Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads & More Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers

As David Bowie him­self implied in a 1975 inter­view, “Young Amer­i­cans” does­n’t have much of a nar­ra­tive.

Rather, it’s a por­trait of ambiva­lence, viewed at some remove.

The same can­not be said for Young Amer­i­cans, the whol­ly imag­i­nary mid­cen­tu­ry pulp nov­el.

One look at the lurid cov­er, above, and one can guess the sort of steamy pas­sages con­tained with­in. Bowie’s sweaty palmed class­mates at Brom­ley Tech­ni­cal High School could prob­a­bly have recit­ed them from mem­o­ry!

Dit­to Ali­son. The tawdry paper­back, not Elvis Costello’s ever­green 1977 bal­lad. There’s a rea­son its spine is falling apart, and it’s not because young lads like Elvis Costel­lo are fear­ful their hearts might prove untrue. That skimpy pink biki­ni top and hip hug­gers get-up is appeal­ing to an entire­ly dif­fer­ent organ.

Here we must reit­er­ate that these books do not exist and nev­er did.

Though there’s a lot of fun to be had in pre­tend­ing that they do.

Screen­writer Todd Alcott, the true author of these dig­i­tal mashups, is keen­ly attuned to the over­ripe visu­al lan­guage of mid­cen­tu­ry paper­backs.

He’s also got quite a knack for extract­ing lyrics from their orig­i­nal con­text and ren­der­ing them in the peri­od font, mag­i­cal­ly retool­ing them as the sort of sug­ges­tive quotes that once beck­oned from drug­store book racks.

Font has been impor­tant to him since the age of 13, when a school art project required him to com­bine text with an image:

I decid­ed that I want­ed the text to look like the text I’d seen in an ad for a John Lennon album, so I copied that font style. I did­n’t know that the font style had a name, but I knew that my instincts for how to draw those let­ters did­n’t match how the let­ters end­ed up look­ing. The font, as it turns out, was Franklin Goth­ic, and, as a 13-year-old, all I remem­ber was that I would start to draw the “S” and then real­ize that my “S” did­n’t look like Franklin Goth­ic’s “S,” and that the curvy let­ters, like “G” and “O,” did­n’t look right when they sat on the lines I’d made for the oth­er let­ters, because of course for a font, the curvy let­ters have to be a lit­tle bit big­ger than the straight let­ters, or else they end up look­ing too small. I became fas­ci­nat­ed with that kind of thing, how one font would give off one kind of feel­ing, and oth­er one would give off a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent feel­ing. And it turns out there’s a rea­son for all of that, that every font car­ries with it a spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al con­no­ta­tion whether the read­er is aware of it or not. When I dri­ve down the street in LA, I see bill­boards and I can’t just look at one and say “Okay, got it,” I get a whole oth­er lay­er of mean­ing from them because their design and font choic­es tell me a whole his­to­ry of the peo­ple who designed them.

While Alcott dis­cov­ers many of his visu­als online, he has a soft spot for the bat­tered orig­i­nals he finds in sec­ond hand shops. Their wear and tear con­fers the sort of verisimil­i­tude he seeks. The rest is equal parts inspi­ra­tion, Pho­to­shop, and a grow­ing under­stand­ing of a design form he once dis­missed as the tawdry fruit of Low Cul­ture:

I’d nev­er under­stood pulp design until I start­ed this project.  As I start­ed look­ing at it, I real­ized that  the aes­thet­ic of pulp is so deeply attached to its prod­uct that it’s impos­si­ble to sep­a­rate the two. And that’s what great design is, a graph­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of ideas. When I start­ed exam­in­ing the designs, to see why some work and some don’t, I was over­whelmed with the sheer amount of artistry involved in the cov­ers. Pulp was a huge cul­tur­al force, there were dozens of mag­a­zines and pub­lish­ers, crank­ing out stuff every month for decades, detec­tive sto­ries and police sto­ries and noir sto­ries and mys­ter­ies. It employed thou­sands of artists, writ­ers and painters and illus­tra­tors. And the ener­gy of the paint­ings is just off the charts. It had to be, because any giv­en book cov­er had to com­pete with the ten thou­sand oth­er cov­ers that were on dis­play. It had to grab the view­er fast, and make that per­son pick up the book instead of some oth­er book. I love all kinds of mid­cen­tu­ry stuff, but noth­ing grabs you the way a good pulp cov­er does.

Not all of his mash ups traf­fic in mid-cen­tu­ry drug­store rack nympho­ma­nia.

New Order’s “Bizarre Love Tri­an­gle” is the ide­al recip­i­ent of the abstract approach so com­mon to psy­chol­o­gy and phi­los­o­phy titles of the peri­od.

Need­less to say, Alcott’s cov­ers are also a trib­ute to the musi­cians he lists as authors, par­tic­u­lar­ly those dat­ing to his New Wave era youth—Bowie, Costel­lo, Joy Divi­sion, Talk­ing Heads, King Crim­son

I know I could find more pop­u­lar con­tem­po­rary artists to make trib­utes for, but these are the artists I love, I con­nect to their work on a deep lev­el, and I try to make things that they would see and think “Yeah, this guy gets me.” 

My favorite thing is when peo­ple think the pieces are real. That’s the high­est com­pli­ment I can receive. I’ve had band mem­bers con­tact me and say “Where did you find this?” or “I don’t even remem­ber doing this album” or “Where did you find this?” That’s when I know I’ve suc­cess­ful­ly com­bined ideas.

Todd Alcott’s Mid-Cen­tu­ry Mash Up Book Cov­ers can be pur­chased as prints from his Etsy store.

All images pub­lished with the per­mis­sion of Todd Alcott.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

7 Rock Album Cov­ers Designed by Icon­ic Artists: Warhol, Rauschen­berg, Dalí, Richter, Map­plethor­pe & More

French Book­store Blends Real People’s Faces with Book Cov­er Art

36 Abstract Cov­ers of Vin­tage Psy­chol­o­gy, Phi­los­o­phy & Sci­ence Books Come to Life in a Mes­mer­iz­ing Ani­ma­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 24 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (6)
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  • Mark Smaller says:

    Bril­liant — would love to see some ear­ly Eno albums. Mx

  • James says:

    “Blank Frank” — an Eno pub­li­ca­tion. He is the one who will set you up as noth­ing. The only time he speaks is in incom­pre­hen­si­ble proverbs. He has a mem­o­ry that’s as cold as an ice­berg…

  • Lloyd Cooke says:

    Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costel­lo, Talk­ing Heads & More Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers,
    No, only She’s Lost Con­trol is pulp. One is a men’s adven­ture mag­a­zine, the oth­ers are paper back books.
    Pulp fic­tion is called that because it was print­ed on cheap paper called pulp­wood. Adven­ture was not the biggest cat­a­log in pulp. West­erns and romance were. So, no.

  • me says:

    Light­en up Fran­cis. Christ ..Christ, you’re a hor­ri­ble observ­er of the obvi­ous.

  • Lloyd Cooke says:

    Me (if that is your real name), do you have some issue with facts? Because you are a hor­ri­ble observ­er of them.

  • Neal Umphred says:

    More, please …

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