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!