Publishers

Crime fiction series published in 20th century Romania

Bianca Alecu, University of Bucharest

 bianca.maria.alecu@gmail.com

1969 - VA - Antologia Enigma vol 1

 

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.

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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

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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.

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

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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).

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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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Avon’s art of the Macabre

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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

Pulps Authors in Paperbacks

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Both Hammett and Chandler had their novels originally published as hardbacks. But both of them, like so many original hardboiled writers from the first generation  reached a mass readership through two other forms created by the publishing industry: The pulp magazines in which their short stories were first published, and the paperback. The latter’s rise, starting in the early 1940s, ensured the continued  circulation of their work. In 1933 Chandler published his first fiction (“Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”) in Black Mask (which had been launched in 1920) and continued publishing there and in other detection magazines until 1941. Continue reading

American Penguin Crime Fiction

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The Penguin operation in America was started in 1939, four years after the successful launch of Penguin in Britain. The collection retained the green colour code for crime Fiction books which had characterised the British covers since the 1935 publication of Penguin no. 5 (the first crime published in the collection,  Dorothy L Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club). But the American market was not prepared for the sobriety of the non illustrated British covers. The  illustrations make the American covers instantly recognisable. Continue reading

Colección El Séptimo Círculo: The first 120 Titles

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(Click to enlarge)

The first 120 volumes in the  Seventh Circle (Septimo Circulo) series were selected by Borges and Bioy Casares, both practitioners and very well- informed observers of the crime genre and its developments since the 1930s. It is well known that the pair had previously co-written, under the pseudonym of Bustos Domeq the ultimate armchair detection classic, Six problems for Don Isidro Parodi, published in 1942. The Septimo Circulo series reflects their tastes (even though, unlike Borges, it favours novels over short stories) and views on crime fiction aesthetics. Given the global status and influence of Borges especially, the vision of a canon of international crime fiction which emerges from this selection is interesting. The visualisations below show which authors were published, between 1945 and 1954 in the series’s first 120 volumes, and highlight their relative importance there. Continue reading

British Golden Age Authors and the classic age of the American Paperbacks

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Raymond Chandler once wrote “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers”. Himself a British subject for most of his life and career, one of his most obvious targets, conversely, was eminent author of “British-style” mysteries, John Dickson Carr (alias Carter Dickson), who was in fact an American. This is of course not strictly about nations, rather it is about sub-genres of crime fiction and the different forms and interpretations of its evolution. It is also against a well-recognized literary coterie; “the famous Detection Club, which is a Parnassus of English writers of mystery”. The statement helps to build an opposition, mostly between 1920s English mystery novels (and their authors and their readers), and American Pulp magazines of the same decade (and their authors and their readers). Continue reading

Whereabouts unknown

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Less celebrated than its model (and, in ways, polar opposite), Gallimard’s legendary “Série Noire”, the Fleuve Noir series “Spécial Police” was the most popular of all French crime fiction series. It sold hundreds of millions of books and published a total of 2075 novels. Jean Cocteau was among its admirers. It was, needless to say, largely ignored by critics, academic, literary or otherwise. The books tended to be available at train stations, newsagents, and supermarkets rather than in bookshops. You would not expect to find one in a library. Yet, the series was one of the great matrices of literary imagination in France during the second half of the 20th century. Launched in 1949, it continued to publish until 1987. The majority of its more than 300 authors were either French or francophone, save for one Russian, one (prolific) American, two Germans and a handful of other exceptions. It became an amazing pool of creative talent. How many hundreds more submitted manuscripts? In the twenty-eight years since the series ceased to exist, some of the authors who had been published there have fallen into the most complete obscurity. Very little is known about them, not even their names (many used pseudonyms) or what they did next – or even if they are still alive and writing. Who were and who knew André Goss, Michel Coulmer, Sanz Boto, Mike Cooper and J.M. Valente? Who met Thierry Bataille, and Susan Vialad (or the author publishing under her name), and who remembers them?

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André Goss, aka André Gossiaux, Repassez le suaire. Paris, Fleuve Noir, “Spécial Police” n°58 , 1954.

