Here in the desert no era is celebrated more than the Middle Ages. Hair, chairs, architecture. It was a time of breakthrough with many new ideas coming to the fore. Ike was president, and new homes and highways sprang up everywhere.
Nonetheless, there were a few hints of the next decade when all bets were ruled out and many people were not as clean as they seemed. One of them was the appearance of the soft binding of slimy sex with its hot prose and more permanent covers. This art is becoming more and more collectible, politically incorrect as it is today, and a small but growing cadre of enthusiasts is chasing it. Here’s the background.
The trend began around 1958 when a stalemate in the distribution of science fiction magazines led to numerous publications assembling their tents. At the time, writing science fiction was a popular career for many upcoming authors because it required something more than lush imagination and knowledge of Jules Verne. And it paid well, but it suddenly disappeared.
Those involved in trade looked around for new places and discovered that one area that was rapidly emerging with a need for writers was sloppy publishing. These paperbacks did not pretend to be literature, but relied on sensational full-color covers and a 50,000-word story for sale. And they sold.
Soon a considerable number of science fiction writers began to write slimy novels, and the pay turned out to be even better than science fiction. Some were able to deliver two novels a month, and aspiring publishers paid them more than $ 1,200 per piece, which is almost a fortune in the early 1960s.
While censorship in America still forbade the publication of such classic erotic novels as The Lover of Lady Chatterley and The Tropic of Cancer, slimy writers developed a whole new category of euphemisms that bypassed the boundaries of permissible language. Publishers such as Nightstand Books, Scarlet Readers and a dozen others ran their printing houses day and night to keep up with demand. The new titles had a shelf life of 30 days, after which they were replaced by a slightly modified version of the same thing. The big difference was in the cover.
By the 1960s, illustration was in decline. Books and magazines turned to photography to decorate their covers, and the quality of lithographic reproduction improved in its consistency. Illustrators, many of whom were classically educated and experts in anatomical art, needed another place where they could express their talents. For some, the answer is a sloppy job.
Illustrators such as Bill Edwards, John Healey and Doug Weaver – all experienced artists – have painted dozens of slimy covers, although many have remained unsigned or given pseudonyms to avoid harassment and prosecution. Weaver used the “Sebastian” parrot as the artist’s signature on many of his works, and they are very collectible today.
Given the usual anonymity of both the writer and the artist, sleazy sex novels are sold primarily on the basis of covers. Secret visitors were able to pick a book by its cover and leave without stopping to review its story. The art was colorful, graphic and very suggestive, without being explicit. Often the covers had little, if any, to do with the narrative.
Yet the incredible talents of many artists who have created works like this were clearly visible and that is why these illustrations have become so popular today. They may not be for your living room, but original sleaze art is a fascinating and still affordable category that has gained new supporters in recent years. Whenever they appear in galleries like ours, they always pass quickly.
Mike Rivkin and his wife Linda are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. He has been an award-winning catalog publisher for many years and is the author of seven books, along with countless articles. He is now the owner of the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs. His column on antiques appears on Saturday in The Desert Sun. Would you like to send Mike a question about antiques? Contact him at [email protected]