Blood and Sex: Violence and sexuality in Greek crime fiction series of the 1970s.

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By Nikos Filippaios (PhD candidate, University of Ioannina, Greece)

Since its beginning, crime fiction in Greece has usually been distributed by publishers in multi-volume series. The first series of crime fiction translated into Greek were published from the 1910s to the 1930s, initially outside of Greece, in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, where many Greek-speaking people lived, and some years later in Athens (Kassis, 165). Before long however, it centred exclusively around publishers, translators and writers based in Athens. In addition to series of novels and short stories, many magazines appeared dedicated exclusively to crime fiction and the successful family magazines of the era often featured detective stories. Following the difficult decade of the 1940s, in which Greece was wracked by the Second World War and a civil war, the crime, and popular fiction publishing industry in Greece in general, prospered. After the mid-1950s however, something of a “golden era” for popular literature in Greece, a slow decline began, culminating in a defeat by the cinema, TV and, finally, digital media (Filippaios 2015, 5-19).

Cover of Greek edition of 'Berlin, Check-point Charlie' by Gerard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

Cover of Greek edition of ‘Berlin, Check-point Charlie’ by Gérard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

A compelling phenomenon visible in the evolution of Greek crime fiction of this time is an increasing shift towards violence and sexuality, a trend which began during the early 1970s and lasted at least until the end of the decade. This shift became evident between 1968 and 1972, with the appearance of three new series. The most important of these was the “VIPER Series of crime fiction novel by Papyros (English: “papyrus”) Publications, a publishing house established in 1936 in Athens, which expanded into the crime fiction genre in 1968. This series was so successful that, not only did it continue publishing until the early 1990s, but some volumes can still be found in kiosks and bookshops around Greece today (Koskinas, 21/01/2014). “VIPER” initially followed the trend of other famous crime fiction series, including mainly classic writers such as Agatha Christie and James Chase. But from 1975 onwards, its publisher turned chiefly to Gérard De Villiers’ SAS novels. After Ian Fleming’s James Bond, SAS’s Malko Linge was the next most famous literary spy who fascinated Greek readers with his violent and erotic adventures.

The Greek edition of SAS à l'ouest de Jérusalem by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series. Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

The Greek edition of ‘SAS à l’ouest de Jérusalem’ by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series.
Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

In fact, Papyrus Publications’ interest in a more hard-core subgenre of crime fiction, such as the spy novel, probably influenced two other, smaller series. Although both featured fewer volumes and were distributed by smaller publishing houses, they followed the trend of “blood and sex” from inception. The first of these was “Fascinating Pocket Books” and was published by Panthir (English: ‘panther’) Publications. Probably active between 1970 and 1973, Panthir Publications was created and curated by Dimitris Chanos, a writer and publisher who began his career in the iconic crime fiction pulp magazine Mask (Chanos, 221-240). From its very first volumes, Panthir adopted a very specific approach: (a) focusing on “hard-boiled” crime fiction writers, mainly Mickey Spillane, and (b) replacing older cover illustrations, usually with photo collages of scantily clad women, an aesthetic which borrows elements from soft-core pornography. Along the same vein, “Modern Pocket Books”, one of the first attempts from Kampanas Publications and also circulating during early 70s, adopted a similar approach to its covers, but with slightly more conservative images. The main writer featuring in “Modern Pocket Books” was Anthony Morton, a pen name of John Greasy. Particularly popular were his spy novels featuring “the Baron”.

Cry for the Baron by Anthony Morton, published by Kampanas in 1972 as the 16th volume in the series “Modern Pocket Books”.

‘Cry for the Baron’ by Anthony Morton, published by Kampanas in 1972 as the 16th volume in the series “Modern Pocket Books”.

 

Cover of a Mickey Spillane’s novel published by Panthir in 1975, volume 72 of the series “Fascinating Pocket Books”. The Greek title is The Night of Great Slaughter. The original novel is likely One Lonely Night (1951).

