Ian Young Books


Cover Boys
Authors and Models on Gay Books

by Ian Young

Abook’s cover is its primary advertisement. It is what you see when you walk into the store and scan the shelves. The importance of cover illustrations and cover motifs to mass-market gay paperback sales is explored in "The Paperback Explosion: How Gay Pulp Changed America” - also posted in the Reading Room of IanYoungBooks.com. The simplest and most ubiquitous of all cover motifs is the Solitary - the single male “cover boy” upon whom the viewer’s eye falls. What follows is a selection of some of my favorite cover boys from books of gay fiction, poetry and autobiography. Most are models (photographed, painted or drawn), but some are authors adorning their own books. Whatever else they may signal, each one is saying “Buy Me!”

Early editions of Truman Capote’s debut novel of 1948, Other Voices, Other Rooms bore, on their back covers, Harold Halma’s photographic study of the author reclining seductively on a couch. Some reviewers considered it (and the novel) unseemly. But the glamorous Denham Fouts, lover of princes and millionaires, was so infatuated by the portrait that he sent Capote a blank cheque from Paris with the single word “Come” written on it. Other Voices Other RoomsTruman Capote
MalcolmEustace Chisholm and the WorksColor of Darkness In the 1960's, Bantam reprinted several of James Purdy’s novels in similar editions - all with showing young men - all posed, solitary, against black backgrounds, and all engaging the viewer with their direct gaze. Malcolm features an innocent-looking youth, well dressed with a frilly shirt and a red rose in his lapel. The slightly tilted head suggests a childlike nature. The harrowing Eustace Chisholm and the Works features a more mature young man, shown naked to the hips, slightly distanced from the viewer by his folded arms. The stance and iconic black leather jacket of the more ambiguous figure on the cover of Color of Darkness suggests the possibility of danger.
Youthful author Charles Wright was featured on the cover of Crest’s 1964 edition of his novel The Messenger with an upward, not quite direct, gaze conveying a winsome, imploring quality. Elmira Eden’s portrait of Peter McGehee on the first edition of his collection of monologues, Beyond Happiness: The Intimate Memoirs of Billy Lee Belle (Stubblejumper Press, 1985) conveys a similar boyish appeal. The MessengerBeyond Happiness

John Rechy’s Numbers, a novel about an obsessive park cruiser, has been reprinted many times. This Grove/Evergreen Black Cat edition of 1968 shows a pretty boy - naked but modestly covering his crotch. His direct gaze immediately engages the viewer, demanding a response - or an opinion.
The Ski Bum

Occasionally, a book with minimal or no gay content has featured a handsome young man (without an accompanying woman) on the cover, as in this 1966 Bantam edition of a novel by Romain Gary.
10 Bad BoysBilly Stud Gay pornographic novels sometimes emphasized their cover boys’ crotches, as with these examples: 10 Bad Boys by W.D. Angel (101 Enterprises, 1968) and Billy Stud by Jonathan Melburn (Greenleaf Classics, 1975).
 Rarely, a cover boy is deemed so striking that only a photo appears on the cover, without words. The 1969 Grove Press edition of Jean Genet’s Funeral Rites shows only a portrait by Brassaï. Gavin Dillard’s first book, (twenty nineteen poems), written as a teenager and published by Catalyst in 1975, features a self-portrait by the author, with vine-leaves suggestive of Dionysus. Funeral Rites(twenty nineteen poems)

The naked youth lushly photographed for the cover of Panther’s 1970 edition of Angus Stewart’s classic school story Sandel telegraphs the nature of the “unconventional love” in the cover blurb. As with the Bantam edition of James Purdy’s Eustace Chisholm and the Works, a black background highlights the warm tones of bare skin. The pose indicates shyness, perhaps in the process of being overcome.
The Saline Solution

Marco Vassi’s essays and erotic novels explored sexuality of all kinds. Olympia Press’s 1971 first edition of The Saline Solution shows the author naked to the hips, suggesting the sexual content of the book. His direct gaze is shaded by an impressive Afro.
You're Alright, Jamie Boy

This Canadian play published by Talonbooks in 1976 features a photo of actor David Ferry by Robert A. Barnett. The handsome model’s pose, folded hands, and gaze, focused just above the viewer’s head, combine to suggest serenity and self-possession, with a hint of spirituality.
Adonis GarciaRed London
Gay Sunshine Press’s 1981 translation of Luis Zapata’s novel about a Mexico City hustler features a shirtless young man whose expression, leather jacket and loosely clenched fist combine to portray ambiguous tensions. Another type of butch ambiguity is conveyed by the author/cover boy on Stewart Home’s satirical novel of sex, violence and politics, Red London (AK Press, 1994).
CodyClicking Beat on the Edge of Nada Two versions of a novel by Keith Hale show different interpretations of the teenaged object of interest. The original version, published in Holland by Spartacus in 1983 has a cover by Gerritjan Deunk. The cover of the revised version, published by Alyson Publications in 1987, is uncredited.
The Naked Poet

In the 1980's, writer, artist and porn actor Gavin Dillard began to give nude poetry readings, achieving fame as “The Naked Poet.” His poetry collection of that title features a delicately-tinted nude photo of himself, discreetly cut off not (as so often with cover boys) at the hips, but at the eyes. Here, the direct gaze is removed, making the viewer a voyeur of aroused male beauty.
Do-It-Yourself Piston Polishing (For Non-Mechanics)

In the 1980's and ‘90's writer, editor and porn model Scott O’Hara adopted a brash, politically incorrect, highly sexual persona. This 1996 Masquerade Books/Badboy collection of erotic stories features the author, shirtless, as cover boy. His expressive grin and direct gaze suggest his role as Pan or satyr.
Standing Still and Walking in New YorkThe Carnivorous LambFree Form These three covers feature male duos. The cover of Frank O’Hara’s book of essays, published by Grey Fox Press in 1983, features David Davidson Reiff’s photo of the author and his friend, artist Larry Rivers looking together into the Manhattan streetscape - an image suggestive of friendship, and a shared, urban - and urbane - artistic vision. David R. Godine’s 1984 translation of The Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos features a stunning face-to-face by two men - one blond, one dark. Illustrations by the artist, Mel Odom, became popular with gay men in the 1970's and ‘80's. Jack Dickson’s FreeForm, a 1998 Gay Men’s Press novel about gay S/M in Glasgow’s rough East End, signals its gay content by the striking use of two handsome cover boys - one bare-chested, sporting a nipple-ring.

The cover of Christopher Fowler’s “cult horror” novel Spanky (Warner Books, 1994) features Inez Van Lamsweerde’s striking fantasy photo of a muscled model in rubber stockings and high heels - playing with butch/bitch ambiguity.
Young Man from the ProvincesThe Mammoth Book of Gay Short Stories
Every era has provided special opportunities to favored male types. Alan Helms was a much-in-demand young man in New York in the 1950's and ‘60's. The portrait on the cover of his memoir Young Man from the Provinces: A Gay Life Before Stonewall (Faber & Faber, 1995) shows him to have exemplified a “universal type” - attractive to women and men, gay and straight, and appealing to a variety of relationship fantasies. Rupert Brooke in the years before the First World War and Brad Pitt in the 1990's both represented “universal types” for their eras. The youth featured on the cover of The Mammoth Book of Gay Short Stories (Robinson/ Carroll & Graf, 1997) has a timeless aspect that contributes to his appeal.

For more cover boys, see “The Paperback Explosion: How Gay Pulp Changed America,” also posted in our Reading Room.

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