Friday, March 01, 2013

A Visit with Mitchell Hooks, Part 5

In 1988 Gary Lovisi of Gryphon Books visited Mitchell Hooks at his Manhattan home/studio. He then published the resulting interview in Paperback Parade #7. With Gary's permission I'm presenting that interview this week, broken into five daily instalments... this being the conclusion. ~ Leif Peng

GL: Which paperback illustrators, either past or present, do you especially admire?

MH: Well, that's pretty easy; I like Bob McGinnis. He's a friend of mine and I think he's just a fine artist.

(Below, Robert McGinnis cover from 1960, courtesy of Ken Steacy)

MH: In the early days I admired James Avati very much. He's still working, by the way. He's well into his seventies and he's still putting out the paintings. I think those would be the two names I'd pick.

(Below, James Avati cover from 1954)
Signet1118  ## James Avati ##

MH: Barye Phillips was also a unique one all by himself. He was terrifically productive, and could put out three times as much as I could. He made a lot of money because he got paid the same and he was very fast.

(Below, Barye Phillips cover from 1957)
Gold Medal 684

MH: Also Sandy Kossin, another friend, and whom I think is a wonderful artist.

(Below, Sandy Kossin cover from 1960)

GL: What did they pay you in those days?

MH: The figure $300 comes to mind and I think that was standard for a long time. You had to hire models out of that, pay photography, and pay for costumes. I sure never got rich doing covers, but it paid the rent.

1959 - Dell D 277

GL: What's your biggest challenge as a paperback illustrator/ Either in general, or is there a particular book that really challenged you?

MH: It wouldn't have been a particular book. For most of the time, my assignments didn't come too easily. I always had to work very hard to get my ideas worked out. It's funny, in recent years it's become much easier. I suppose you get wiser and finally figure out what things are all about. So I find it fairly easy now. It wouldn't have been a particular book. The hardest problem always was to get the right idea for a cover, and trying to get it as good as I could do it. That was always very hard for me. I'd read the book and worry about it. Make sketches, worry some more. Make sketches again and often have them changed.

(Below, book cover sketches by Mitchell Hooks, American Artist magazine, Summer 1957)

MH: But in the last six or eight years it's gotten a lot easier and it's just got to be that as you get older you start to figure things out.

(Below, Mitchell Hooks promo page from his rep, Joe Mendola, 1985)

GL: What do you see in the future as trends or styles in paperback illustrating? I know you touched on realism in illustration. Do you see any other things that might be big in the future/ I see a lot of design today.

MH: Very much, especially in the typography of the cover. There's no doubt that a Baroque kind of design is popular with all the paperback publishers. They're outdoing each other for highly ornate lettering in the titles, complicated type design in the cover design.


GL: What projects can we look forward to from you in the future? You've already mentioned the detective covers you're doing for Ballantine.


GL: Are you still doing magazine illustration?

MH: Sure, but it depends on the jobs that come in. I have an agent, we have calls, we do a lot of promotions of my work and color brochures and that sort of thing.

(Below, Mitchell Hooks promo pages from his rep, Joe Mendola, 1988, 1990 respectively)

MH: The work that's been steady has been work for Ballantine Books, I do work for Doubleday's Literary Guild, and their Book-of-the-Month Club brochures. I'm doing work for Good Housekeeping magazine, and quite a lot of work for Avon Cosmetics which is never seen. They're a bit fashion-oriented, though they're not strictly fashion drawings.


GL: So you're doing a lot of different things now.

MH: Well, I don't do as many paperbacks as I once did. For about 15 or 20 years that's all I did. There wasn't much other work around, but in recent years I've sort of evolved away from there and it's kind of nice, I get to do a variety of work.

* Thanks again to Gary Lovisi for allowing me to transcribe his interview with Mitchell Hooks this week! The text above is copyright 1988 & 2013 by Gary Lovisi and originally appeared in Paperback Parade #7 (Gryphon Books)

Gary's website:

* Thanks to UK Vintage for the use of his vintage paperback cover scans in today's post.


  1. So amazing:
    For instance: that Ballantine sparsely lighted detective cover:

    It almost has the quality of a painting by Georges de la Tour IMO.

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