Cover of a Mickey Spillane’s novel published by Panthir in 1975, volume 72 of the series “Fascinating Pocket Books”. The Greek title is ‘The Night of Great Slaughter’. The original novel is likely ‘One Lonely Night’ (1951).

Following on from these successful crime fiction series, many new books of largely unknown writers appeared along with vivid photos of erotic femmes fatales on their covers and suggestive titles such as Blood and Sex or The Lures of Satan. Although we can’t be sure of the exact year each when these editions were published, we can say with a degree of certainty that it was during this era. For the most part, bibliographical and other information concerning crime fiction series of the 1970s is very limited, unsubstantiated and dispersed among references of articles, mostly on the internet.

Cover of the novel The Lures of Satan, written by Ian Fleminger, likely a penname evoking Ian Fleming. This book was published by Drakos Publications and, although the year of publication is uncertain, it is likely to be sometime in the 1970s.

Cover of the novel ‘The Lures of Satan’, written by Ian Fleminger, likely a penname evoking Ian Fleming. This book was published by Drakos Publications and, although the year of publication is uncertain, it is likely to be sometime in the 1970s.

This trend of a more violent and sexual view on crime fiction had its own pre-history”. From the beginning of the 1960s, the covers of many novels had illustrations which adopted the motif of male detectives, spies or gangsters conquering or threatening beautiful and tragic women.

Cover of the novel 'A Dangerous Intermezzo' by Peter Cheyney. The original novel is probably 'Dark Interlude' (1946). Published by Pechlivanidis Brothers as volume 1067 of the series “Detective Pocket Books”, we have been unable to find the exact year of publication. The series however was in circulation from late 1950s to early 1960s. The cover is representative of the “pre-history” of the “blood and sex” trend.

Cover of the novel ‘A Dangerous Intermezzo’ by Peter Cheyney. The original novel is probably ‘Dark Interlude’ (1946). Published by Pechlivanidis Brothers as volume 1067 of the series “Detective Pocket Books”, we have been unable to find the exact year of publication. The series however was in circulation from late 1950s to early 1960s. The cover is representative of the “pre-history” of the “blood and sex” trend.

It is important to be aware that this intensification of violence and sexuality was a crucial part of the changes in popular literature, and culture in Greece in general, during the late 1960s and 1970s. This influence is apparent in the flood of foreign superheroic, historical (a better term would be history-based), and war comics, imported principally from the US and Italy. In fact, Kampanas was one of the publishers who played a leading role in this movement by introducing Greece to the universe of Marvel Comics. The resulting domination of foreign comics led to a decline of domestic popular literature, particularly of the various pulp magazines written and illustrated by Greek creators (Filippaios, 18).

Poster for the movie 'Diamonds on her Naked Flesh' (1972) directed by Omiros Efstratiadis. The similarities between this poster and the covers of the crime fiction novels are striking.

Poster for the movie ‘Diamonds on her Naked Flesh’ (1972) directed by Omiros Efstratiadis. The similarities between this poster and the covers of the crime fiction novels are striking.

The changes observed in the field of popular cinema during the first years of the 1970s have a more obvious connection with foreign crime fiction. After two decades of great commercial success during the 50s and the 60s, Greek popular cinema entered into a difficult period, as spectators began to abandon the cinema in favour of the new medium of television. Following the overthrow of the ruling military junta in 1974, directors with a more open and deeply political, social and artistic mentality came dynamically to the fore. At the same time, the remaining producers of popular cinema tried to retain favour among an audience, which was both diverse and rooted in the urban middle and lower classes. Therefore, movies of many genres, from crime to melodrama, and even comedy, gradually moved towards the more sensual and erotic, and began borrowing elements from the pornographic genre.

