26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books  Mitchell Hooks main cover

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller Books

There is something nostalgic about vintage crime book covers from mid-20th century, a period when bookstore shelves included an abundance of low-cost paperbacks which everyone seemed to be reading. These illustrations, which range from portrayals of femme fatales to tough men who solve their problems with their fists, are in a way an important part of American publishing history.

What follows is an overview of 26 artists who have been behind some of the most iconic vintage crime books:

1. Robert McGinnis

Robert Edward McGinnis (born February 3, 1926) is known for his illustrations of more than 1,200 paperback book covers, and over 40 movie posters, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (his first film poster assignment), Barbarella, and several James Bond and Matt Helmfilms.

McGinnis’s attention to detail was such that when he was assigned to do the artwork for Arabesque he requested Sophia Loren’s tiger stripe dress be sent for him for a model to wear so he could get the right appearance.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller Books Robert McGinnis

In 1985 McGinnis was awarded the title of “Romantic Artist of the Year” by Romantic Times magazine for his many romance novel paperback covers. Since 2004, McGinnis has created cover illustrations for the Hard Case Crime paperback series.

He is a member of the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. McGinnis is the subject of a documentary film, Robert McGinnis: Painting the Last Rose of Summer, by Paul Jilbert.

For more information on his work, you can visit Robert McGinnis: 33 Best Book Covers, Illustrations And Movie Posters From A Pulp Icon.

2. Robert K. Abbett

Robert Kennedy Abbett (1926 – 2015) born in Hammond, Indiana. During the late-1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Robert Abbett, also credited as Bob Abbett, illustrated book covers for war novels, detective novels, thrillers, historical fiction and science fiction. Today, Abbett is best known for his paintings of wildlife (in particular, dogs), wilderness, sporting, and fishing.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller Books Robert K. Abbett book cover

His illustrations have been featured in a large number of books, magazines, and advertising. He has also authored or been featured in several art-related books, including A Season for Painting: The Outdoor Paintings of Robert K. Abbett  and  Wings from Cover: The Upland Images of Robert Abbett and Ed Gray.

3. Rudolph Belarski

Rudolph Belarski (1900-1983) was born in Dupont, Pennsylvania, a mining town. His parents were unskilled immigrants from Galicia, an Austrian Polish nation. Young Belarski attended school until he was twelve, when he was legally entitled to quit school and work in the coal mines, which he did for ten years. He studied mail-order art courses at night from the International Correspondence School, Inc. of Scranton, PA.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Rudolph Belarski

He moved to NYC in 1922 to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He graduated in 1926 and later taught at Pratt from 1928 until 1933.

Belarski first worked for Dell Publications doing interiors and covers for adventure pulps about the Great War, such as War Aces, War Birds, T. X. O’Leary’s War Birds, War Novels, and War Stories.

By 1935 Belarski began painting pulp covers for Thrilling Publications, such as Air War, American Eagle, Black Book Detective, Detective Novels, G-Men Detective, Lone Eagle, Mystery Book, The Phantom Detective, Popular Detective, Sky Fighters, Startling Stories, Thrilling Adventures, Thrilling Detective, Thrilling Mystery, and Thrilling Wonder. Belarski also painted covers for pulps published by Munsey, such as All-American Fiction, Argosy, Big Chief, Cavalier Classics, Detective Fiction Weekly, Double Detective, and Red Star Adventures. He also worked for Fiction House pulps, such as Aces, Air Stories, Lariat Stories, and Wings.

During WW2 Belarski was too old for military service, but he joined the USO to draw thousands of portrait sketches of hospitalized servicemen in NY and London hospitals.

After the war Belarski became the foremost paperback cover artist for Popular Library until 1951.

He then worked for men’s adventure magazines until 1960, such asAdventure, Argosy, For Men Only, Man’s Conquest, Man’s Illustrated, Man’s World, Men, Outdoor Life, Stag, and True Adventure.

Belarski moved to Westport Connecticut in 1956 and became a correspondence art instructor at the Famous Artists Schooluntil his retirement in 1972. Rudolph Belarski died at age 83 of colitis complications on December 24, 1983.

