A Master Artist
For lovers of throwback historical and gothic romances, vintage pulpy reads and spy thrillers, or old movies and magazines, the name Robert McGinnis might be familiar. But if it isn’t, then his works of art surely are. I consider McGinnis, along with H. Tom Hall and Elaine Duillo, as the holy triumvirate of old-school pulp-gothic-romance cover illustrators, although who is the best is greatly debated.
The Art of Robert McGinnis is a glorious book depicting hundreds of beautiful McGinnis images. Born in 1926, McGinnis has spent over 70 years of his life creating book covers for almost every genre, movie posters, such as the famous one featuring Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” magazine illustrations, portraits, etc., and has worked almost exclusively in Tempera paints.
After the paperback was introduced into the US by Pocket Books in 1939, the business model was for tasteful illustrations, and chic graphic design, almost like mini hardcovers. When other publishers like Dell and Fawcett began producing their own paperbacks, they appealed to a more pulp/comic-book oriented market. McGinnis’s art was tailor-made for these kinds of books, especially the hardboiled mysteries.
Romance Book Covers and More
He started with covers for characters Mike Shane, Perry Mason, and Carter Brown, then grew into spy thrillers, like James Bond, and eventually entered the romance genre.
It was a logical choice, as McGinnis had a talent for depicting the feminine form in a most erotic fashion (as well as males). He started in Gothics, and then soon became the first Bodice ripper illustrator for works by Kathleen E. Woodiwss, like The Flame and the Flower:
And later, The Wolf and the Dove:
But he became super notorious for his Johanna Lindsey covers, starting with Fires of Winter (Haardrad Viking Family, #1) by Johanna Lindsey which began a rage of naked men covers, where the hero would wear less clothing than the heroine. I loved that cover and remember sketching it over and over as a young teen. Supposedly, he painted this one where both hero and heroine were nude and had to cover up the heroine as an afterthought. No matter, I always thought the sight of those pale, naked men’s thighs as one of the most arousing things I’d ever seen. I eternally prefer them the to jacked up naked chests that inundate so many modern covers.
McGinnis’s cover for Lindsey’s Tender Is the Storm by Johanna Lindsey was hugely controversial, with many stores refusing to sell the book. Stickers had to be sent to booksellers to cover up the hero’s naked butt. (It does look like the hero is giving the heroine a gold ole titty bang, doesn’t it?
Other famous books McGinnis illustrated, besides Gothics and Bodice Rippers, were epics like The Clan of the Cave Bear, Mandalay, and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood which required extravagant wraparound covers in intimate detail.
Lover of the Female Form
Whatever modern art enthusiasts may have to say about McGinnis, there is no denying that he adored the female form. “The McGinnis woman” was plastered on hundreds of covers. Lawrence Block of the NY Times notes on the back of The Art of Robert McGinnis “[He] can paint anything– a movie poster, a western landscape–and draw you in. But when he paints a woman, he makes you fall in love.”
“The McGinnis Woman is a mix of a Greek goddess and man-eating Ursula Andress. While today she might be interpreted as a sex object or adornment, she was conceived, in her day, to represent the empowered woman. In fact, the McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.” (Source: Vanity Fair)
More than a Book Illustrator
Besides his hundreds of book covers, McGinnis is responsible for famous movie posters such as the aforementioned “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Barbarella,” several Blaxploitation films, and, most famously, the James Bond films.
Personally, I’m a Roger Moore fan (Of course I would be) and I like this one from “Live and Let Die,” although McGinnis’s representation of Jane Seymour as Solitaire is a bit off.
Some of my favortites:
The Girl Who Cried Wolf:
Cotton Comes to Harlem:
As Old as Cain: (The woman is depicted after Goldie Hawn, the man after James Coburn. Can you tell?)
And this is McGinnis’s personal favorite picture:
A Cat with No Name:
Opinion on The Art of Robert McGinnis
Don’t be fooled by the raunchy pictures and book covers, McGinnis also has a fine eye for land and seascapes and personal portraits, as he painted Princess Diana as well.
I enjoy art, but I’m certainly no expert on it. I see what I like and know I like it. For me, Robert McGinnis is a genius of the 20th century, and hopefully, his legacy will live on for ages to come.