Mitchell Hooks: April 2, 1923-March 17, 2013

Illustrator made a living creating iconic images that graced the covers of paperback books

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Mitchell Hooks: April 2, 1923-March 17, 2013
Illustration by Shan Stumpf

[As is our tradition, we’ve profiled some of the lesser-known individuals we lost in 2013 – people who, through their contributions to our culture, left this world a better place than they found it.]

If you come upon a trove of 1950s paperbacks in a resale shop, have a look. There’s a good chance that one of the covers was drawn by illustrator Mitchell Hooks, who died this year at 89.

Called “an iconic figure in the golden age of illustration,” Hooks seems to have been a natural aesthete. His only formal artistic training was from high-school classes in Detroit, his hometown. After a stint in the Army during World War II, Hooks gravitated to the illustration world in New York, gaining work as a commercial artist and finding his chance for success. In the mid-1950s, sensing that the tired paperback industry was ready to embrace a new generation of illustration, he quit all commercial work and decided to try his hand at doing book covers that popped. In a 1960 interview with American Artist, Hooks said, “For the next couple of years, I did almost nothing but book covers, and my gamble began to pay off. I was able to make a living doing books and I had plenty of opportunities to work in a field that I liked.”

Soon, Hooks was designing covers for Avon, Bantam, Dell and Fawcett, among others. His loose, sketch-like, spontaneous-looking drawings belied the effort that went into them, often involving models, photography and dozens of painstaking sketches. Critic Jules Perel praised the artist’s “energetic views of contemporary life and heroic reconstructions of historical periods.” Eventually, magazine readers would recognize Hooks’ familiar style and technique in the pages of Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post and other major magazines. The high points of his career would be his illustrations for movie posters, especially his poster for Dr. No, which presented the iconic James Bond holding a smoking pistol in one hand and a smoking cigarette in the other.

Reminiscing later, Hooks’ recollections were more circumspect. In a 1988 interview with editor and publisher Gary Lovisi, Hooks spoke of editors who paid $300 a cover, noting, “You had to hire models out of that, pay photography and pay for costumes. I sure never got rich doing covers, but it paid the rent.”

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