4. Norman Mingo

Norman Theodore Mingo (25 January 1896 – 8 May 1980) is most famous for being commissioned to formalize the image of Alfred E. Neuman for Mad.

A prolific magazine illustrator in the Norman Rockwell vein, Mingo resided in the Chicago area for decades before retiring to Tarrytown, New York. As a child, he won an art contest, receiving art materials and a correspondence course as a prize. Mingo had early professional success, even dropping out of high school for a year due to his workload.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Norman Mingo

In the 1920s and early 1930s, he ran a Chicago ad studio whose staff included future Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck; the studio closed during the Great Depression. Thereafter he worked largely as a freelancer, including as an illustrator for various advertising agencies and magazines, including American Weekly, Ladies’ Home Journal and Pictorial Review.

In addition to pin-up art, he also illustrated for paperbacks (Pocket Books), served as a traditional portraitist, painting such subjects as General George S. Patton Jr., and drew numerous movie posters including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

5. James Avati

James Sante Avati (December 14, 1912 in Bloomfield, New Jersey – February 27, 2005 in Petaluma, California) grew up almost like an orphan. His father was a professional photographer in New York City. His mother died shortly after his birth. He was raised by his maternal aunt and eventually his father married her.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books  James Avati

While Jim was still young, his father died and another aunt and uncle helped to raise him in Little Silver, New Jersey, where he grew up. His uncle paid for his education at Princeton University where he obtained a degree in architecture in 1935.

He was always interested in painting and loved to paint. After World War II, Avati obtained a job designing display windows at Fifth Avenue department stores in New York. But he continued to paint on the side and in 1948, impressed Kurt Enoch at New American Library, a new paperback publishing house. He was a hit from the beginning and changed the style of cover painting by the early 1950s.

Among the authors he worked with included the likes of Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, J. D. Salinger, James T. Farrell, Pearl Buck, John O’Hara, Mickey Spillane, Erle Stanley Gardner, Alberto Moravia, and James Michener.

He used professional models at first but soon used friends, family and people off the streets of Red Bank, New Jersey, his home for much of his life, as models. He sought reality in his representations on canvas and real people worked for him better than professionals.

He has been called the “Father of Paperback Book Covers” and the “Rembrandt of Paperback Book Covers”. Ironically, his own life mirrored the novels he painted.

6. Paul Bacon

Paul Bacon (December 25, 1923 – June 8, 2015) is known for introducing the “Big Book Look” in book jacket design, and designed about 6,500 jackets and more than 200 jazz record covers.

In 1950, Bacon was asked by Bill Westley, a friend’s father, to provide illustrations for his book, Chimp on My Shoulder. The art director for E. P. Dutton, the book’s publisher, was pleased enough to ask Bacon to provide a dust jacket as well. The book was not anything major, but it gave Bacon his start.

In the early 1950s, Bacon was commissioned by Tom Bevans, the art director of Simon & Schuster, to design a number of titles. Commissions from other houses came in as well, and Bacon opened his own studio in 1955. He continued to have a series of studios with his name on the door for over 50 years.

His first big hit came in 1956 with Compulsion, a novel by Meyer Levin. This cover also marked the inception of the “Big Book Look” that Bacon became known for. This look features a large, bold title, a prominent author’s name, and a small conceptual image. Instances of this “look” include Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac, and Bullet Park by John Cheever, along with countless others.

7. Robert Maguire

Robert A. Maguire (August 3, 1921 – February 26, 2005), or R. A. Maguire, was known primarily for his crime noir paperback cover art, he has produced artwork for over 600 covers since 1950. Maguire is a Member Emeritus of The Society of Illustrators.

Maguire’s over 600 covers for such publishers as Pocket, Dell, Ace, Harper, Avon, Silhouette, Ballantine, Pyramid, Bantam, Lion, Berkley, Beacon, Monarch and Signet – virtually every mainstream publishing house in New York – makes his original cover art a tour de force in the last half of the twentieth century.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Robert Maguire

One of his most famous book covers is Black Opium, which is considered by many crime noir paperback collectors to be the definitive crime noir paperback cover of the genre. He also designed art covers for video games and for music CDs

8. Jack Davis

John Burton “Jack” Davis, Jr. (December 2, 1924 – July 27, 2016) is known for his advertising art, magazine covers, film posters, record album art and numerous comic book stories. He was one of the founding cartoonists for Mad in 1952. His cartoon characters are characterized by extremely distorted anatomy, including big heads, skinny legs and large feet.

