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Cyanide and Sin: Visualizing Crime in 50s America Paperback – September 1, 2006
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From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
The stylized visual world of 50s true crime magazines By Maeve Haldane Though there have been coffee-table books on lesbian pulp fiction of the 1940s, cheesecake pin-ups of World War II and classic film noir posters, the stylistic evolution of the quintessentially American true crime genre has been overlooked until now. This month, communications and art history professor Will Straw launches Cyanide and Sin: Visualizing Crime in 50s America in New York City and Montreal. Thanks to a compulsive five-year eBay habit, Straw has amassed boxes of Inside Detective, True Mystery, Men in Danger and the like. He sifted through that private collection for the nearly 200 images reproduced in the book. "I wouldn't be here as a McGill professor if I weren't a comic book geek who got into movies, then film studies," said Straw. Straw writes about the history of the true crime genre, explaining that broadsides, then penny press papers, covered criminal activities since the 17th century. True crime magazines only emerged in the post-World War I boom, born of confession magazines like True Story. In 1924, Macfadden Publishing started True Detective Mysteries, then Fawcett responded with Startling Detective in 1927. The next two decades would see dozens of fly-by-night companies enter the field. The late '40s were marked by melodramatic studio photo shoots and flamboyant paintings. True crime mags hit their design stride in the '50s, when compelling imagery met with a bold creative layout and colourfully portrayed dames gave way (but not entirely) to the gritty chic of black and white photography. Until 1960, Straw writes, true crime magazine design "soaked up the styles of tabloid journalism, film noir, New York street photography, Surrealism, American urban realist painting, revolutionary montage and innumerable other currents criss-crossing American culture." The '60s covers turned to lurid colours, embracing psychedelic effects as well as a near-pornographic coverage of go --McGill Reporter. Oct 5, 2006. http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/39/04/straw/
About the Author
Will Straw, PhD. Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Communications Studies McGill University
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Top customer reviews
The 196 illustrations are divided into covers, mostly one to a page and sixty-two inside spreads. It's the magazine insides that I found most fascinating and I have to say, having worked as a designer on down-market publications, that so many of the spreads are rather bland and amateurish looking. These magazines had very low editorial budgets with most money being spent on the cover images so that the inside pages had to rely on the creativity of designers using graphic techniques to create visual interest (large headlines, angled photos, type in panels, irregular photo and tone shapes) They all look as if they were churned out month after month for a readership that really wasn't too bothered about what the layouts looked like.
Though the title of the book relates to the fifties the covers and insides start in the forties and the last twenty-three extend into the sixties. You'll be able to see a change in cover style from the earliest with a photo (predictably a female) with one cover line and by the late-fifties this has evolved into busier designs with two or three photos and several cover headlines. The publishers knew exactly what their reader's wanted so that the teaser lines had a strong sexual element like: White Slavers Beat Me, But They Couldn't Silence Me!; PASSION SLAYINGS of the HILL-COUNTRY HELLCAT; DIAL R-A-P-E! The Sex Pervert Has a New Angle; Sex, Schoolbooks, Switchblades. Our children get away with murder! Clearly sex, as always, sells!
Cyanide and Sin visually covers a tiny part of the popular culture market but it can be compared to Taschen's 336 page Detective Magazines (Midi) which I think is much better. Strangely this book isn't mentioned in the Cyanide and Sin Sources page. True Crime/Detective Magazines is a thick chunky hardback with 450 covers (but fewer inside spreads) and a design rather more sympathetic to the subject matter, a lot more information, beautifully produced and at a comparable price, too.
C&S does have an interesting cover that is worth a mention. The book is a trade paperback with a jacket made up of magazine covers and when removed opens to a thirty-four by twenty-one inch poster of covers, with a few repeats. A clever graphic idea for a jacket though you'll have to handle the book carefully because this cover is split into two halves horizontally as it wraps round the book's front and back.
***SEE SOME INSIDE SPREADS by clicking 'customer imahes' under the cover.