What is is that makes you buy a book? A recommendation from a friend? A glowing review? A topic you've always wanted to explore? Or does it have something to do with the appeal of the cover itself? In these days of cover art that features abstractions, fancy font work, and photography, you may walk right past some books you might have enjoyed. Their covers just don't call to you.
But that would never have happened in the Golden Age of the Pulp Paperbacks: the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, when those wonderful covers would reach out and grab you and never let go. There were perhaps a dozen really fine artists who produced those covers: Frank Frazetta, Robert McGinnis, Barye Phillips, James Avati, and James Bama, to name a very few. But none is better loved or more fondly remembered than Robert A. Maguire.
If you ever picked up a Gold Medal or Pocket Book, a Dell, an Ace or Avon, Bantam, or Ballantine, you know Bob Maguire's work. You may have been an original reader or you may now be an avid collector. But you certainly have gazed at those irresistible women and lovable tough guys that Bob rendered so brilliatly in over 600 paintings.
Bob's energetic and colorful covers, starting with detective stories in the 1950s and going on to adorn every genre and major pulp publisher of the era, were much coveted by those of us who actually wrote the pulps. We never knew, until we ripped off the plain brown wrappers, whose art work we would find bringing our characters to life. And there were a few that were inept, irrelevant, or just plain sleazy. But that was never Robert Maguire's way. I have watched new editions of some of my own novels fly off the shelves, enhanced by the most beautiful Maguire women imaginable. Of all the top-notch illustrators, it was Bob who was fabled for giving his cover girls the most exquisite eyes and the most inviting lips. (The rest wasn't bad, either!) And I say this as a writer who can boast original covers by both Barye Phillips and Robert McGinnis, two of the finest, as well. I had to wait till the 21st Century to acquire my Maguires, and now I'm lucky enough to have several on the Cleis Press editions of my books.
As a good-looking young man, Robert Maguire would sometimes pose for his own rugged cover heroes. There are some terrific photos of Bob emoting like an Oscar winner, and you see the results in the cover paintings based on them. Take a look at THE FLESH WAS COLD, DRESSED TO KILL, and dozens of othes. But the real stars on his covers are the women--"the ladies," as he liked to call them. They are supernaturally beautiful, as in the bewitching fantasy girl of BLACK OPIUM, one of his most collectible, and the saucy teaser of HELL'S ANGELS. But they are also somehow vulnerable and human, approachable despite their grace and glamour. My own special favorite is the cover of YOUNG AND INNOCENT, with two of the most stunning young women in all of pulpdom. True to the paperback fiction tradition, the alluring vixen in the background is a brunette, and she looks about as innocent as Mata Hari. Just in front of her is an even lovelier blond, the very image of heedless purity. We know at once where this is headed: it's a whole novel in one breath-taking portrait.
It is true that the marketing of the pulp paperbacks was a collaboration of talents between the illustrators and the authors, mid-wived by the clever blurb writers in the editorial office. The artists lured you into buying the books--who could resist? Then it was the novelist's turn. If the story was a good one, you came back for the writer's next book. But remember--you would never have picked it up in the first place if Robert A. Maguire hadn't been calling to you from the cover. He had an unusual sensitivity to the needs of the narrative and the humanity of the characters. This gift is never more apparent than in the illustrations he created for the lesbian pulps, infused as they are with youthful loveliness, hurt, and hope. It's real artistic magic.
Bob did other kinds of work besides the pulps--magazine covers, romance illustrations, scenics, and fine art. I don't think he ever realized quite how good, how valuable, and how collectible his life's work truly was. It is up to those of us who loved it to validate his legacy.
Bob is gone now. But I am so lucky to have met him at the Collector's Paperback and Pulp Fiction Expo in New York in 2003, organized annually by Gary Lovisi. Bob was jovial and charming, and we had our picture taken together--one of my treasures. [...] When I told him he was famous for the magnificent eyes of his "ladies," he drew one for me. And he autographed copies of my covers, including YOUNG AND INNOCENT,now reincarnated as the very essence of the new edition of my own novel, BEEBO BRINKER (Cleis Press).
There is now a beautiful new book available, DAMES, DOLLS, AND GUN MOLLS, capturing the best of Robert A. Maguire's work over a long and productive lifetime. Written with wit and insight by artist Jim Silke and lavishly illustrated, it gives the reader not only a visual feast of Bob Maguire's paintings, but fascinating information about how he matured as an artist, how he worked, and the use he made of photos and color references as the basis for finished cover art. One of the best features of the book is the touching and affectionate Foreword written by Maguire's daughter Lynn, who loved him deeply and may have known him best. He would have loved it.
Am I a fan? You bet--forever!