The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott is a coffee-table book that highlights the illustrious career of one of America's most recognizable artists (available November 11, 2014).
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that while I have long been an admirer of particularly striking covers of what we now call pulp novels, I’ve never learned all that much about the artists who create the images that grace those book faces. I’ve only recently started to learn some things about this particular corner of the visual art world, via an especially enjoyable Twitter connection (@PulpLibrarian) who is a great source of stunning book covers and information about the artists who made them. Something else that’s added to my knowledge of this terrain, and given me a thirst to be educated about it even more, is this glorious new coffee table book which celebrates the career of visual artist Robert E. McGinnis.
McGinnis, who was born in 1926 and is still with us, could be considered a hall-of-fame level artist if all he’d ever done was make the paintings that have become the fronts of noir novels. Starting this work in the late 1950s and continuing today (he does Hard Case Crime covers now), his output in this realm is astonishing both in quantity and quality. He made his name in this arena by painting a signature type of woman who often dominated the fronts of the novels. McGinnis’s ladies are stunningly gorgeous creatures but there’s more to them than that; they’re also bold ladies who look the reader straight in the eyes, as if daring us to not be taken in by their considerable wiles. Although McGinnis’s women developed in various ways over the decades and were later often joined by men and other characters on the book covers, the signature McGinnis pulp novel painting has these sexy beings appearing alone, and bearing presences of such force that no other people or things were really needed alongside them. I could go on and on about all the standout noir novels (and series of them) whose covers are the work of McGinnis’s, but readers can find that information elsewhere online or by getting hold of this book. I was especially pleased to learn from these pages that he has done fronts for titles by two of my personal favorite noir writers: Jim Thompson and Harry Whittington.
He has done so much more than just his work on noir novels, though. Other types of books for which McGinnis is behind classic cover images include gothic lit, romance novels, spy thrillers, historical fiction, mainstream novels, and even young adult books. And then there’s his work on movie posters, a milieu in which he is, again, a master. His first such assignment was for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the poster he created for that film is likely the one that comes to your mind when you think of an image advertising that film. He also made posters for a series of James Bond features and an assortment of other popular and/or groundbreaking movies such as The Odd Couple, Barbarella, Woody Allen’s Sleeper, Cotton Comes to Harlem, etc. If all that isn’t impressive enough, McGinnis additionally created visual art to many high profile magazines during the golden age of the “slicks,” among them The Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, and Cosmopolitan. For good measure he has also painted a vast array of landscape scenes and gallery portraits.
So what this 176-page coffee table book is mostly made of is examples of all the types of McGinnis art that I’ve mentioned here. That alone makes this a keeper for anyone who could appreciate flipping through pages containing such images. But there’s also text, the narrative parts written by Art Scott. Scott does a nice job of writing just enough so there is some back-story and context to help the reader understand and appreciate McGinnis’s work, but also standing back and allowing the art to do most of the speaking for itself. Also, illuminating quotes from McGinnis himself are sprinkled throughout.
I fear that my write-up on this book reads more like a press release than a review. But I’ve been reading and looking through The Art of Robert E. McGinnis for the past few days and I just don’t have a critical word to say about its contents. It is visually pleasing – breathtaking, really – from cover to cover. You can read it back to front while enjoying all the graphics but you can also just flip through it and seek out your favorite McGinnis paintings. You can set it out on your coffee table when friends are coming over or store it in your own personal favorite reading spot. It would make a hell of a Christmas gift for anyone who likes art books and has tastes such that they might appreciate the kind of work McGinnis has done.
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Brian Greene's short stories, personal essays, and writings on books, music, and film have appeared in more than 20 different publications since 2008. His articles on crime fiction have also been published by Crime Time, Paperback Parade, Noir Originals, and Mulholland Books. Brian lives in Durham, NC with his wife Abby, their daughters Violet and Melody, their cat Rita Lee, and too many books. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianjoebrain.
See all posts by Brian Greene for Criminal Element.