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Essays

PAPERBLOCHS
Robert Bloch in Paperback 1948 - 1993

Randall D. Larson


Over his nearly 60-year career, Robert Bloch's work has appeared in nearly every mode of publication and media available -- from magazines to movies, radio to records, cloth to comics, pulps to paperbacks. Of the last category, Bloch's appearance in pocketbooks has been significant. With more than five dozen paperback titles he has published in the United States -- not to mention several dozen in more than twenty foreign countries, Robert Bloch is well-represented in the paperback arena, his books appearing from more than two dozen publishers since 1948.

Bloch's first paperback was "The Scarf of Passion," Avon Book's 1948 reprint of his 1947 Dial Press hardcover, "The Scarf." This edition featured a painted couple embracing over a white background. The cover for Avon's 1952 edition (correctly retitled "The Scarf") was far more effective, featuring a slightly seductive femme fatal waiting atop of bed while a menacing figure advances. When Fawcett reprinted the novel in 1966, Bloch provided a revised edition, updating the narrative to eliminate dated slang and restoring several sequences deleted by the original editor, and providing a stronger ending. The cover design was typical mid '60s. "The Scarf" saw editions in England, France, Germany, Finland and Brazil -- but not until the 1970s when Bloch's novels were popularized in these countries.

Bloch's second novel -- an original for Ace entitled "Spiderweb" -- didn't do as well. The second half of a 1954 Ace Double -- backed with David Alexander's "The Corpse in My Bed" -- it saw editions in Australia and Norway within the next three years but then fell off the face of the earth. A routine novel with some good narrative moments, it's become one of Bloch's rarities. Interestingly, the Australian Phantom edition featured a repainted version of the Ace cover-- same image but a newly painted version. 1954 also saw the publication of Bloch's third and fourth novels -and two definite winners after the lackluster "Spiderweb." Until its 1987 TOR reprint, "The Kidnaper" was Bloch's rarest book, mainly owing to the demise of publisher Lion Books shortly after its release. This fine novel was a brutal, first-person account of a vicious kidnaper; the Lion edition featured an excellent cover painting that illustrated the multi-layered passions of its villain as he stood facing the viewer, his presence intruding upon the sleeping child behind him. The painting seemed to capture the mixture compulsion coupled with guilt, warring in their attempt to control his actions.

"The Will To Kill" appeared the same year from Ace. This too was a first-rate psychological thriller about a man suffering from blackouts who suspects he may be a serial killer. Like "The Kidnaper," the cover painting portrayed the multi-faceted emotions of the protagonist as he stands before a corpse-laden bed. Editions appeared in Sweden, Denmark and Japan within the next six years. The Swedish Wahlstrom edition, published in 1957 as "Brott I Blindo," featured a similar cover to the Ace edition, showing the man in close-up, an arm covering his mouth in apparent despair, the cadaverous supine form of a woman on the bed behind him. A 1983 French edition -- part of Fleuve Noir's "Engrenage International" series (which also included Bloch's "Psycho II," 1984, and "The Kidnaper," 1984), featured a dramatic painting of a villain compulsively strangling a woman, though half of the cover was taken up by the prominent series logo.

Bloch's next novel, "Shooting Star," was the first half of a 1958 Ace Double, backed with his first paperback short story collection, "Terror In The Night." The novel, a whodunit thriller set in Hollywood -- a frequent setting for Bloch's fiction -- featured a cover painting of a Philip Marlowe-styled detective with a smoking gun barrel standing over the leggy figure of a woman, evidently the victim of the detective's smoking weapon -- double entendre's notwithstanding. French, Belgian and Italian editions had been released by 1964. Other than a 1983 Oswald reprint in France, this novel has remained successfully out of print along with "The Will To Kill" and "Spiderweb."

