I don’t remember now who led me to check out the Web site of illustrator Robert J. Kelly; I thought it was Bill Crider, but now I don’t see any mention of him in Crider’s blog. In an event, Kelly is apparently a New Jersey graphic designer, who has contributed his talents to a wide variety of magazines and other (likely higher-paying) clients, such as the National Basketball Association. He’s especially interesting to me, because of some spec covers he’s worked up for paperback crime novels in his spare time.
Kelly has a very powerful style, distinctive for its sharp contrasts between heavy black lines and robust colors. While his art might not be appropriate for, say, the Hard Case Crime series, it would certainly be eye-catching on other novel fronts. I am particularly fond of jackets he’s created for Claude Farrére’s 1958 novel Black Opium (the original paperback cover is here); a book he’s titled Dead Man’s Eyes, supposedly by Henry Kane (though I don’t see that title among Kane’s works); and a paperback he’s calling No Time for Sleep, and crediting to Amos Hatter, a pulp writer of the Eisenhower era whose provocatively titled output included Big Town Hellcat and Crossroads of Desire, but who may or may not have actually written a book called No Time for Sleep. (These are just mock-ups, remember, not real covers.) In that last paperback image, shown above, notice not only the curvaceous blonde at the top, but also the subhead in the curve of a smile at the bottom, suggesting that there might in fact be a distinct upside to not sleeping in this woman’s company.
A couple of Kelly’s other imaginative efforts borrow from real photos, including one of bathing-suited beauty Evangeline Lilly from Esquire (featured on Kelly’s My Little Chickadee jacket) and another of singer Christine Aguilera from GQ (which appears on his Shot in the Dark front). He’s also developed some outstanding old-movie posters; I particularly like his mock-up for Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight (1927).
I’ve never met Robert J. Kelly, and have absolutely no connection to him, other than appreciating the artwork on his Web site. But I’d sure love to see his illustrated covers on bookshelves.
Are there any publishers out there in need of original artwork?