Authors and Models on Gay Books
by Ian Young
books 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 viewers 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
|Early editions of Truman Capotes debut novel of 1948,
Other Voices, Other Rooms bore, on their back covers, Harold
Halmas 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.
||In the 1960's, Bantam reprinted several of James Purdys
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
Crests 1964 edition of his novel The Messenger with an upward, not
quite direct, gaze conveying a winsome, imploring quality. Elmira Edens
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.
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.
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.
||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
| 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
Genets Funeral Rites shows only a portrait by Brassaï. Gavin
Dillards 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.
The naked youth lushly
photographed for the cover of Panthers 1970 edition of Angus
Stewarts classic school story Sandel telegraphs the nature of the
unconventional love in the cover blurb. As with the Bantam edition
of James Purdys 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.
Vassis essays and erotic novels explored sexuality of all kinds. Olympia
Presss 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.
This Canadian play published by
Talonbooks in 1976 features a photo of actor David Ferry by Robert A. Barnett.
The handsome models pose, folded hands, and gaze, focused just above the
viewers head, combine to suggest serenity and self-possession, with a
hint of spirituality.
Sunshine Presss 1981 translation of Luis Zapatas 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
Homes satirical novel of sex, violence and politics, Red London
(AK Press, 1994).
||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
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.
In the 1980's and 90's writer, editor and porn model
Scott OHara 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.
||These three covers feature male duos. The cover of Frank
OHaras book of essays, published by Grey Fox Press in 1983,
features David Davidson Reiffs 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. Godines 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 Dicksons FreeForm, a 1998 Gay
Mens Press novel about gay S/M in Glasgows 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 Fowlers
cult horror novel Spanky (Warner Books, 1994) features Inez
Van Lamsweerdes striking fantasy photo of a muscled model in rubber
stockings and high heels - playing with butch/bitch ambiguity.
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
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