Davis was particularly noted for his depiction of the Crypt-Keeper in the horror comics, revamping the character’s appearance from the more simplistic Al Feldsteinversion to a tougher, craggier, mangier man with hairy warts, salivating mouth and oversized hands and feet, who usually didn’t wear shoes.

Among the classic horror tales he illustrated were “Foul Play,” which was cited in Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent for its depiction of “a comic book baseball game”. Others, like “Tain’t the Meat, It’s the Humanity”, “Death of Some Salesman”, “Fare Tonight Followed by Increasing Clottiness”, “Tight Grip” and “Lower Berth,” were Crypt-Keeper classics.

9. Stanley M. Zuckerberg

Stanley M. Zuckerberg (1919 – 1995) was raised on the waterfront at Long Beach, Long Island, New York, He is known for his black and white drawings and color illustrations for the military, magazines, and text books. Some of the authors whose books he illustrated were John Dos Passos, Somerset Maugham, Sinclair Lewis, James Michener, Vladimir Nabokov, Irving Stone and Norman Mailer. Devoted to Realism in art, and his subjects for pleasure were frequently the peaceful waterfront of New England, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Stanley M. Zuckerberg

He began to draw at age six. He received an Art Scholarship to Pratt Institute of Fine Arts beginning 1939. He also studied at the Art Students League with Khosrov Ajootian, William Gorham, Thomas Benrimo, and Alexander Kostellow.

10. Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett was born May 15, 1919 in South Salem, NY. His father was a native Ridgefielder whose roots in Ridgefield went back to the 18th Century. Bennett was born months after his own father, Harry Bennett, died of the 1918 flu epidemic. His mother Anna Karlson raised the family earning income by operating a laundry business. . The family moved to Gilbert street when Harry was a year old.

A 1937 graduate of Ridgefield High School, he starred in athletics, was the captain and center for the RHS basketball team that reached the semifinals in the state championship and was president of his class.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Harry Bennett

Mr. Bennett was a commercial artist for the Magazine Photo Engraving Corp., Stamford when he enlisted in the Army in November, 1940.  He graduated from the Infantry Officer Candidate School in May 1942 and was commissioned a second lieutenant, and promoted to first lieutenant the same year. Major Bennett was a veteran of the Hollandia operation, in which Gen Douglas MacArthur’s forces cut off the entire Japanese 18th Army, and in which Major Bennett himself won the bronze star.

In 1945, Bennett married Margaret Shean in Ridgefield, Ct, where they lived until 1985. After the war, his wife encouraged him to attend art school and to follow his passion for painting. Mr. Bennett attended both The Art Institute of Chicago and The American Academy of Art Chicago for two years, until he started working as a commercial artist. He illustrated ads for Buick, Pepsi Cola and U.S. Keds.

He lived and worked in what is now known as the Bennett House on Main St. in Ridgefield. He would use his family and neighbors as models for over 1,000 book covers and illustrations over the years.

Mr. Bennett was best known as an internationally published illustrator who painted large scale covers for the big publishers of the paperback industry at the time including, Simon and Schuster, Western Printing and Avon Press. He did covers for various authors including, Jude Deveraux, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. He also illustrated the first paperback edition of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.

The New York Society of Illustrators awarded Harry Bennett a bronze medal for the ink paintings he created to illustrate a boxed collectors’ edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” published in 1966, in which he was granted him a one man show at The New York Public Library.

In 1986, Mr. Bennett retired from his commercial work and traveled out West, painting and teaching. He lived in Corvalis and Cannon Beach, Oregon, until finally settling down in a small riverfront town named Astoria in 1989.He was drawn to the landscape there and moved into a small house overlooking the Colombia River. He had a studio downtown where he spent most of his time.

11. Robert E. Schulz

Robert Emil Schulz was a leading cover art illustrator whose action-themed works marked the covers of Man’s Magazine, Dell’s Ten Cent imprints, True Adventures magazine, and the dust jackets of sci-fi greats like Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov.