The causes for the decline of popular cinema in Greece have been identified by film studies academics (Soldatos, 212-218; 230- 232; Dermentzopoulos, 145). Their conclusions can help us identify reasons behind similar trends in translated crime fiction series. The causes for this change of direction can be identified as follows:

  1. The gradual progression of the new medium of television. It was not only cheaper, but also carried with it prestige associated with urbanity, modernity, technology, and fashion.
  2. The highly organised nature of the popular publishing industry, as well as constant efforts by publishers to widen their readership and, of course, increase profit. This inevitably led to the inclusion of elements from popular erotic literature.
  3. The profound influence of new trends which came mainly from the US. Publisher Dimitris Chanos in particular, who championed this styleconsciously sought to bring “hard-boiled” and noir crime fiction to Greece (Grammatikos, 16-19).

Finally, we must add to this the rapid and major changes on the socio-political level. Internal migration during the 1960s, which occurred due to professional and economic reasons, led to an empowerment of the lower classes and, consequently, an elevation of lowbrow culture. This phenomenon was closely connected to the strong influence of Western culture and lifestyle, which was itself a critical element in economic and social, namely class, mobility. Therefore, the frequent presence of blonde, western-looking women on book covers sought to tap into the desire of audiences to adopt the advanced, rich and liberal lifestyle of the West. In parallel, an element of a “kitsch” nationalistic aesthetic, which was a dominant cultural direction during the Dictatorship, coexisted harmoniously with evolution of foreign crime fiction into “blood and sex”. Generally, this whole network of ideas was fundamental in the shaping of mentalities both of the readership of crime fiction and the wider audience of popular Greek cinema during the 1970s.

This shift towards violence and eroticism, which characterizes both crime fiction and cinema in Greece during the 1970s, did not go unchallenged. As with cinema, where a new generation of more politically conscious and artistically minded directors assumed leading roles, so too in crime fiction did a new generation of mainly left-wing and intellectual academics, writers, translators, journalists and publishers come to the fore, producing a more thoughtful and artistic œuvre. Although this fresh approach first gained traction in the early 1980s, the subcultural mentality of “blood and sex” continued throughout the rest of the decade and into the 90s. Today, these series are largely ignored by proponents of high culture, or are met with the modern nostalgia of “retro” and “cult”. These very interesting current perspectives would well deserve to be rediscovered and to become the subject of an original, specialized study.

 


 

Bibliography

Chanos Dimitris, I laiki logotehnia, T. 2, To laiko mithistorima, Athina (periodikes ekdoseis tis Maskas) 1987 [The Popular Literature, Vol. 2, the popular novel, Athens (Mask serial publications) 1987]

Dermentzopoulos Christos, “O Ellinikos laikos kinimatografos (1950- 1975)”, Utopia, 90 (Maios- Iounios) [“The Greek Popular Cinema (1950- 1975)”, Utopia, 90 (May- June)]

Filippaios Nikos, Greek popular literature magazines for children and teenagers (1950-1968), 2015
Available at: https://www.academia.edu/14109199/Greek_popular_literature_magazines_for_children_and_teenagers_1950-1968_

Grammatikos Nikos, “Sinenteuksi me ton Dimitri Chano”, Tetarto, 24 (Aprilios 1987), 15-19 [“Interview with Dimitris Chanos”, Tetarto (magazine), 24 (April 1987), 15-19]

Kassis Kyriakos, Elliniki paralogotehnia kai comics (1598-1998), Athina (I.CH.O.R. & A.L.L.E.A.S.) 1998 [Greek popular fiction and comics (1598 – 1998), Athens (I.CH.O.R. & A.L.L.E.A.S.) 1998]

Koskinas Giorgos, “Viper” revisited, January 21 2014
Available to: http://comicstrades.me/2014/01/21/%CE%B2%CE%B9%CF%80%CE%B5%CF%81-revisited/

Soldatos Giannis, Istoria tou Ellinikou Kinimatografou, A’ tomos (1900 – 1967), Athina (Aigokeros) 81999 [History of the Greek Cinema, Vol. 1 (1900 – 1967), Athens (Aigokeros publications) 81999]

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