Paperback Originals

During World War II, Fawcett Publishing produced several popular 'Good Girl' comics. They had a vast distribution network and handled paperbacks for New American Library. At the time, paperback books were simply reprints of existing hardcover editions. Fawcett wanted a larger part of the paperback revenue, but a non-compete contract forbid them from launching a similar line of product. Fortunately, the contract only applied to reprints.

Seeing an untapped business opportunity, Fawcett created their Gold Medal Book division in 1949 and solicited original material. The books were an immediate hit. The hardboiled crime writing of Micky Spillane, mimicking the formulas employed in the pulps, had already proven that paperbacks could be sold in great numbers and provided a template for the first genres of work. The success of hardboiled detective stories and the literary counterpart to the cinema's Film Noir movement meant this new generation of literature didn't need a happy ending - Just templates for how macho men should treat their dames.

Competing for newstand space, paperback books required sensational titles and eyecatching artwork. Several other publishers quickly jumped into the market. Some specialized in sleaze, while others gave opportunities to new writers in the mystery and science fiction fields that used to be served by the pulps. Lion Publishing, for example, was known for its cover art, using artists like Earle Bergey and Rudolph Belarski.

As the paperback market exploded, particular genres emerged: Lesbian and gay titles tamely explored McCarthy era taboos, the seamy underbelly of society was exploited with lurid tales of drugs, sluts and juvenile delinquents. Any particular subculture could be made threatening and mysterious. From motorcycle gangs and hotrodders, to drug addled hippies, there was a shadow world just outside of a humdrum conservative existence, and paperbacks could safely confirm your worst fears about the end of civilization.

As with the next generation of men's magazines, many paperbacks disguised salaciousness with claims to be true investigative journalism on subjects as diverse as the sex lives of circus clowns!

Vintage Paperbacks