12. Steele Savage

Harry Steele Savage (1898–1970) was born in Central Lake, Michigan to Irish and French Canadian immigrants, Flora (McLaughlin) and William Harry Savage.

His earliest known reference to Savage’s life as an artist comes from his World War 1 draft card, where he lists his occupation as artist for the J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit, Michigan. He is probably best known for the illustrations in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Steele Savage

Other books he illustrated include Burton’s The Arabian Nights (Bennett Cerf, 1932, Triangle Books), Stories of the Gods and Heroes by Sally Benson, Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible(Revised edition), The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories by J. Harold Gwynne (1956), Life in the Ancient World by Bart Keith Winer (1961), and The Golden Library Book of Bible Stories by Jonathan Braddock.

He drew several posters and covers for science fiction books and magazines that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. He was also an illustrator of World War II era posters such as the recruiting poster: For Your Country’s Sake Today, For Your Own Sake Tomorrow.

13. Rudolph “Rudy” Nappi

Joseph Rudolph “Rudy” Nappi (1923 – 2015) studied at the Arts Student League in New York City before serving in the United States Air Force during World War II. In 1951, he married Margarete “Peggy” Schubert, a nurse.

Nappi was a well-known commercial illustrator and widely considered one of the greatest pulp fiction artists of his time. During his decades-long career, he created hundreds of covers for magazines and books such as Love Nest, Girl-Hungry, Queer Patterns, and The Bedroom Bolero. By 1968, six of every eight titles published by MacDonald & Company featured Nappi’s illustrations.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Rudolph Rudy Nappi

From 1953 to 1979, Nappi was the main cover artist for the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. Nappi was tasked with updating the characters from their old 1930’s look: he gave Nancy Drew a chic pageboy haircut and clothed her in shirtdresses with Peter Pan collars, while the Hardy Boys received a makeover that made Nappi’s portrayal the most recognizable in the history of the series. Interestingly, Nappi never read any of the books he illustrated; his wife, Peggy, would read them instead and give her husband a short summary before he began to paint.

In the 1980s, Nappi illustrated the covers for six other original series, as well as the softcover Hardy Boys Adventure Activity Book and the revised edition of The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook.

Just three days after his wife passed away, Nappi himself died on March 13, 2015, in his adopted hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina at the age of 92.

14. Barye Phillips

Barye Phillips (1924 – 1969) was an American painter and illustrator of pulp magazines and paperbacks who started by working for Columbia Pictures’ advertising department in the early 1940s.

He illustrated training booklets and propaganda during World War II. Phillips began painting paperback covers around 1943 and was very prolific throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, earning the nickname “The King of Paperbacks”.

He worked for several publishers in varying styles, most notably for Fawcett’s Gold Medal Books collection. He also painted covers for the Popular Library, Bantam Books, Cardinal Books, Dell Books, Royal Books, Pocket Books and Signet Books. He also provided the interior illustrations to the book ‘A Treasury of American Ballads. Gay, Naughty, and Classic’ (1957), compiled by Charles O’Brien.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Barye Phillips

Between at least 1944 and 1946 he was the artist of the ‘Famous Fiction’ newspaper feature for Bell Syndicate. Most episodes are attributed to Chad Grothkopf, although he was presumably only the writer. In the 1944-1946 period several episodes carry the signature “Barye” or “Phillips”.

It is believed that Phillips has at least illustrated adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (July-August 1944), Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (September-October 1944), Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (October-November 1944), the Arabian Nights tale ‘The Fisherman and The Jinni’ (November-December 1944), Grimm’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (December 1944-January 1945), Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ (February-March 1945), Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (April-May 1945), the Persian tale ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ (May-July 1945), ‘Huckleberry Finn’s Trip down the Mississippi’ (July-September 1945), Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ (September-November 1945), ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ (November-December 1945), the myth of ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ (January-February 1946) and Mark Twain’s ‘The Wonderful Story of King Arthur’ (March-May 1946).

Phillips was also active as a painter and sculptor. He passed away in 1969, at the age of 44 or 45. Milton Caniff mentioned Barye Phillips in his ‘Steve Canyon’ strip of 2 June 1963, in which Steve shows Summer Olson a painting made by Phillips in Libya, called ‘The Spectactors’.

