GL: I would like to begin by asking you what was the first paperback cover painting that you did and how it came about?
MH: That's an interesting question. I've never been asked that. The very first one I did was the result of having made a sample painting for paperback publishers. I took the sample to Signet Books and they liked it. There was a man and a woman in it -- a very sexy woman.
MH: This was back in the early fifties, when absolutely every book had to have a sexy cover. It didn't matter what the book was, it could have been a cook book. It had to have a woman on the cover with prominent bosoms.
MH: Well, they decided they could use the cover, but some changes were made in it to fit a particular book they had in mind. So they had me paint out the guy and put in a different guy. That was the first cover I did.
GL: How did they make that decision? Was it the publisher, editor, or did they have art directors in those days?
MH: Oh yes, it's the same structure as it is now, it was editorial in some way that I wasn't in on. The painting was a bedroom scene, and most covers in those days were bedroom scenes, at least in serious novels. That's what this one was.
GL: How do you choose which scene to illustrate for a paperback cover?
MH: That comes about in different ways and often depends on the publisher that you're working for. When I was doing art for Bantam Books when Len Leone was there, invariably I made a sketch after he decided what he wanted to be on the cover.
MH: He was such a fine art director. He was in on their cover meetings and their cover subjects were decided in that conference before I was ever called in. That was Bantam's way of working.
MH: I'm not working for Bantam now so I'm not sure if they still do that.
I'm working now on quite a few covers for Ballantine Books, a series of mysteries by Peter Corris, the creator of an Australian private-eye. I've done half a dozen or so of those. The instructions I get from Ballantine Books are to show the hero in some kind of dramatic urban scene.
MH: Not necessarily hardboiled, but in some sort of a suspenseful setting, which pretty much means a night scene of some sort. With strong colors, like neon lights, that kind of gaudy, cheap, sleazy type of city scene. These scenes are never supposed to show the features of his face, which are always supposed to be in deep shadows.
MH: So with those instructions the rest is up to me and I go out and try to find some kind of interesting background to put him in, and some sort of interesting thing to have him doing. That's the way those came about. There are different ways at arriving at what's going to be on a cover, there's nothing set about it.
* Continued tomorrow
* The text above is copyright 1988 & 2013 by Gary Lovisi and originally appeared in Paperback Parade #7 (Gryphon Books)
Gary's website: www.gryphonbooks.com
* Thanks to UK Vintage for the use of his Mitchell Hooks paperback cover scans in today's post.