Forget The Walking Dead; they’re so… buried. It’s now the day of the Dead Dead! Vintage skull art and images—covers of cheap, lurid horror, mystery, and thriller fiction that once haunted newsstands, drug stores, and cigar shops—have begun to rear their cadaverous crania. It should be duly noted that this trend-spotting is solely based on the release of a portable little novelty publication with the pun-ishing title Popular Skullture: The Skull Motif in Pulps, Paperbacks, and Comics.
H. Lawrence Hoffman, 1947
To compile the book’s 160 covers that fill its pages, designer-editor Monte Beauchamp dug through the “Golden Age” of mass publishing. Beginning in the 1930s, when comic books were an exciting new medium and paperback novels and pulp magazines first peaked in popularity, it lasted through the War years, and right up to when the rampant paranoia and regulatory restrictions of the mid-1950s crushed a great deal of America’s high-intensity, low-end print entertainment.
Skullture‘s content analysis is pretty bare-bones: Beauchamp provides a bit of background history, and Print’s own Steven Heller runs a little riff on death symbolism. But really, how substantively can you speak about the aesthetics of packaging for Murder in the House with the Blue Eyes, Hot Bullets for Love, and, from Hangman’s House Press, Lady Thats [sic non-punctuation] My Skull?
The real flesh and blood of the book is found in its copious reproductions of skull art. Paperback and pulp illustrations by pros like Peter Driben, Gerald Gregg, and Paul Stahr are well represented, along with impressive early comics art by Bob Powell, Jack Kamen, and L.B. Cole. As a whole, the book offers a wide and weird range, from stunningly stimulating creativity to ghastly, schlocky hackwork… which, I suppose, makes it a true picture of the era.
Still, every turn of the page can be an adventure in skull art. Thrill as you begin to spot recurring visual themes! Spider webs! Dali landscapes! Helpless women! Gasp as you stumble upon a black silhouetted falling man that evokes – and predates by a half-century – Mad Men’s opening credits. Scream and cringe as you’re confronted with all manner of tacky type treatments.
These days mere “picture books” – especially ones that are light on text – can be so… pre-digital. After all, anyone can freely download these sorts of covers – and even the entire contents! – at sites like digitalcomicmuseum.com and pulpcovers.com. But who wouldn’t also want to always have within reach a tactile, contemplative reminder of life’s fragility and inevitable decay?
And – thanks to its sturdy hard cover and quality grade paper – Popular Skullture also makes for excellent re-gifting at your next Hallowe’en party.
Jack Kamen, 1949
Lee Elias, 1954
George Rozen, 1933
Bob Powell, 1949
George Rozen, 1942
Gerald Gregg, 1943
L.B. Cole, 1945
Gloria Stoll, 1944
H.J. Ward, 1936
L.B. Cole, 1952
Margaret Brundage, 1938
Biting into heads is much harder than it looks. The skull is feisty.
Calling all zombie-philes, video game addicts, grind house nostalgists, and horror movie fanatics—have we got a hard-to-put-down book for you! Zombie Haiku will keep you up late into the night (mostly from the inability to forget that bulging eye staring out at you from page six). It’s the touching (albeit cold and clammy) story of a zombie’s gradual decay—and here’s the unique twist—it’s told through the intimate poetry of haiku. From infection to demise, you’ll trod along the journey through deserted streets and barricaded doors for every eye-popping, gut-wrenching, flesh-eating moment right up until the inevitable bullet to the brain. For extra impact, the book is illustrated with over fifty photos and designed with extra blood, guts and gore!