Category Archives: Book cover design

Pulp Friday: Interview with book cover designer, W. H. Chong

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

Pulp Friday: The Riot

I am rather partial to a good paperback movie tie-in. And I love Pan paperbacks. So this book from 1969, which I had never previously seen before stumbling across it in a second hand bookshop this week, presses all the right buttons.

The Riot, the only novel credit I have been able to find for Frank Elli, was first published in 1966. It is the story of a cynical con who finds himself thrown into the centre of a brutal hostage situation when the prison he is incarcerated in, erupts in a riot. Apparently the novel was based on an actual riot in an Arizona prison in which Elli, a former inmate of the prison, had been involved in. Kirkus Review called it ‘powerful storytelling. It’s a brutal, black vision in which the cynical despair is offset by a cool, shrug shouldered presentation.’ That doesn’t sound too bad.

It was filmed as Riot in 1969 by Buzz Kulik, a director who appears to have spent most of his career doing television, starring Jim Brown in the main role, and Gene hackman. As was often the case with prison films in the 1960s and 1970s, the production utilised real life prison inmate and staff at the Yuma Territorial Prison that it was filmed in.… Read more

Pulp Friday: The Man With the Brown Paper Face

Welcome to my first Pulp Friday offering for 2018. Today’s book, The Man With the Brown Paper Face, published by Panther in 1969, showcases one of my favourite forms of paperback cover design, photographic cover art from the late 1960s/early 1970s.

I know the purists among you dig the painted pulp covers from the 1940s and 1950s, and I love them, too. But there is something wonderfully sensational and lurid about photographic cover design from the period I mentioned earlier and, in my opinion, the Brits were the masters of it.

Photographs began to replace artwork on paperback books from the mid-1960s on. Partly this was part of an effort by publishers to be seen to be moving with the times and look more modern. Partly it was a cost cutting measure, as photographic covers were cheaper than painted ones. But despite their cheapness, arguably because of it, many of these covers manage to evoke a dynamic, visceral, fly on the wall atmosphere that could often be quite stunning.

The Man With the Brown Paper Face is a good example. The cover utilises a man with a stocking over his head, posing on top of a scrapyard car, brandishing a star picket, which the photographer probably found nearby. Its nasty and direct and – I don’t know about you – but it instantly made me want to pick up the book.… Read more

Melbourne launch of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys & Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction & Youth Culture, 1950-1980

Please join me on Monday, December 4, for the launch of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys & Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction & Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, a book I have co-edited with my friend, Iain McIntyre.

The launch will take place from 6.30pm at one of Melbourne’s coolest second hand bookshops, Grub Street Bookshop, 379 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. We’ll be doing live readings from some of the pulp novels included in our book. There will be cheap drinks available and, of course, you can buy a copy of the book.

Girl Gangs, Biker and Real Cool Cats is the result of four years work. It is the first comprehensive account of how the rise of postwar youth culture was depicted in Australian, American, and British mass market pulp fiction. It includes approximately 400 covers, many of them very rare, and 70 in-depth author interviews, illustrated biographies and articles regarding authors novelists who exploited and celebrated juvenile delinquents, beatniks, mods, bikers, hippies, skinheads, punks and a host of other subcultures.

I am really proud of this book and would love it if you could join Iain and I to launch it. This book will have very limited distribution in Australia, so for Melbourne folks, this is your ideal chance to snag a copy.

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Book review: Paperbacks from Hell, the Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction

I loved Grady Hendrix’s soon to be released book, Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction. From the opening, his discussion of John Christopher’s totally bizarre 1966 novel, The Little People, about an assortment of unsavoury individuals who spend a weekend in an Irish castle which is also inhabited by evil Nazi leprechauns (‘the Gestapochauns’) to the last few pages, the dying days of American mass market paperback horror, it is a wild, exhilarating ride.

But as well as being a lot of fun, Paperbacks From Hell is also an important work of pulp fiction and pop culture history.

The book comprises a series of thematic chapters, grouped from the most part around one or two foundation texts. Thus the chapter on satanic pulp and mass market paperbacks opens with a look at the cultural importance of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. The Omen (1976) is the starting point for a look at the large sub-genre of books about women being impregnated by all manner of hell spawn and murderous offspring. Peter Benchley’s paperback sensation, Jaws, is the precursor to a discussion about the wave of pulp and mass market paperback books featuring murderous creatures and animals turned homicidal: rats, dogs, cuts, pigs, insects, even rabbits.… Read more