However, Bloch's next novel has remained viciously in print for nearly 35 years. The first paperback edition of "Psycho" appeared in 1960 from Crest Books and quickly saw six editions, including a movie tie-in version. Succeeding US paperbacks, as the rights changed hands, came out from Bantam (1969), Award (1975) and Warner Books (1982). Most editions, through the mid '70s, featured the shattered logo of the original Simon & Schuster hardcover (which Hitchcock had purchased to use as his movie logo). Overseas, the book saw more than 30 editions published in 13 countries -- including Burma and Iran (the latter containing an attractively painted cover with a large Norman Bates face -- mildly resembling Marlon Brando -- hovering over a nubile blonde with a suggestive spiral design in the background). Traditionally the British and American covers tended to be more graphic -- bloody knives and navels -- while the European covers were more abstract and expressionistic, such as the 1971 Finnish Salama paperback with its disembodied, torn-shrouded face and the 1972 Bruna & Zoon edition from Denmark, which featured an understated yet compelling cover painting of an oversized face staring through a tiny window at a blood spattered robe on the floor of a large, empty room.

"The Dead Beat," a good mystery thriller about murder among the beat generation, appeared from Popular Library in 1961, reprinted from the Simon & Schuster hard cover. Due to the success of "Psycho," the book saw immediate hard cover and paperback publication in ten countries, and nearly all of them were quick to emblazon the now-unremovable "By The Author of Psycho" label prominently on their covers. Several editions featured covers far more interesting than the perfunctory screaming-lady PopLib edition. The French Marabout cover matched the style of their "Shooting Star," both expressionistic watercolors. The Italian Garzanti paperback matched the format of their "Psycho" edition of the previous year -- a sketchy painting of a gun-drawn man in close-up above the smaller figure of a lingerie-clad woman dressing. An intriguing cover from Mexico in 1972 featured an upturned face being strangled by a coiled, serpentine arm whose hands and fingers grasp the face firmly. Only the Marabout edition -- and a 1967 Spanish paperback from Plaza Y Janes -- really fit Bloch's story. But the rest sold plenty of copies.

The same year started the tide of Bloch's paperback short story collections. Despite the appearance of "Terror In The Night" in 1958, it wasn't until Belmont published "Nightmares" and "More Nightmares" in 1961 -- with their "By The Author of Psycho" labels -- that Bloch's stories began to be earnestly collected into mass market paperbacks. Both of these books were comprised of stories from Bloch's first two Arkham House hard cover collections, 1945's "The Opener of the Way" and 1960's "Pleasant Dreams." Both were provided with pleasantly ghoulish collages of skulls and spiderwebs and mutated creatures that suggested the fanciful terrors within. "More Nightmares" was published in Norway in 1962, its Nordisk Verlag edition feature a vampire-attacking-blonde cover reminiscent of Warren's Creepy and Eerie magazine covers. Numerous short story collections appeared over the next twenty years; seventeen in the USA and plenty of others -- originals as well as reprints of US editions -- overseas. Popular Library reprinted the 1961 hard cover collection, "Blood Runs Cold," which saw six foreign editions. "Bogey Men," out from Pyramid in 1963, sported an evocative cover painting by John Schoenherr of ghoulish faces and stalactites. The British edition of Belmont's "Horror 7," in 1965, featured an attractive cover painting of a mummified face half-submerged in swampwater, a reed growing out of its mouth. The same painting was reused by Belmont in 1967 for their anthology, "Horror Times Ten," which reprinted two of Bloch's stories. "The Skull of the Marquis deSade" appeared from Pyramid in 1965; the collection and its title story coincided with the British screen adaptation, THE SKULL, from which the cover photo came. But the book bore no reference to the film other than the photo, and was not a movie tie-in.

Many of the best covers were from foreign editions. A German edition of "Tales In A Jugular Vein" from Heyne, retitled "Horror Cocktail," used a photographic still life featuring a skeletal hand emerging from a metal goblet and an empty martini glass with a pair of eyeballs replacing the olives. "Jack El Destripador," Spain's 1974 Oro edition of Belmont's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" featured an interesting painting of an adolescent girl clutching a pin-stabbed doll, grinning eagerly. Holland's Bruna & Zoon released "Troost Me. Mijn Robot" in 1970, with an intriguing black & white photo of a sitting nude, her back to the camera, unzipping her back to reveal fresh skin beneath. A painted close-up of Bela Lugosi grimaced at the viewer on the cover of Clancier-Geunaud's original French collection, "Terreur Sur Hollywood."

