The Art of Vintage Paperback Novels.

Dames, Barbarians and Jungle Lords

More articles by Phillip López Jiménez

Back in the 70’s when I was a kid, every Friday evening after school my mother would take my sister and me to the shopping mall. While my sister and mom went looking at clothes I would hit the book stores that were ubiquitous to the shopping mall, B. Dalton, Pickwick and Walden books. This was my Louvre, my MET, these weekly ventures introduced me to the illustrated art of the paperback novel. In that time it seemed like cool illustrated art was everywhere, on trading cards like Topps Wacky Packages, Slurpee cups from 711, but none offered the lurid promises of the illustrated paperback novel with their muscular heroes and voluptuous half nude space vixens being attacked by hideous four armed beasts.

As a 10-year-old, I would stare at these covers and get lost in whatever lurid science fiction fantasies, exotic jungle adventures or rustic gunslinging oaters the artist presented. This was their era of the series book reprints from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and Mars novels, the 30s era pulps reprints of Doc Savage, or the works of prolific western author Louis L’amour, the spy adventure novels of Nick Carter: Killmaster, Remo Williams: The Destroyer. The artists and books are too many to cover so I’ll focus on the more popular titles and artists.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.

The title I loved the most or rather have the fondest memories of is the Tarzan reprints from Ballantine Books. This series of books would often line the bottom shelves of the sci-fi/fantasy section of the bookstore in the mall. The books were black with bright yellow lettering and in the center of the cover was an illustration describing the action that awaited within.

The Art of Neil Adams


I remember one Friday evening picking up the first book in the series, Tarzan of The Apes, and being completely enthralled by comic book artist Neil Adams strikingly horrific image. My young imagination wondered what this strange Sasquatch looking creature who’s clutching a beautiful woman’s blonde lock of hair in his fist wanted with Miss Jane Porter and how was Tarzan going to save her from this brute? I don’t know how well this image would fly today but if you’ve read the books you know Jane becomes quite the tough adventurer in her own right, but to a young boy in the 70s, this was exciting stuff. The first copy I had was taken away at school, apparently, it wasn’t acceptable reading material, but I eventually scored another copy which I still have today.

Boris Vallejo

The Art of Boris Vallejo

The other cover artist for this series was the legendary Peruvian painter Boris. Boris Vallejo is probably the most prolific paperback fantasy artist, often compared to the great Frank Frazetta since they’ve illustrated some of the same characters, like Conan The Barbarian, his work was not just seen on books but beer ads, movie posters, album covers etc. I’ve always loved how his skin tones reflect the ambient light around it giving the skin an ethereal feel to it.

John Carter of Mars and the Art of Michael Whalen.

The Art of Michael Whalen

Burroughs other major work was the series of books about the Martian planet called Barsoom. The books tell the story of an American soldier, John Carter, transplanted to Mars and his adventures with a lovely, and a very nude, red skinned princess of the city Helium, Dejah Thoris. Over the years artists have had a difficult time portraying Miss Thoris due to puritanical objections over a woman’s naked body, but I think artist Michael Whalen has done it the best, though Frank Frazetta illustrated her prior.

Michael Whalen has become one of the leading fantasy artists currently working today. He has done covers for Del Rey’s collection of H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King’s Dark Tower novels, Robert A. Heinlein and more. His work is vibrantly colorful and whimsically lyrical, his cobalt blues and punchy greens really pop out.

James Bama & the Man of Bronze: Doc Savage.

The Art of James Bama

Another popular series was Doc Savage. These were originally published serialized in pulps back in the 30s, the modern superhero owes a lot to Clark “Doc” Savage, with his fortress of solitude and his extreme wealth to finance his crime fighting. Bantam Books published these stories as novels from 1964 – 1990 with painted covers by famed illustrator James Bama. Bama painted Doc as a tanned buffed out widow peaked adventurer fighting werewolves, dinosaurs etc. There’s no doubt his look also inspired another
adventurer, Indiana Jones.

James Bama inspired Indiana Jones?
Western themed fine art by James Bama

James Bama created 62 covers for Doc Savage. Bama also painted the box art on the Aurora monster kits of the 60s and 70s. In his 90s, he is still active today and paints western themed fine art and is a master in his field.

Damaged Dames: Robert McGinnis

A certain French girl – Robert McGinnis.

No one paints a tough, sexy dame like the great Robert McGinnis. His illustrations graced the covers of all kinds of genres, cheap detective, romance, adventure novels. His women were slender, sophisticated, sexy and often deadly. He did well over a thousand covers and his work was often imitated but never equaled.

Bond Movie Art by Robert McGinnis

Like some of the previously mentioned artists, he also worked on movie posters most notably the Bond pictures, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and hundreds more.

There were so many great artists working in this field to mention them all, Frazetta and Frank McCarthy come to mind, but I hope these images whet your appetite to explore this subject more. Most of these artists have books covering their illustration careers.

-Phillip López Jiménez