15. Saul Lambert

Lambert (1928 – 2009) was primarily known for his paintings and works on paper — grounded in the abstract tradition and, to a large extent, based on religious iconography – hence with extensive use of gold and silver. Rather than being intellectual or descriptive, it is on a personal and meditative plane, influenced greatly by the mysticism of the Kabbalah.

For over two decades, Mr. Lambert worked in an exceptionally wide variety of media. His works have ranged from abstract acrylic paintings using gold and silver leaf, to silk screen, pastels, home shrine boxes, and color xerox transfer prints. His works have been shown in Israel and across the United States, including the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D. C. His paintings are in many corporate and individual collections. At Brooklyn College, he studied with Ad Reinhardt, Burgoyne Diller, and Robert J. Wolff. He taught at Trenton State College and Parsons School of Design.

Mr. Lambert has been a painter all of his life and also spent 20 years (1960 to 1980) as one of the most celebrated U.S. illustrators. His illustrations have appeared in publications including The New York Times, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, LIFE, The Washington Post, and Esquire; and on dozens of New American Library and Signet Book Classic covers. He received more than 40 awards for his book covers and illustrations, and is listed in Vols. 1 and 2 of Outstanding American Illustrators Today (1984-5), Graphic-Sha Publishing Co., Japan. Mr. Lambert lived and worked in New York City and in Rhinebeck, New York.

16. Victor Kalin

Born in Belleville, Kansas, in January, 1919, Victor Kalin was the oldest child of artistic parents. His father Eugene, a cornet player
with the Barnum and Bailey circus, quit the band to become a dentist—a prerequisite for marriage to Rebekah (“Dot”) Benson, an amateur painter and potter. Tucked up against the northern border of Kansas, Belleville was settled in the late 1880s mainly by
settlers from Sweden. (Kalin is likely an Americanization of Kjellin, a common Swedish name.)

He began drawing and painting as a boy. In high school, he won the national Hallmark Student Card Contest, and soon thereafter achieved international recognition by winning a Hollywood contest “to depict the Ziegfield Girl,” and help publicize the 1941 MGM
film by the same name. His art studies at the University of Kansas were interrupted for a year when the tug of music (and perhaps genetics) led him to spend a year touring as a trumpet player with the Jimmy Caton Jazz Band. Following his graduation in 1941,
Vic taught drawing and painting for a year while earning an MFA.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Victor Kalin

During World War II, Vic served in the Azores as an artist illustrating print materials and Yank magazine, a popular morale booster available to all soldiers, sailors, and airmen serving overseas. Created by enlisted men for enlisted men, Yank employed artists and writers both in its New York headquarters and on the front. Besides Victor, other Yank artists included his friend Robert Greenhalgh, Jack Coggins, and Howard Brodie, as well as cartoonists Dave Breger (G.I. Joe), and Sgt. George Baker (Sad Sack).

It was while there in the Azores that Vic met Catherine (Kate) Bryan, a 6-foot, part-Cherokee Red Cross volunteer from Oklahoma. The Officers Club show was far behind schedule when Vic was asked to lend a hand by painting a backdrop at the theater. He caught her attention when, rather than climbing up and down the 18′ ladder as he worked, he stilt-walked it across the stage. Vic and Kate left the Azores together, married, and settled in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where he began work as a magazine illustrator.

Victor Kalin is best known for his illustrations for magazines (1940s-50s), paperback book covers (1950s-60s) and record album covers (1960s-70s). His first commercial artwork was for the “big magazines”: Esquire, American Weekly, Liberty, and Colliers. These late-40’s story illustrations were generally lush–full page, full color, and always drawn and painted realistically. They suggested comfort, if not wealth, and most featured beautiful women in relaxed, leisurely poses.

In the 1950s when inexpensive paperback books became the rage, Kalin’s ingenuity and technical skills were wide- ranging enough to attract art directors at many different agencies. From the mid-fifties to sixties, Vic created the cover art for more than 200 paperback books for: Avon, Dell, Signet, Berkley, Ace and Pocket Books. Besides these mystery, gothic and early pot-boiler pulp books, during this time he also illustrated Merrill and Co. paper doll books (e.g., Betty Grable and Ballerinas), playing cards, and symphony concert programs, hard-cover adult and children’s books.

