Illustrations

Crime fiction series published in 20th century Romania

 

 

Bianca Alecu, University of Bucharest

 bianca.maria.alecu@gmail.com

 

Romania belongs no doubt to  countries that are not considered the founders of the  crime genre, but where the crime fiction phenomena is still an enigma, both in its contemporary and past shapes. Unlike better known areas of Crime Fiction production, such as France, North America or  Britain, the beginnings of  the Romanian crime fiction scene are still somewhat obscure, and  remain challenging to track down. Over the decades, there have been numerous more or less successful attempts at publishing popular fiction series including detective novels. From these attempts, eventually, crime fiction series would be developed, especially during the communist regime. This article will tackle both the historical backdrop of these series and elements of book cover design, since their connection is symbolic: “when a text is published and the book is designed and printed, it becomes a physical manifestation not just of the ideas of the author, but of the cultural ideals and aesthetics of a distinct historical moment” (Drew and Sternberger, 2005, p. 8, apud Gallagher, Patrick).

At the beginning of the past century, the Kingdom of Romania experienced one of its most significant moments of cultural and economical growth.  Its literary scene was heavily influenced by the French fin-de-siècle. At the end of World War I, Romania gained the territories of Transylvania, Banat, Bukovina and Bessarabia,  unifying all of the Romanian-speaking provinces. Only northern Transylvania was retained after the Second World War. Soon after, Romania became a socialist republic under a Stalinist type of communist totalitarianism that ended in December 1989, with the execution of the dictator.

Aventura  Fig 1

 

Interwar popular fiction series.

In the first half of the century, more precisely in the 1930s-1940s, popular fiction started to garner more commercial success. One example of this is the Aventura[1] (eng. “adventure”) series, published between 1937-1941 by Adevărul Publishing House and sold with their newspaper, Adevărul (eng. “truth”). Newspapers and books would be sold together at a reasonable, fixed price. The readership knew what to expect from the motto of the series: “Romane de Acțiune și Pasiune” (eng. “Novels of Action and Passion” – Fig. 1).

Each 15th of the month a new such novel would be published, that usually followed the conventions of popular fiction. The total number of books in this series is 50. Out of these, only around 8 are written by non-French authors (British or American: H. Melville, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London). Crime or mystery novels were included in this series, but they were only occasional features, since the main focus of the series was „adventure”, which usually meant discovery-scenarios with unexpected turns in exotic scenery.

insula vampirilor

Fig. 2. A special Christmas edition of the newspaper, from 1939

The cover design of the series is typical for rather cheap paperbacks, using the strategy of illustrating a pivotal point of the narrative (Fig. 2), while the background color is a paper-yellow, the nuance of which is difficult to tell because of the age of  the books that survived (Fig. 3). The font of the titles varies with the content of the books and cover illustrations, while the title of the series and the motto are placed in the top central part of the cover. Another recurrent element of the cover is the price (8 Lei, top left corner), which was then a typical strategy for selling popular fiction (Fayard 65 centimesDime novels, Penny Dreadfuls...).

 

 

  Fig 3      8lei

 

Fig.4

BELLU

Another series published in the same period was dedicated to crime fiction, as the name reveals: Romanul captivant polițist (eng. Thrilling detective novels). It was published by Ig. Hertz Publishing House, one of the most prestigious publishing houses of  interbellum Bucharest. It also published another series of popular fiction called „Colecția celor 15 lei” (i.e. The 15 lei series, i.e costing twice the price of the cheap adventura 8 lei series[1]). There is some uncertainty regarding these two collections, as it is possible they might have merged into one at some point in the 1930s. One of the first Romanian crime fiction novel was published in 1935 in the former series: „Cazul doamnei Predescu” (eng. The case of Mrs. Predescu, Fig. 4) by Petre Belu. The second edition sold between 31.000-45.000 copies.[1]

Unfortunately, a lot of the books published in the interwar period ended up in the great „recycling” projects of early communism. Both what was considered to be major and minor literature was liable to be  „cleaned” and censored, including popular fiction, crime and romance series that could be found in the bookshelves of the bourgeoisie. These books, and especially those which were taken by hundreds and thousands to the „recycling” furnace are now very rare, and can seldom be found, even in the archives of national libraries.

Crime fiction series under the communist regime.

