Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of pulp novel cover art and the classic 1940s and 1950s steamy and smoky night scenes and dark places spotlighted on book covers probably already know about artist Reginald Heade.  His fans even refer to him as the best British artist–ever.  Heade created hundreds of striking and memorable images to sell the aura of a niche of fiction that reflected the times, and this master of “that by which readers are not supposed to judge the book” was previously featured in a 168-page work, The Art of Reginald Heade by researcher Stephen James Walker.  Telos Publishing and Walker have extensively revisited the material and historical archives to nearly double the volume of the book with newly found artwork and commentary to form a new expanded, giant 320-page edition, The Art of Reginald Heade: Special Edition.

In the word of the day, these novels featured covers spotlighting the “dames” of their story, femme fatales, sultry, sexy, sometimes in charge, and a lot of times beaten down by the gangsters and thugs of the story, often objectified, and in misogynistic situations.  Some of these could be called repellant by current–and contemporary–mores, created in the world approaching the pinnacle of criticism of blatant depictions of slavery, bondage, crime, and violence, a backlash that would gain a firmer footing in the 1950s of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent.  Heade didn’t dodge the criticism, and in some countries Heade’s work was censored and the subject of scorn.  Some of his final artwork was pre-emptively censored by the publisher and ultimately not used in his lifetime, and the original art can be found in this book.  Sometimes referred to by the oddly incongruous “good girl art,” Heade’s art reflected an expert in drawing the feminine form.  A true working artist, he seemed to crank out new, unique, and fresh designs for his subjects as much as any great genre creator has ever done.  Seventy and eighty years after their publication, many of the books featuring Heade’s artwork have become grails for book collectors and mid-century pin-up art fans, with a few more obscure books practically lost and gone forever.

With beautiful color and black and white illustrations, The Art of Reginald Heade: Special Edition is the most comprehensive overview ever published of Heade’s life and work.  Walker includes his trademark paintings from the great Perry Mason writer Erle Stanley Gardner’s crime books, Stephen D. Frances’ Hank Janson books, covers for books by Paul Rénin, Roland Vane, Michael Storme, Spike Morelli, Gene Ross, David Hume, Carol Gaye, Margaret Pedler, Helena Grose, William Elliott and Zane Grey, plus hundreds more pulp fiction covers, as well as other works, like Major Charles Gilson’s well-known Robin of Sherwood, Nella Braddy’s biography of Rudyard Kipling, Son of Empire, and editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe–including interior illustrations, and Heade’s comic art.  Yes, the artist known for his images of vixens in distress created equally impressive paintings for the covers of children’s books, plus mainstream novels and magazine covers (some under the nom de plume Cy Webb).

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