As the popularity of the mass market, standardized-format paperback began to wane in the 1960s, vinyl 12” LP records became an important part of the cultural landscape. Luckily for Vic, a music lover, every record album required an album cover. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he created more than 100 album covers as well as other album art (back and inside) for Impulse, RCA Victor, Decca Jazz, Flying Dutchman, Brunswick, Celestial Harmonies and Philco, among others.

A life-long music lover, he traveled to concerts and festivals with a press pass and camera, capturing images that would later appear as illustrations on album covers, liner notes, concert programs and personal works of art. Some photos went as-is directly into jazz magzines and books. A natural photo-shopper before Photoshop, he processed all his own black and white film and experimented with double exposure, distortion, and recomposition.

17. Robert Jonas

Born in New York in 1907, Jonas attended the Fawcett art school in New Jersey and New York University. Influenced by artist William de Kooning and other members of the “Abstract-Expressionist” movement. Went to work for Penguin, and remained there even after the departure of Ian Ballantine and several illustrators who left to found Bantam.

When the New American Library arose out of Penguin Books in 1948 Jonas acted as art director for their new Signet Imprint until a permanent director could be hired but continued his work as a paperback illustrator until the mid-1950’s, when he turned to hardcover work. His distinctive approach makes his work some of the most collectible. He died in 1997.

18. James Hill

Great Canadian illustrator James Hill (1930 – 2004) was born in Hamilton. Norman Rockwell once told Canadian artist James Hill that through his work Hill exemplified his generation just as successfully as the American icon had done himself.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books James Hill

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, James Hill crisscrossed the country capturing quintessential Canadian scenes in his colorful and evocative works. In 1966, Hill was awarded Artist of the Year by the Guild of American Artists. His famous portraits include those of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Pope John Paul II, the latter portrait having been commissioned as the official poster for the Pope’s 1984 cross-Canada tour.

19. Stanley Meltzoff

Stanley Meltzoff (March 27, 1917 – November 9, 2006) was most known for his marine paintings. Born in New York City to father Nathan, a cantor at a Manhattan synagogue, Stanley Meltzoff graduated from the City College of New York and became an instructor at Pratt Institute. Serving in Italy during World War II, he was an artist and journalist for the U.S. military magazine Stars and Stripes. He also created visuals for Puptent Poets, a paperback of soldiers’ verse.

Returning to New York City after the war, he spent years alternating between teaching and art before becoming a full-time illustrator in 1949.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Stanley Meltzoff

During the 1950s, Meltzoff created dozens of paperback covers for novels by Robert Heinlein and others, and did artwork for Madison Avenue advertising agencies. He painted covers and interior spreads for magazines including Life, National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Atlantic, providing covers to Scientific American.

20. Ernest Chiriacka

Ernest Chiriacka (1913-­2010) is internationally known as an impressionistic painter of dramatic Western moods and the American landscape. He is one of few fine artists that successfully made the leap from illustration, leaving behind a large commercial legacy including pulp covers, pin­ups for Esquire, movie posters, and illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, and Argosy.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Ernest Chiriacka

Chiriacka was born in New York City and with the help of a benefactor, trained at the famed Arts Students League in NYC, the National Academy of Design Art School, and the Grand Central School of Art where he studied under the great Harvey Dunn.

Daughter Athene Westergaard recalls the following story recounted by her father (who friends and family called Darcy and who often signed his works with this childhood nickname) “Darcy once told me that Harvey Dunn never had much to say about his work till the cover of his first pulp was displayed and Harvey’s mouth just dropped.”

21. Nick Eggenhofer

Nick Eggenhofer was born in southern Bavaria, Germany, in 1897, but after attending Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, he fell in love with the American West.

After his family migrated to New Jersey in 1913, the young Eggenhofer’s fascination with the region continued to grow and he yearned to travel to the wide open spaces of the West. It would be many years, however, before he had the opportunity to do so. Instead, he rode the metaphoric range of his imagination and soon became one of the most prolific illustrators of Western pulp magazines.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Nick Eggenhofer

Thousands of these pulp magazines (so named for their low-grade paper) were produced on a weekly basis and the demand for illustrations, primarily pen and ink drawings, was enormous. Eggenhofer sometimes submitted several hundred drawings in a single week. Over the course of forty years, he completed more than 20,000 drawings for pulp magazines and also illustrated hundreds of books.