During the communism area, another Aventura series was published by Tineretului (1967-1969) and Albatros (1969-1985) publishing houses. There is no recognizible connection with the interwar series, neither in terms of book cover design, nor content. Both international and Romanian authors were published in this series, which was a collection on its own and not a periodical magazine as before. The first and last books published in this collection belong to a renowned Romanian crime fiction author, Leonida Neamțu. In terms of book cover design, the first version of the series as published by Tineretului proposed a white handwritten silhouette of the letter „a” (from Aventura) against various bold, solid background colors (Fig.5). Inside the „a” the information about the book was written in a constant, minimalist font, in bold (the title) or underlined (the author). This contributed to the overall homogeneous aspect of the series, the design of which was very modern and forward-thinking for the time. After the series was transferred to Albatros (Fig.6), the design of the series was changed to a more varied one, containing both the classical „a” in the top left corner and thematic illustrations. Keeping the small version of the previous design is both an economical and symbolic decision, since the series were very popular with the public and this was the way of keeping the readership throughout the transition of the editorial project.

editura

Fig. 5. Colorful and minimalistic book cover design of the series as it was first published by Editura Tineretului

Albatros

Fig. 6. Book cover design of the  series continued by Albatros

The most successful and renowned crime fiction series of the communist period (and may still be well-known to this day) is Enigma, published by Univers Publishing House from 1969 to 1990. During the 1990s some titles were republished in a new series called Enigma Z,  with new cover design. This series never matched the fame and readership acclaim of the original one. The covers of some of the most famous titles of the communist Enigma can be viewed at https://archive.org/details/ColectiaEnigma-EdituraUnivers. As crime and spy novels began as yellow paper-backs in most European countries, yellow and bright colors (orange, green) remained one of the visual ways to inform the reader, even unconsciously, about the nature of the contents of the book. This can be seen in the cover design of the previous series, but it is fully-fledged in Enigma (Fig.7). Some of the graphic elements of the cover are similar to Albatros’ Aventura series, namely the collage-like illustration and the colorful background of the title box. However, one of the things that set apart the design of this series is the changing of the font of the title according to some symbolic connotations of the contents of the book (or even according to the length and phonetics of the title). The most recurrent color is, by far, yellow, followed closely by orange, mustard, green and pink. An anthology of crime fiction short stories was also published in this series, in two volumes that can be seen in the top right picture below. The design of these is distinct from the rest of the series, while in keeping with the overall ratio and aspect of the covers (square lines, central illustration, title box in the lower half of the cover).

enigma1 enigma2

 

 

enigma

Fig. 7 Enigma

This collection was among the lengthiest ones, counting 89 titles, 15 of them published in 1969, the numbers decreasing rapidly. From 1974 to 1978 only 5 volumes were published in a year. During he last years (1987-1990), only one volume was published per year. Only international authors were published, out of which the most numerous ones were soviet authors, particularly during the 1972-1980 period (approximately). Most of the titles were of world-renowned crime fiction writers, mostly British (Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Eric Ambler, Michael Sinclaire), American (Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Ball), French (Gaston Leroux, San-Antonio, Georges Simenon, Maurice Leblanc, Sébastien Japrisot, , Emile Gaboriau) and others. There is no distinguishable correspondence between the background colors and the nationality of the author or the fictional contents of the books. Neither is there a recurrent, constant pattern of the colors, the order of which is hazardous, yellow and orange accounting for more than a third of the covers.

The case of Soviet writers.

The first volume of soviet crime fiction published there was only the 31st of the series, in 1972, three years after the collection started. It was written by Dmitri Tarasenkov and called “Omul din gang” (The man in the gallery). All the volumes published subsequently in 1972 were written by Soviet writers, as follows: Iulian Semionov, E. Braghinski, Joe Alex, K. Kwasniewski. The last two are the pen-names of the Polish translator and writer Maciej Słomczyński. This period corresponds to a wave of censorship and sovietization of the whole book industry, as well as the literary products themselves. Eugen Negrici identifies four distinct chronological attitudes towards literature during communism, that are especially prevalent in the writing, commercializing and reading of prose: stalinism (’48-’53), formal destalinisation (’53-’64), relative liberalization (’64-’71) and communist nationalism and re-indoctrination (’71-’89). As Soviet crime fiction authors were prevalent in 1972 and the years that followed, featuring constantly alongside to more household non-soviet, occidental names in the genre (Bogomil Rainov is published next to Michael Innes or Dashiell Hammet, in 1973), one can assume that this was a consequence of the reinforcement of ideology after a short period of ease. However, the preparations for this began early in the 1960s, when there was a “search for artistic vehicles to carry emancipatory messages to the masses”, as Caius Dobrescu points out. Moreover, there are similarities between this and the Soviet exploitation of different popular genres as means of propaganda as early as the Avant Garde artistic and literary phenomena.