Norway's Nordisk featured several provocative covers on their editions of Bloch's collections and novels; "Kald Angst," their version of Award's "Chamber of Horrors," featured a painting of a half-dozen ghouls emerging from a stone culvert, while "Redsell I Natten," their version of Award's "Fear Today. Gone Tomorrow." Featured an evocative painting of a skull's wind-whipped blonde hair wisping over a cemetery where a frightened woman prowls. A montage of skulls emblazoned the cover of Nordisk's "Det Ondes Mosaikk" (a 1983 reprint of Fawcett Gold Medal's 1962 "Atoms and Evil"). In France, Editions Oswald began releasing a number of original Bloch collections in the 1980s, all featuring compatible and excellent fantastical cover paintings.

Meanwhile, Bloch's novels continued to thrive. 1961's "Firebug" saw its first appearance from Regency, but the 1967 Lancer edition (with its dull photographic cover) is the one that usually survives. TOR reprinted the incendiary thriller in 1987. German paperbacks appeared in 1961 and 1967, with the French edition in Oswald's 1984 series. The Oswald cover featured an evocative b&w painting in close-up of a fiendish face gazing enthralled at the lit match he holds in his fingers. British and Austrian editions appeared in the '70s. "The Couch," a novelization of Bloch's 1962 screenplay (Bloch now residing in Hollywood and writing for TV) appeared from Gold Medal as a movie tie-in. British and German editions followed, also with movie references. "Terror" appeared as a paperback original from Belmont in 1962, its logo (suggestive of Psycho's ripped lettering) above a Jerry Pedwil painting of a woman's screaming face in front of a tower clock. The 1962 Israeli paperback featured a drab painting of a young blonde man whose clenched fist seems to support the small figure of a slinky brunette. Heyne's 1968 German edition matched the format of their "Psycho" and "Dead Beat" released, with a sedate painting of a towel-clad beauty reclining on a mattress. In typical mystery/suspense marketing strategy, seductive babes and roughhewn machismo dominated the cover graphics.

A notable change of pace from psychological thrillers, Bloch's excellent sociological science fiction novel, "This Crowded Earth" (originally a novella published in Amazing Stories in 1958) was backed with an original novella, "Ladies' Day," as a Belmont Double in 1968. The book was reissued by Belmont Tower six years later, at which time an edition in Belgium also saw print, its cover an effective incarnation of both futuristic tales. A French edition from Oswald in 1985 featured a stylishly crowded cover painting. "The Star Stalker," from Pyramid in 1968, was neither sf nor horror, but a nostalgic mainstream drama about Hollywood corruption and power struggles that spans the end of the silent era and the coming of talking pictures. Originally intended as the first third of a trilogy, the book did poorly and the second two books were never written. Inaccurately marketed as a Harold Robbins-styled Hollywood thriller, the book never found its audience, but is in truth one of Bloch's best novels. A Portuguese edition appeared in 1969, with French and German publication in the 1980s.

"The Todd Dossier" was published by Dell in 1970. Originally intended to be a paperback original, it wound up also appearing from Delecorte -- Dell's hard cover big brother -- the previous year. It was also Bloch's only novel to be published without credit. A novelization of a screen treatment by Collier Young, the wanna-be movie auteur managed to wangle his name onto the novel as its sole author and got several positive reviews of "his first novel" despite the writing being all Bloch's. As for the movie story upon which the book was based -- it was never made, and the book had no movie tie-in attributes. Its Dell cover was an effective photographic painting featuring a doctor, a wheelchaired man and a young woman, all looking very serious about something. A French edition from Oswald appeared in 1985 (I'm not sure if it credits Bloch or "Young". It may well give Bloch the credit because it coincided with their Bloch series of 1982-85.)

"It's All In Your Mind" wasn't a thriller either, but Curtis books was quick to market it as such in their 1971 edition. Originally published as "The Big Binge," a 40,000 word novella in Imaginative Tales #6 (1955), this was a farcical fantasy about a young man whose telekinesis gives him all sorts of mischief-making power in a college fraternity. It was hilarious but never found a market among the horror readers attracted to its thriller-styled cover, and it saw no other editions. "Sneak Preview" (Paperback Library, 1971) was a satirical futuristic thriller with plenty of Hollywood spoofing amid the social commentary, it found editions in Germany and Japan. The novel was an expanded version of a novella appearing in the Nov. 1959 Amazing Stories.