Despite the great demands on his time, Eggenhofer became a true student of Western history. He was a careful researcher and prided himself on the historical accuracy of his depictions of the men and women who settled the West and the tools they used. He became particularly adept at representing wagons, stagecoaches, and other modes of early Western transportation.

Despite the great demands on his time, Eggenhofer became a true student of Western history. He was a careful researcher and prided himself on the historical accuracy of his depictions of the men and women who settled the West and the tools they used. He became particularly adept at representing wagons, stagecoaches, and other modes of early Western transportation.

After he had spent many years working as an illustrator in New York City, Eggenhofer finally achieved enough success to begin traveling extensively in the West. He and his wife eventually settled in Cody, Wyoming, only a short distance from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center; bringing his childhood fascination with the American West full circle.

22. Elaine Duillo

In the admittedly highly specialized realm of American romance fiction Elaine Duillo (1928 – ) is heralded by readers of that genre as “The Queen of Romance Cover Art,” but she is far more than that. The artist’s commitment to stories of romantic adventure is what gives her work its inspiration and its edge, but she is, also, easily, as skillful as an artist who has ever been inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Elaine Duillo

Her superlative draftsmanship, her exquisite sense of design, her feeling for gesture and nuance, and the striking command of mood through use of color, are coequal and exceptional attributes of her work. One might say, not knowing of her passion for this kind of story, not for the literary merit such stories can often attain, that the qualities of her art go far beyond the needs and limitations of the genre with which she is so well associated.

But this is the mark of a truly great illustrator—to be able to transcend the inherent limitations of a subject and too take with equal commitment, each assignment as it comes along, producing, with flawless veracity and dependable consistency, works of true artistic excellence.

23. Mitchell Hooks

Mitchell Hooks (1923 –  2013) is known for his artwork for paperback books and magazines. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Hooks served with the U.S. military, including occupation duty in Germany, then began his freelance illustration career in New York City.

He painted paperback covers for Avon, Bantam Books, Dell Books, Fawcett Publications and others, and illustrated for magazines including Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, McCall’s, and Woman’s Day. He illustrated romance novels, science fiction and crime fiction, such as Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy and B.B. Johnston’s Superspade series.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Mitchell Hooks

Hooks illustrated the 36-page booklet How to Respect and Display Our Flag for the U.S. Marine Corps. He also designed film posters, including the first James Bond movie, Dr. No — for which he painted “the iconic image of Sean Connery as Bond” — and The Face of Fu Manchu.

In later years he also illustrated hardcover books for The Franklin Library, Reader’s Digest Books and Coronado Publishers, and did advertising art. Hooks was 89 when he died.

24. Walter Popp

Walter Robert Popp (1920 – 2002) was born in New York City. His biological father was Gustave Gutgemon (1860-1952), a German immigrant artist, who had a significant career as a muralist and instructor of architectural detail at the Pratt Institute. His unwed mother, Kathe Popp, was born 1880 in Austria and was trained as a professional cook. In 1909 she immigrated to the U.S. on the S.S. Amerika and settled in New York City. She found work as an artist in Gutgemon’s busy workshop, where decorative designs of flowers, birds and animals were created for stylish New York furniture companies.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Walter Popp

Two years later in 1922 Walter’s younger sister Florence was born. The children were raised by their mother in Hoboken, New Jersey, at 258 Seventh Street, where their monthly rent was $25. Both children eventually joined their mother at work in Gutgemon’s shop, where they first learned to paint. His sister grew up to become the illustrator, Florence Laven.

He graduated Hoboken High School in June of 1938. He then studied art at the New York Phoenix School of Design, 160 Lexington Ave, NYC, where the pulp artist Laurence Herndon taught.

In the 1930s Gutgemon’s wife died, after which he and Kathe Popp lived together at 420 Washington Street in Carlstadt, NJ. Walter and his sister Florence were thereafter the acknowledged step-children of Gustave Gutgemon.

