Wednesday, 25 February 2009

What's Up with Gene?


The Mystery League books were a short-lived series in the early 1930s: lurid thrillers created to be sold through cigar shops rather than bookshops. Probably the only one of their writers still remembered today is Edgar Wallace, and even he is barely read these days. It's safe to say that literary merit was not the Mystery League's prime concern.

What they did do well were covers: most of their Art Deco-inspired dustjackets were the work of a man signing himself 'Gene', who may have been one Eugene Thurston (I can't determine this for sure)--or atleast they did them well when they weren't plastering 'Prize Baffle' competition details on the front covers.
















These are really nice, though the man on the cover of Sydney Horler's Peril does seem to be undoing his fly in order to surprise the sinister intruder coming through the red-lit doorway.

The mysterious Gene cropped up on a couple of other covers for more legit publishing houses, including one for the extraordinarily demented Harry Stephen Keeler, a Jonathan Cape jacket, and one for Evelyn Waugh.





The Mystery League also launched a short-lived magazine, masterminded by the two cousins better known as Ellery Queen. Though it had interior illustrations by Gene, the covers sadly went for photographs.






More Mystery League covers can be found at this Flickr page, while more on the men behind Ellery Queen can be found here.

9 comments:

Ian Shimkoviak said...

That first batch is excellent. I love those kind of strong, dark lines and shadows with a splash of a second color. And the typeface across those series works well for most of them too. Great find...

Ian Shimkoviak said...

have you ever done a piece on Verso's publications. Many of them are a treat. Some are your typical, expected pieces, but many cross the line: http://www.versobooks.com

Ian Shimkoviak said...

these ones were what caught my eye...

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51YqrN5TkBL._SS500_.jpg

Ian Shimkoviak said...

and one for the road: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24140210@N05/3092321177/

if you have not seen it...

JRSM said...

I'd never seen either of those--nor, in fact, do I really have much of an idea about Verso--but based on them I'm going to have to do a bit of investigating. They're really cool. Thanks for the tip!

Marc said...

Those are wonderful. I'm now thinking that the early Dennis McMillan publications from the 1980s must have been looking directly at those for the design of their early publications. I only have two (Fredric Brown collection, Homicide Sanitarium and The Given Day by van Gulik), but suspect all of them had made for a similar sort of collection of covers.

JRSM said...

I think you're right about the Dennis McMillans: I've got a bibliography of their early covers (thanks to ace designer Michael Kellner) and they do seem to be influenced by Gene and co.

krimileser said...

Several readers of my blog have reminded me that Evelyn Waugh is (at least in Germany) considered as "Weltliteratur".

JRSM said...

As in being above national boundaries and belonging to the world? Or is there another meaning?