A Life in Paperbacks
H. Lawrence Hoffman (1911–1977) was a luminary in the mass market paperback cover genre. He illustrated book covers for over 25 publishing companies, including Pocket Books, Popular Library, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, Ballantine and Random House. Over the course of his career, he created over 500 book jackets. From 1941 to 1951, he was an art director and partner at Immerman Art Studios. I just learned from paperback historian Piet Schreuders about an exhibit of his work on display at the Madison Wisconsin Central Library until June 26—tomorrow. Sadly, there are not any plans for it to travel, but his daughter, Caroline Hoffman, a photo collage artist who restored her dad’s covers, is anxious to find other venues. I asked her to talk about her dad’s work and more about the show as it stands.
How many of your father’s book covers are in the show? The exhibit displays images of 128 paperback book covers from 1940–1948, in addition to 13 paperback books. I wish I had a comprehensive list of his work but he didn’t keep one. As you probably know, he died in 1977. I have been trying to collect information on all the book covers he designed. So far I have a list of 530 covers, paperbacks and hardcover. I don’t think he did any mass market paperback covers after 1948. I am sure he did a lot more covers than 530.
He was known for some amazing covers. Do you recall him when he was doing his work? And do you recall how he felt about the genres he was illustrating? I was only 3 years old when he stopped designing covers for the mass market paperbacks. My brother was 7 years old. We never saw any of these book covers growing up. They were not in our house. On the walls were paintings he did along with illustrations from the Canterbury Tales. He did not save any of the artwork used for the paperbacks. I believe that he did not see it as his “art,” and that he was glad to move on to design book jackets for hardback books and paperbacks that were not part of the mass market movement. I do not know this for certain, but finding his 1960s resume, which does not list his working for any of the mass market publishers, would support the idea.
What would you say were his most important pieces? In preparing the exhibit, I looked at each one very carefully. I can’t pick out just one or two and say they are the most important pieces. I think that it is seeing them as a whole that is so fascinating. He was so creative in displaying mystery and murder in so many different ways. Each one is a wonderful painting in itself.
If he was alive, I believe he would say that his most important work was for Simon & Schuster in 1948 when he designed the cover for a new edition of the Canterbury Tales, along with 21 illustrations.
Where are his collected works? And are you looking for a home for them? Unfortunately, my father did not save any of his original paperback work. My brother and I have been collecting the books. Together we have around 100. I was lucky to make contact with Piet Schreuders, and through him to Uilke Konrij and Steve Wallace, who shared with me images from their book collections. In February I was in San Francisco and by chance came upon Kayo Books, a seller of Vintage paperbacks. At their store I was able to find 40 books with covers by my father. There will not be one location for his collected works, but I hope eventually to have digital images of all of his covers. If any of your readers have book covers by my father, I would appreciate digital images of them. They can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Eventually I will be looking for a home for the digital image collection.
What do you like the most about his work? I love the creativity that he applied to show new ways of displaying the same theme—in the case of the mass market paperbacks, the themes of murder and mystery. The use of large hands, dark shadows, blood stains, figures with slouch hats, the airbrushed backgrounds, the skulls. Each book cover has so much happening in it that you have to look very closely to find all the nuances that let you know this is a story with suspense.
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