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The Girl from Farris's re-imagained by Tangor. Original art by Rudolph Belarski. Circa 1952.

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What If? 1950s ERB Covers That Never Happened

David Bruce Bozarth


Tangor Re-Imagines the Paper Back Covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs That Were Never Published In Our Universe.

Both hommage and parody, the covers presented are in the "what-if?" category that Burroughs did not fall out of publishing favor. His last book appeared in 1949, a Dell Map-Back of The Cave Girl a year before his death in 1950.

Note regarding the images: These have been standardized to a 500px width. They are displayed in a container that reduces that size on the page to about 49% smaller, all things being equal. To view the image as large as it can display, right click and select view image. After viewing the image (or copying it, you can right click and save image as), click your back button to return to this article, and the rest of the re-imagined images.

Regarding Links to ERB titles herein, these are to the Edgar Rice Burroughs Summary Project at erblist.com (this website). Each novel is summarized, chapter by chapter in 250 words per chapter (give or take). Just in case you don't know what all this stuff is about!

DISCLAIMER: These re-imagined covers are for entertainment and scholoarly report under USA Copyright Fair Use. The underlying art is probably still in copyright, thus these images should not be used for any commercial purpose. Credit to the original artist is given where known.

The Cave Girl re-imagined by Tangor. Original artist unknown. Circa 1953.

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The Premise

What if the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs had remained in print through the 1950s? What would those paperbacks have looked like? We do know of one that appeared in 1949, the Dell map-back of The Cave Girl. A fun little book to read, but even nicer with a clever cover and that fancy map on the back.

But the times were a changin'. A world war had barely finished when a "police action" in Korea broke out. Americans were less likely to embrace the escapism in ERB's admittedly formulaic novels of adventure and romance. Their hearts had hardened just a bit. Real life, real mystery, and a very real shortage of newsprint, that paper the cheap paperbacks required to keep the cover price to a quarter to no more than forty cents.

Returning vets, whose lives had been forever changed, could not find any amusement in casual reading material such as Burroughs or the pulp magazines. A new, more realistic genre of "Men's Magazines" entered the market, dealing with outdoor life, hard living, hard women, and pitting man against man, not fantasy monsters in a world that never existed.

Reader tastes in general had also changed. During World War II women had joined the workforce on the Home Front and that was a liberating experience for the sex as a whole. No longer did they view themselves as being in need of rescue—or even protection!—by a male.

As a result, expectations of cover art had also changed.

Some time around the founding of pulp magazines, the genres had pretty much defined themselves into Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Westerns, Aviation (and the like), Spicy tales (also known as "Men's Adventure"), and Mysteries. Of these the Spicy tales and Mysteries had the most lurid covers.

The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County re-imagined by Tangor. Original artist unknown. Circa 1958.

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Some Background

Back in the 1950s, when I was a wee-whippersnapper, I remember spending a few weeks during the summer each year at Grandma's. One of the fun things was going through her forty or fifty "spicy mystery" paperbacks and reading them on the screen porch during the heat of the day. We did not have air conditioning back then.

Eyes a-poppin', pages were turned with guilty fingers as a part of human existance I had never imagined came to life! Heart racing each time I picked up a new one immediately after consuming the previous, in later years it turns out these were rather tame, but infinitely more "adult" than Robin Hood, Sir Lancelot, and the All About books!

Part of the magic was the covers. And these were a different kind of book cover to anything in my experience (back then). Dark and ominous, women dressed differently than any woman I had ever seen, even on tv, these lurid little masterpieces of advertising art were intriguing, to say the least.

In the decades since I have come to appreciate all kinds of literatures, but still have a fondness for the cheap quickie, the hack mystery or romance. In the 1960s that changed with the ERB printing boom and my tastes had already moved on to Westerns and Science Fiction in general, Max Brand, Rex Stout, Zane Grey, Andre Norton, Robert A Heinlein and Arthur C Clark in particular. Those books had great cover art as well—but as for "lurid", those covers never came close to the great 1950s "sleeze" mysteries and romances.

The Efficiency Expert re-imagined by Tangor. Original art by Rudolph Belarski. Circa 1950.

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Who's Who in Men's and Mysteries Art?

A definitive list of all the illustrators involved in paperback production would be immense. There are a few, however, that rose to the top either by talent or simply being prodigous in production.

I am not going to attempt that for this article!

Instead, I will list some general info regarding the known artists who's work provided the imagry for this Re-Imagination Project.

Rudolph Belarski

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rudolph Belarski (1900-1983) was an American graphic artist known for his cover art depicting aerial combat for magazines such as Wings, Dare Devil Aces, and War Birds. He also drew science fiction covers for Argosy in the 1930s and covers for mystery and detective novels.

Belarski's art is maginative, quick and stylistic. It contains action, suspense, mood and a myriad of other descriptions that evoke emotion of some sort. Bright color and menacing shadows are very distinctive. One of my favorite "men's mag" artists.

And...

Well, that turned out to be a pretty short list since I can find no artist info for two of the images!

The Girl From Hollywood re-imagined by Tangor. Original art by Rudolph Belarski. Circa 1951.

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End Game

Folks who know me know I collect (electronically) just about everything under the sun. In my IMAGES folder I have one for \pbcovers and inside that one I have \pb-mystery. It is a rather "full" folder with over 400 paperback covers. The \pbcovers folder holds more than 2800 images and not a single one is an ERB image. Those are elsewhere.

When I had this brain-phart about re-imagined 1950s covers, I started up my graphics database, navigated to, and began visually scanning for the more "lurid" images. The five presented above are a result of that selection process and I am not surprised that three of the five are by Rudolph Belarski.

I could do covers for every Edgar Rice Burroughs book from this collection of paperback art, but why? It was enough to see what such covers might look like and these are a hoot! However, if anyone should want to print a cover for one of their public domain text file downloads, you know where to find me for the really full-size art. After all, I pay for this bandwidth and can't afford to post a 8-12 mb image that would probably be scraped by a zillion robots before day's end!

These were fun to do, a way to enjoy a Saturday afternoon, and at the same time keep my graphic art skills honed. If anyone else enjoys the result that's a plus—as I did them for my personal amusement. And I am highly amused and wouldn't mind visiting a universe where Edgar Rice Burroughs remained in publication and his works were illustrated by the likes of Rudolph Belarski!

Update:

In the heat of the moment creating this article and the re-imagined 1950's Edgar Rice Burroughs covers and getting it posted to erblist.com, I neglected to include the original source images. These are presented as thumbnails but are large enough to identify which book editions supplied the art and concepts for Tangor's bit of fun. Sadly, I no longer have actual links to the web resources where I found these images over the years, but with these titles you should be able to find them yourself. The book companies involved are Popular Library, Popular Giant, and Beacon. Four are in the "detective" category of Mystery and one is an Historical bodice ripper.

Some minor text revisions have also been done, mostly typos! Duh!