Bloch's next novel, however, left no doubt about it's being a definite horror thriller. "Night-World" (1972) was Bloch's best novel since "Psycho," and he quickly followed it up with the first-rate historical horror novel, "American Gothic," two years later. Both of these were hard cover originals, both saw paperback editions from Fawcett Crest in 1973 and 1975, respectively. Their cover art was blase, however -- in fact most editions of "Night-World" were rather dull by Bloch's usual cover standards. Fifteen editions in more than a dozen countries, including many magazine abridgements (even Cosmopolitan featured the novel in their Nov. 1972 issue). "American Gothic" saw paperbacks published in six countries outside the USA. Both books were resurrected, after a dozen years of hibernation, by TOR in their 1987 Bloch reissue series.

"Strange Eons," originally a hard cover original for specialty publisher Whispers Press in 1978, a mass market paperback appeared from Pinnacle that same year. This exotic modern Lovecraftian fantasy featured an excellent mythological-beast painting on its Pinnacle cover; the French Oswald paperback in 1980 (as "Retour A Arkham") was provided with a clever cover painting of a bat-winged H.P. Lovecraft holding a wriggling edition of the eldritch Necronomicon. Editions in Spain and Japan appeared in the late 1980's. "There Is a Serpent In Eden," an understated thriller about old age-home residents who thwart a young hoodlum's robbery attempt, appeared from Zebra in 1979 but no one would bite in these pre-COCOON days. A reissue two years later, retitled The Cunning, didn't do much better, nor did a French paperback from Fayard Noir in 1982.

However Bloch's 1982 novel put him squarely back on the best seller list and gave him some of the success denied him by the Hitchcock film which seemed to give all the credit to the director. "Psycho II" came out from Warner Books simultaneously with a limited edition hard cover from Whispers Press. An advance, not-for-sale promotional paperback, with a different jacket, was also released by Warners. The novel quickly saw editions in a dozen foreign countries, including a couple omnibus editions pairing "Psycho II" with its singular original. Cover renderings varied from ominous paintings of knife-wielding villains and screaming maids -- several of which were modeled after Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and Janet Leigh from the first PSYCHO movie -- to movie-related photos. Inasmuch as the novel bore no connection beyond its title to Richard Franklin's 1982 movie, PSYCHO II, there were no tie-in connections either.

There were in "Twilight Zone - The Movie," Bloch's novelization of the movie of the same name, published by Warner Books in 1983 and followed by paperback editions in France, Germany, Argentina and Japan. The Warners paperback utilized the movie art and gave no author credit or other text on the front cover. "Night of the Ripper," Bloch's epitaph to the mysterious serial killer who did him so well in a handful of previous short stories and scripts, appeared from TOR in 1986, a reprint of the 1984 Doubleday hardcover. Slashing knives were the artistic stable in this and editions in England, Spain, France and Germany. The Spanish Plaza Y Janes paperback also found distribution in Central and South America. "Lori" and "Psycho House" appeared in hardcover, and then paperback, from TOR in the late 1 980s, followed in 1992 by "The Jekyll Legacy," Bloch collaborative sequel to the Stevenson original, written with noted fantasist Andre' Norton, and "Once Around The Bloch," an "unauthorized autobiography" that debuted in 1993.

Forty-five years, fifty books. More than one hundred and sixty individual editions in two dozen countries. The paperback has been very good to Robert Bloch. More importantly, however, Robert Bloch has been very good to paperbacks. With plenty of rarities and a cornucopia of foreign editions, the paperback collector faces an enjoyable challenge in collecting the author of "Psycho" in paperback.

Reading them is an even more delightful endeavor.

This essay originally appeared in Paperback Parade #39 (July, 1994).

The former editor/publisher of CinemaScore, CineFan, and Threshold of Fantasy magazines, Randall D. Larson has written 8 books and more than 200 articles for fantasy, fire service, public safety, cinema, and motion picture music periodicals, books, CD booklets, and Web sites. Larson is currently the editor of 9-1-1 Magazine (public safety communications and response), and a senior editor for Soundtrack magazine. Avoiding spare time at all costs, Larson is also a writer for mania.com while maintaining a full-time career in the field of emergency services communications.

Larson is also the author of three of the major reference books on Robert Bloch and his writings -- a book of collected interviews, a readers' guide, and a detailed bibliography, all as discussed on the FAQ page. These books may be ordered from Larson directly.

Mr. Larson can be contacted at larsonrdl@aol.com.