Some of the Soviet writers published in the series were already well-known in the Soviet Union for their interest in the spy genre, including literature and screenplays, cinema, and Theatre plays. Yulian Semionov (1931-1993) took part in publishing two dedicated crime fiction magazines, „Detective and politics” and „Top secret”. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of investigative journalism in Soviet Union. He was a member of the Union of Soviet Writers and enjoyed critical acclaim for his works of journalism, which were published in many newspapers. Two of his detective stories are published in the Enigma series, the first one,“Valiza cu amprente”, (“The suitcase with fingerprints”) in 1972 and the second one in 1975, “Ogariov Street, No. 6”. Dmitri Tarasenkov and Emil Braginsky worked as screewriters, among others, and were involved in the development of many Soviet films. The former later immigrated to USA in 1978, where, later on, he worked as a journalist for Radio Liberty. Other Soviet writers include Mihail Heyfetz, Arkadi Adamov, Arkadi and George Weiner. Authors from the Soviet block were also published, such as Maciej Słomczyński and Jerzy Edigey (Polish), Bogomil Rainov (Bulgarian), Eduard Fiker, Vaclav Erben, and Ladislav Fuks (Czech), Rejto Jeno (Hungarian). For a detailed representation, see Fig. 8.

 

Enigma Authors

WORKS CITED

Dobrescu, Caius (2013), „Identity, Otherness, Crime: Detective Fiction and Interethnic Hazards”, in Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica, 5, 1, 43-58. Available at https://goo.gl/EfNK4k

Forshaw, Barry (2007), The rough guide to crime fiction, London, Rough Guides Ltd

Drew, N., & Sternberger, P. (2005). By its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design. New York, NY, USA: Princeton Architectural Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com, apud Gallagher, Patrick (2015), The look of Fiction: A visual analysis of the Front Covers of The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers, Thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology. Available at https://goo.gl/5gV26P

Negrici, Eugen (2006), Literatura română sub comunism. Proza, București, Editura Fundației Pro

 

ELECTRONICAL RESOURCES

http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/369954/2/B_Colectia_interbelic_259_AVENTURA_-_Romane_de_actiune_si_pasiune_/ Romanian forum dedicated to discussing and publishing electronical, scanned versions of old books. Available only in Romanian. All the books from the interwar Aventura series are available for downloading thanks to individual efforts of numerous people who still had some of the books in the series. A list of all the titles is also available.

http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/504019/1/Colectia_Romane_Politiste_-_Topic_recuperat/ Romanian forum dedicated to crime fiction, spy novels and pulp fiction series published since communism. Available only in Romanian. Most of the books are scanned and can be downloaded.

https://goo.gl/9RgDn6 The Facebook page of the same forum contains a photo album with the cover of all the books from the Enigma series. This is useful for getting an overall picture of the chromatics and design of the series.

 

 

 

[1] Carte rară din colecțiile Bibliotecii Științifice Universitare: contribuții bibliografice, Fascicula 3, collected by Scurtu, Elena, Nagherneac, Ana, Bălți, 2008. Available online https://en.calameo.com/read/001133349e22fadf634e7

[1] A good salary (of a clerk) was 9000 lei in 1928, one volume would cost aprox 0.1% of this salary

[1] A complete list of the volumes published in this series, as well as the digitized version of most of them can be found at http://romania-inedit.3xforum.ro/post/369954/1/B_Colectia_interbelic_259_AVENTURA_-_Romane_de_actiune_si_pasiune_/

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Transatlantic Fiction made in France

JDW collection Noire

 

Imprimerie du Livre, Colombes, December 1951, Cover Art by Jef de Wulf. ( From Didier Poiret’s collections)  

Troughout the late 1940s and early 1950s many French publishers saw a business opportunity in trying to replicate the success of Gallimard’s iconic Série Noire, launched in 1945 by former Surrealist Marcel Duhamel.  The short-lived Collection noire franco-américaine, published by the Editions du Globe (and from 1952 by Editions du Trotteur) between 1950 and 1953, is one such venture. It is also one of the more striking as it invested in quality rather than merely aiming at supplying readers with a cheap ersatz.

The Collection Noire, like the Série Noire reflected the success of  American noir films in post-war France, as well as French curiosity for American Hard-boiled novels. While the Série Noire was largely responsible for instilling a taste for American noir in France, the editions du Globe, with their Collection Noire, sought to capitalise on this emerging market. Unlike the Série Noire, who had by then already published  American authors such as Chandler, Hammett, McCoy, Finnegan, Tracy, Cain (both Paul and James) and Latimer, the Collection Noire had no American talent to back up its “franco-américaine” credentials. Without exception, all authors were French.  The pseudonyms they adopted were often meant to sound American, and their novels were supposed to recall, in both style and theme, not to mention through their violent and bleak outlook, the authors popularised by the Série Noire.  The Collection Noire franco-americaine was not content to simply recall the Série Noire in name and for the colour scheme (namely the trademark black and yellow combination of the Série Noire). From 1951, it called upon some of the best illustrators in the trade (René Brantonne, Jef de Wulf,  Mik, Salva, among others) and in doing so departed from the beautiful austerity of the imageless Série Noire covers.

