Friday, February 01, 2019

The “Pop Culture Rembrandt” of Paperbacks

You may have noticed over the years what a big fan I am of American artist and paperback illustrator Robert McGinnis. In 2014, I not only celebrated his career with a month-long exposition of his book fronts in Killer Covers, but I interviewed Art Scott, his co-author on the exquisite book, The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan), for both The Rap Sheet and Kirkus Reviews. Two years later, I posted an additional, smaller selection of his work in celebration of his 90th birthday.

Well, McGinnis’ 93rd birthday is fast approaching—on Sunday, February 3—and I decided to compose one additional encomium to his six decades of work. As I write today in CrimeReads,
The case could well be made that McGinnis, along with contemporary commercial illustrators such as Mitchell Hooks, Ron Lesser, Robert Maguire, and Harry Bennett, was instrumental in raising the profile (and sales) of crime and detective fiction during the latter half of the 20th century. “His work was highly influential, both in the sense that a lot of other painters of paperback covers tried to imitate the McGinnis ‘look’ and in the sense that his beautiful covers got a lot of readers to pick up books they might not otherwise have tried,” explains Ardai. “I know my father bought Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne novels at least as much for the covers as for the stories inside, and I’d much rather look at a Carter Brown cover than read a Carter Brown novel any day.”

McGinnis has deployed his genius widely over the years. He’s crafted fronts not only for works of crime and spy fiction, but also for historical and Gothic romance novels. He has contributed to slick magazines and developed iconic posters for such Hollywood flicks as
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Barbarella, The Odd Couple, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Sean Connery’s 1967 James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. And he’s exercised “pure self-expression” through an assortment of gallery pieces, primarily portraits of women, rural landscapes, and Old West scenery. His colleagues at the Society of Illustrators recognized McGinnis’ expertise and prolificacy in 1993, when they elected him to the Illustrators’ Hall of Fame, an honor first bestowed on Norman Rockwell in 1958.

Yet this “pop culture Rembrandt” (as he was dubbed by a magazine serving his current hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut) got his start in the book-cover biz illustrating crime novels. And more than half a century later, he’s still influencing that field.
I have never met McGinnis, and I probably never will. But I own stacks of the paperback books he’s graced with his artistry over the years, and I try to snap up any I don’t already possess, whenever I see them. He’s a master of his art, and it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to his efforts in CrimeReads. Click here to learn more.

READ MORE:Happy Birthday, Robert McGinnis!” by J. Kingston
Pierce (Killer Covers).

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