Illustrator R.A. Maguire was a prolific genre paperback cover artist noted for romance novels and westerns in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but he built his reputation as one of the most skillful and evocative renderers of femme fatale figures for pulp crime/erotica novels, beginning in 1950.
On returning to the US after his military service in WWII, Maguire worked a connection to become a student of Frank J. Reilly’s at the Art Student’s League in NYC. Reilly was a noteworthy illustrator in his own right, but is much better known for perfecting a method of teaching anatomy that impacted generations of professional commercial artists and eventually earned him his own eponymous school. Maguire was recommended to Reilly by the father of a friend, and he related the experience thusly:
It was a miracle because there were so many people waiting to get in. I hadn’t even heard of Reilly at all so it was quite a bit of luck that I got in. I knew quite a bit about the Pratt in Brooklyn but not much about the Art Student’s League. It was actually a democratic institute run by students. The League is a classic school. You read an artist’s resume and 9 out of 10 of them studied there on 57th Street.
I remember my first day in class and I was relegated to a seat in the back of a class of about 60 people. It was a dark and rainy day and they had an elderly black man sitting and I could hardly see him. From where I was and because of the day, all I could see were his eyes and his teeth when he smiled. I was all ready to go home. But I stuck with it. The next week we had a classic woman model. It was 9 months to a year before you could learn how to draw classically as Reilly wanted us to do. We always tried to laboriously copy the model and you just cannot do that. You have to learn from the way the model poses, the line of action, and that took almost the whole year. Very few failures. An astonishing performance rate. Reilly said he could teach you in about a year and it was true.
Maguire’s career in pulps followed almost immediately from his graduation from the ASL, beginning with the October, 1950 issue of Hollywood Detective.
By his death in 2005, Maguire had painted over 1,000 book covers, which were collected in the book Dames, Dolls, and Gun Molls. The web site R.A. Maguire Cover Art has undertaken the ambitious endeavor of not just collecting his covers, but also his original paintings and the reference photos from which he worked. Many of the images shared here were culled from that site, and are mildly NSFWish.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Vintage sleaze and pulp erotica by prolific fetish illustrator Eric Stanton
Psychoactive sci-fi surrealism: The book covers that inspired XTC’s Andy Partridge
‘LET ME DIE IN DRAG!’: The sleazy pulp paperbacks of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ director Ed Wood