 

JDW Collection Noire1

 

While the Série Noire, at least until 1953, would show the utmost reluctance for publishing French authors, the Collection Noire featured established French writers, many of who had already published in the crime genre, and even won awards. One such author is André Helena, a true pioneer of the French noir genre and one its the best. Deemed unsuitable for publication in the Série Noire, his novel Les filles me perdront was published in 1953, the 20th volume in the Collection Noire series. Another is Joseph-Louis Sanciaume, born in 1903 and already the author of dozens of detective novels, who was awarded the 1947 Action Novel award for  Sinistre turbin ! (Collection noire, Volume 2, 1952, Illustrated by Brantonne) .

Another, Claude Ferny (aka Pierre Marchand, b. 1906), had only published a handful of crime novels (in the Series La Cagoule), before joining the ranks of the Collection Noire, with whom he went on to publish several novels, more than any other author. He would subsequently go on to write some thirty crime novels elsewhere.

Tellingly, the Collection Noire published the first Frenchman to be published in the Série Noire, Serge-Marie Arcouët (b. 1916), using in both cases the same pseudo-Aamerican pseudonym, Terry Stewart. His novel C’est dans la poche was published in the Collection Noire in 1952, with an illustration by Salva.

The  Collection Noire franco-américaine’s Cover Art can be admired at :

http://oncle-archibald.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Editions%20le%20Trotteur%20-%20Collection%20noire%20franco-am%C3%A9ricaine

http://www.papy-dulaut.com/article-la-collection-noire-franco-americaine-aux-editions-du-globe-et-aux-editions-le-trotteur-54095914.html

 

 

Abstract Landscapes, Train Stations and Crime Fiction: Buffet, Carzou, San-Antonio

 

Carzou rails

Jean Carzou (1907-2000), Les Caténaires, 1967

In a short passage which appears at first glance to encapsulate his populist views on art, bestselling French crime author San-Antonio likens the British Museum, which he professed to hate (“that most abhorrent place on earth, the most sinister ! A quintessential cemetery!”) to the Paris train station Saint-Lazare “with its smell of coal, pee and sweat”. While, according to him, in the Museum’s  “cold light, the work of men becomes inhuman”,  Saint-Lazare station, “full of cries and kisses” reminds him, “with its black beams that crisscross in the smoke” of “a drawing by Carzou”  (San-Antonio, Y’a de l’action,  Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1967; see the original French below). Continue reading

Seeing Simenon: Loustal’s illustrations of The Rico’s brothers

 Loustal_184868

Les Frères Rico, published in 1952 with Presses de la Cité was written in July of the same year, in Lakeville, Connecticut. It is not one of the most well known of Simenon’s American novels, although it deserves to be, even leading to a film adaptation, with Richard Conte cast in the leading role. Conte is not the only link between this novel about business, family and the mafia and Coppola’s epic trilogy, The Godfather.  And there are elements in the main character’s personality which evoke De Niro’s in Scorsese’s Casino.

Written during the decade Simenon spent in America (1945 to 1955) and dealing with American settings, characters and topics, it is a novel which could equally have been published in the Série Noire, save for the fact that, maybe, it had much more authenticity than anything published by French crime authors in that series at the time.  Like so many of the Série Noire novels, Simenon’s novel is really a tragedy, a tragedy with ordinary people. Blood and sacred family ties, duty and honour, being forced to make the most cruel of choices are its tragic elements. Businessmen instead of heroes, and corporate organisations (here, the mafia) with their dispassionate, mechanical rules instead of gods, are the elements of ordinariness. Simenon of course is one of the 20th century’s true poets of the ordinary and the novel is poignant in its evocation of the melancholy of submission.