By 1940 Walter Popp worked briefly as a commercial artist and sold freelance illustrations to pulp magazines, but he soon entered the U.S. Army on October 10, 1942 and served in the Medical Corps in Europe as a TEC-5 during WWII. His enlistment papers record him as being twenty-two years old, single, five-eleven, and 151 pounds.

After the war he studied art and architecture at the Shriverham American University in England. In 1946 he returned to New York and attended the Art Students League, where he met another art student, Marie Mulligan, a native New Yorker from Queens. They fell in love and married in 1947. They moved to his parents home in Carlstadt, NJ, where they raised nine children.

He painted freelance pulp magazine covers and interior story illustrations for Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures,Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Story, Fifteen Western Tales, Space Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder, and Western Story Round-Up.

In the 1950s he painted covers for paperback books, which were produced by such publishers as Ace Books, Flying Eagle Publications, and Popular Library.

He also painted covers for large format true crime magazines such as Master Detective and True Detective, as well as the digest, Manhunt.

During the 1950s and 1960s he painted covers and interior story illustrations for men’s adventure magazines, such as Action Life, For Men Only, Impact, Male, Man’s Illustrated, Man’s World, Men, Men Annual, Outdoor Life, Real, Saga, Stag, and True Adventure.

In the mid-1960s, when classic illustration art was out of fashion, he began to do package design for toy and sporting-goods manufacturers. He also worked on the art staff as a full time employee of the Norcross greeting card company, at 244 Madison Avenue (Near 38th Street) in NYC.

In 1968 he moved his family to 23 Palm Court in Paramus, NJ. In the 1980s and 1990s, he and his wife, Marie Popp, collaborated on book covers for a new line of gothic romance novels. They also produced several editions of limited prints of romantic fantasy scenes for fine art galleries. These projects brought him new acclaim in his twilight years. Walter Popp died in Paramus, NJ, at the age of eighty-two on November 10, 2002.

25. Robert Stanley

Robert Carter Stanley, Jr. (1918 – 1996) is famous for his works on paperback novel covers. He was born in Wichita, Kansas, and died in Big Pine Key, Florida.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Robert Stanley

As a realist artist, together with Gerald Gregg, he was one of the most two prolific paperback book cover artists employed by the Dell Publishing Company for whom Stanley worked from 1950 to 1959. Stanley also worked for other important paperback book publishers such as Bantam Books and Signet Books and also worked as an artist for cover or interior artwork for magazines such as Adventure, Argosy, Redbook, Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post.

26. Mort Kunstler

Mort Künstler (born August 28, 1927) is known for his illustrative paintings of historical events, especially of the American Civil War. He was a child prodigy, who, with encouragement from his parents, became a skilled artist by the time he was twelve. Today he is considered the “best-known and most respected historical artist in the country.”

Künstler began his career in the 1950s as a freelance artist, illustrating paperback book covers and men’s adventure magazines. In 1965 he was commissioned by National Geographic to create what became his first historic painting. He also created posters for movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. And by the 1970s he was painting covers for Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and other magazines, with the bulk of his work during that period in advertising art.

26 Best Cover Illustrators Behind Some Of The Most Iconic Vintage Crime And Thriller books Mort Kunstler

While many of his early magazine illustrations were for public entertainment, Künstler eventually began creating military art. In 1977, his first major gallery exhibition brought new attention to his talents as a historical artist. By the 1980s he was acclaimed as America’s foremost Civil War artist, and would eventually create over 350 Civil War paintings alone. Some of his paintings have changed opinions about the accuracy of early famous paintings by others, such as Emmanuel Leutze’s famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Besides his Civil War paintings, he created historical art of the American Revolution through the Korean and Vietnam wars, along with paintings of World War II. He painted historical events such as the Oklahoma Land Rush and new immigrants on Ellis Island.

Collections of Künstler’s work are published as limited-edition prints, and his artistic output places him at the forefront of contemporary historical realism. NASA made him their official artist for the space shuttle Columbia. In 1982, CBS-TV had him do a painting for the 3-part mini-series, The Blue and the Gray, and in 1993 a one-hour television special, Images of the Civil War – The Paintings of Mort Künstler, was shown on the A&E TV network. He has received numerous honors and awards, and at least nine books are dedicated to featuring his artwork. Some experts see him as the next Norman Rockwell.

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