Pulp Friday: Guns with plots

Let’s make one thing clear. I don’t own a gun. Never have and never will. Indeed, the only guns I want to see are in film or on the cover of books like the ones featured in today’s Pulp Friday post.

For a while now I have been obsessed with the cover above of the 1964 Panther edition of Len Deignton’s The Ipcress File. The cover, done by influential English graphic designer, Ray Hawkey, who would go onto to do a number of paperback covers, exudes a style and tone I could never imagine being used today except as a deliberate retro homage.

It speaks to the everyday grime, drudgery and unglamorous boredom of the Cold War spy racket, which the Deighton novels featuring the working class spy, Harry Palmer, evoke so well. There is also the mess that comes with the trade: a cold cup of tea (probably cold); cigarettes, because in the sixties every fictional spy smoked; paperclips for the paperwork; and, a gun and bullets, because sometimes you have to kill someone.

It is a gritty, cluttered layout I associate with mass paperback novels of the type that were largely targeted at men in the 1960s and 1970s. As it turns out, a bit of a dig around reveals it was a style that was widely used in those two decades – but it also bled over into the 1980s – by mass market paperback publishers in the crime, mystery and espionage thriller categories.

I don’t know to what, if any degree, the above cover for The Ipcress File was influential in developing this particular style of paperback cover design and would be keen to hear from any Pulp Curry readers who may have information that can shed light on the question. For example, the cluttered style of the books on this post remind me of the wonderful painted covers on the Agatha Christie books released by Fontana in the late 1960s and 1970s, although the latter have a more surreal bent.

All the books below, most of which are from my own library but a few of which were sourced from the Internet, are from the 1960s, 1970s, although some, like the cover of The Ipcress File directly below, are from the 1980s.


8 Responses

  1. Those are wonderful covers. I would not own a gun either, but I do love book covers featuring guns.

    Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980. was featured on Booklist Online today. I could read the review since I don’t subscribe, but I already have my copy so that’s OK.

  2. Tracy,
    Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I was aware that Booklist Online was doing a review of the Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats. I believe it is very positive, which is great.

  3. An interesting set of covers. I didn’t realize there were so many from those decades that featured closeup photos of guns. I’m more of a fan of vintage covers that use cover paintings rather than photos, but I can appreciate the skill involved in the “still life with gun” covers you picked. And they are at least a step above all the minimalist “all text” style of covers.

    • Bob,
      While I adore the older painted covers, I have a real jones for photographic paperback covers from the 1960s and 1970s. They are often so simple but imaginative and have a wonderful, gritty fly on the wall feel I love.

  4. Charles Perry

    The paperback is a reproduction of the first edition dust jacket by Raymond Hawkey, who called it “the template for the covers of all subsequent airport novels”

  5. Andrew just discovered your site – Wow!

    • June,
      Thanks for the feedback. I am in the final year of a PhD at the moment, so am not posting as much as usual, but it is always nice to get positive feedback. Your site looks good, too!
      Cheers, Andrew

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