The noir atmosphere, the lingering sense of betrayal, displacement and sorrow left by the novel is captured beautifully by Loustal’s colour drawings for the Omnibus illustrated edition (Paris, Omnibus, 2004)

Les_freres_Rico

Avon’s art of the Macabre

avon038nn

Founded in 1941 and based in NYC, Avon Books was one of the early publishers of  paperbacks in America, following closely the industry-changing model set in 1939 by Pocket Books (also in NYC), with their pocket-sized publications. But while Pocket Books publications emphasized literary recognition of the works they republished, Avon chose to rather stress their popular appeal. Illustrations played a large part in this. Beyond the promise of a pleasurable read, the audience’s fascination with death is an equally reliable marketing force. Continue reading

Tintin’s adventures in Hardboiled America

Chicago

Tintin en Amérique, the third album installment of the world famous series of realistic comics drawn by Hergé, was first serialized in the Brussels-based Petit Vingtième, between 3 September 1931 and 20 October 1932. The colour version of the album dates from 1945. Tintin en Amérique is therefore, both for Americans and for Europeans, a contemporary of early noir novels. Not only does Tintin visit America just after the noir genre was invented there in the 1920s pulps (the first “hardboiled” novel considered to be Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, published in 1929), but the colour edition coincides with the genre’s real discovery and vogue (in film and publisher’s series such as Gallimard’s Série Noire) in post-war Europe, when curiosity for America was at its peak. Of course, the plot of Tintin en Amérique owes more to the spectacular gangster-film tradition (and, in parts, to the western) than to the cultural malaise associated with the noir genre. Himself a product of media culture, Tintin was born in the newspapers. He works, diegetically, as a journalist (although he never sends any articles): his is a newsreel vision of America. Not by coincidence, his American adventures are set in Chicago and feature Al Capone.

  

en Amerique Chicago petit 20e

(1945 version)                                                          (1931 version)

Continue reading

Multimedia Crime Fiction : an international trajectory, 1954-2015

SVEEUD

Les salauds vont en enfer, Play by  Frédéric Dard, Edited,  introduced and annotated by : Hugues Galli, Thierry Gautier & Dominique Jeannerod, EUD, 2015, 238 pp.

Grand Guignol programme 1

Frédéric Dard was France’s most popular Crime Fiction author.  Besides his career as  a novelist, Dard was a prolific playwright, screenwriter and dialogue writer. The recent discovery  and subsequent publication (EUD, 2015) of an original manuscript of the  successful Play Les salauds vont en enfer  allows to retrace the circuits of cultural creation in 1950’s France and the interrelation between various  media and narrative forms.  Created in the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris in 1954 and directed by Robert Hossein, the play went on to experience  a series of  transpositions. First, in 1955, on screen (also directed by Robert Hossein), then as a novel, when  in  early 1956,  it was novelised as a roman noir by Frédéric Dard, the author of the play.   In 1971, Abdal Iskar adapted it as television film.  A wealth of archives, generously shared by collectors  and the author’s  family  have helped reconstructing  the story of the play’s reincarnations and exportations.  But working  closely on the text of the play  for this first edition (six decades after it had been written) also highlighted the  importance of the international  and intermedia horizons in the creation, as they are both already  there in the author’s inspiration.  Most  of the following pictures, which document the variations  and interpretations from media to media and in different countries, are reproduced in this edition, where they are fully referenced. Continue reading

Club Del Misterio, Barcelona

Bruguera

The Club del Misterio Series (early to mid-1980’s) predates the Etiqueta Negra Series (mid- 1980’s to mid-1990)Both Series are devoted to Crime Fiction. Both  have appeared post-Franco, and in a cultural context profoundly changed by the Movida. Both have published around 150 books of international Crime Fiction, the majority of them considered classics of the genre. While  Etiqueta Negra is a series launched by a Madrid publisher, Jucar, Club del Misterio belongs to a Barcelona-based publisher,  Bruguera.

Chandler

But the most striking difference is their respective scope. The Madrid publisher puts the emphasis on selection and distinction. There are fewer authors, representing fewer countries, and a distinctive branch within the crime genre, the noir novel. On the contrary, the Barcelona series favours diversity : different subgenres, different authors, different countries.  It is remarkable that the author most published in this series is Italian (Scerbanenco). Rather than American (or Spanish as is at the time the pattern elsewhere, when only local authors seem capable of resisting the American -and to an extent English- dominance). Continue reading

Illustrations of Vigilantes Thrillers

Verpilleux

Edgar Wallace’s  thrillers are true international bestsellers. First published in The Strand Magazine, in 1921, then as a book, the same year,  by  Hodder & Stoughton,  The Law of the Four Just Men is the fourth novel in this Edwardian Crime series, started in  1905, and dedicated to the adventures of  Edgar Wallace’s international cast of eccentric, youngish, killing vigilantes, the “Four Just Men”. It  was hugely popular and went on  to become a bestseller in America (Doubleday, Doran, Crime Club). The stories were illustrated, for the Strand Magazine by Belgian visual artist Emile Antoine Verpilleux (1888-1964). Among others, the artist also illustrated a short story by Conan Doyle for the same publication (1922) Continue reading