Here’s another in my irregular series on Ross Macdonald covers. You can find the first two installments here and here.
Over at Killer Covers, there’s an insightful post by J. Kingston Pierce on pulp paperback art. Do go over and read it here.
Pierce interviews Charles Ardai, Max Allan Collins and David Saunders. Their consensus is that by the 1970s, the trend for cheaper photographic art had forced pulp cover artists toward Hollywood and advertising. This struck a chord with me. Time has passed. Living next to a cinema means I’m depressed daily by the Photoshopped eyesores that now pass for movie posters.
Since reading that post, I’ve been mulling the subject over. Do I find photographic covers inherently less interesting? Is this unwarranted prejudice or a simple matter of aesthetic preference?
With this in mind, let’s look at another Ross Macdonald cover. My first post in this series depicted two painted covers, partly because I thought they were unusual and visually more stimulating. However, my second post showed the movie tie-in for The Drowning Pool, a lazy job of design (publicity still reproduction) but meaningful to me because of the quality of Archer-ness in Paul Newman’s face.
My subject today is a different kettle of fish altogether. Yes, it’s a photographic cover, and it’s an eccentric image.
Fontana edition, 1967
I think my first response to this cover was amusement. The forced perspective makes the corpse’s feet seem comically enlarged. Ditto the baldness of that protruding dagger. However, the more I look at it, this image unsettles me. Its gallows humour, perhaps consciously, recalls this still from Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry.
The Trouble with Harry, 1955, Alfred Hitchcock
In each case, the corpse is dehumanized, a figure of fun. And perhaps this is why the cover seems so inappropriate for this novel. As Fred Zackel recalls here, Ross Macdonald was of the opinion that, “The detective isn’t your main character, and neither is your villain. The main character is the corpse. The detective’s job is to seek justice for the corpse. It’s the corpse’s story, first and foremost.”
Despite its incompatibility with the book’s contents, I’m happy to have kept this copy in my collection. That curious blend of macabre humour and genuine creepiness is very striking!