Illustration Michel Gourdon. Continue reading

Postwar Noir, in Text and Images : Noir Graphic novels (Presses Mondiales)

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 Ah ! les vaches, Paris, Presses Mondiales, 1953 (Cover by Mik, drawings by Gal), adaptation of Jim Schott, Ah ! les vaches, Le Trotteur , 1952

Belgian publisher Roger Dermée, in one of his fated post-war ventures in Paris, published in 1953 with Presses Mondiales a series of 48-page booklets, priced at 95 cents, entitled “Les grands romans noirs dessinés“. These were comic book adaptations of novels written by French authors using American-sounding pseudonyms and originally published in other series. Translating these novels into comics was a way of taking  noir literature’s commitment to a visual narration literally. The pictorial form was always going to emphasize the already graphic depictions of lust and violence in the novels. As such, it inevitably caught the eye of censors. It was also difficult for artists to meet the short deadlines for the graphic adaptation of a full novel. Having completed a text, they could then discover that the publisher no longer existed, nor could pay them, and that a legal suit had been opened against their work and its alleged obscenity.

Du sang dans la sciure , 1953, Cover by Alex Pinon, drawings by Guy Mouminoux Continue reading

Agatha Christie’s translations in Finland

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Images and bibliography courtesy of Ilari Haapasalo

Agatha Christie’s books have been translated into more than 100 languages.  The world’s bestselling author, she has sold, according to the Guinness Book of  Records, 2 billion copies of her mysteries. Initial sales were slow, however. The first edition of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) sold 2 000 copies. Published six years later, her seventh book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Collins, 1926) sold 5 000, and it would be more than 20 books and more than 15 years later before the first edition of her Three-Act Tragedy (1935)  would pass the mark of the 10 000.  The French translation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first book in the famous and perennially successful “Le Masque” series, launched by the Librairie des Champs Elysées in 1927. There too, success came slowly. It took all of three years to sell 3000 copies.  In the same year, the same book was translated in Finland. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was actually published there under  three different titles and  by 3 different publishing houses : Odottamaton Ratkaisu (Satakunnan kirjateollisuus, 1927); Kello 9,10 (Otava, 1929) and Roger Acroydin murha (WSOY, 1959)

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Agatha Christie,  Odottamaton Ratkaisu (Satakunnan kirjateollisuus, 1927) Continue reading

Crime Fiction In Catalan: 2 From the Civil War until Today

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 By Dr Stewart King, Monash University

The development of crime fiction in Catalan from the Civil War until today has been shaped by two major historic events: the Franco regime (1939-1975) and the reestablishment of parliamentary democracy following the dictator’s death in 1975. After the war a series of laws were enacted prohibiting the public use and teaching of Catalan and, during the early 1940s, the publication of books in Catalan. Indeed, in scenes reminiscent of Nazi Germany, books were thrown onto bonfires or pulped. However, from the mid-1940s the regime began to relax some of the restrictions on the use of Catalan, and books started to appear, some in clandestine editions. The effect of such policies on Catalan culture and identity cannot be underestimated. By 1975 only approximately 50 percent of the population could speak Catalan and even fewer could read it. In contrast, the return of democracy has seen the recovery and consolidation of Catalan as a language of communication and cultural production.

Francoist cultural policies shaped in many ways the sort of literature Catalans wrote, as many authors saw it as their duty to defend Catalan as a language of prestige by producing works of high culture. Others, nevertheless, felt that Catalan literature should cater for more diverse tastes by providing books, like crime novels, that catered to the tastes of a readership beyond the well-educated middle class. Of the latter writers, Rafael Tasis and Manuel de Pedrolo stand out.

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Tasis was the first Catalan to write crime fiction after the war, publishing a trilogy of novels set in pre-war Barcelona: La Bíblia valenciana [The Valencian Bible] (1955), És hora de plegar [Quitting Time] (1956) and Un Crim al Paralelo [Crime on Paralelo Avenue] (1960), although the latter was actually written in Paris in 1944 where Tasis resided in exile until 1948 Continue reading