure how many Pulp Curry readers I have in Gippsland. In the event there are some, just a heads up that I’m appearing at the Latrobe City Literary Festival, in Traralgon, this coming Sunday, May 27. As part of a panel of talented folks, I’ll be talking about the history of Australian pulp fiction and the book I have co-edited, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980. I’ll also have copies of the book for sale.