Packing It All In
Each of us who's ever done a commercial art job has met the client who wants absolutely everything in the commissioned piece.
He usually starts small--"I want this guy standing at the edge of a cliff with the moon behind him." Suddenly he thinks of some must-have addition. "And wait, in the background there's this house, right? With a light on in a window on the top floor." After that it snowballs. "Then over here, a car is driving up, fast, and a thug is jumping out. He's waving his gun. And what if we have a woman running out of the house shouting at the thug..." And so on.
This cover from Lev Gleason's Crime Does Not Pay has all the earmarks of that kind of job. Its layers of complexity are amazing. A scantily dressed woman in a nightgown shows some leg as she holds an oil lantern and looks from an upper-floor window at a guy with an Elvis hairdo digging an immense hole in the yard (if that's a grave, it's for a square giant). Reflected in a mirror next to her we see an old guy in a robe (Her husband? Her sugar daddy?) opening the door behind her. He's either surprised or angry. The woman is doing some emoting of her own. Note both her upset expression and the patented Charles Biro Shake Lines around her body. Lots of narrative detail, but I find the story it tells confusing rather than intriguing. I'd bet most of the 5,000,000 readers looked at it and said, "Huh?"
The artist sure earned his twenty-five bucks drawing this cover.* He didn't shrink from his task. He strove manfully to fit everything in and still get a decent composition. He came close, but there remains an annoying hole at the lower right that even Charles Biro's enormous signature doesn't fill. The viewer can't help noticing all the loving interior detail: specific rather than generic furniture, doilies on the chair arms, decorative frills on the vase and the mirror frame, titles indicated on all the books, and even a ceramic doggie on the top shelf. I can't figure the cover out but I rather admire it.
*Charles Biro signed this cover, of course, but I've read in several places that he seldom if ever drew any of the CDNP covers bearing his signature.