Michael Stradford served as the VP of A&R for Quincy Jones' Qwest Records, represented Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in both creating, producing, and overseeing content creation, and assisted in launching a film distribution platform at Warner Bros. Pictures. He has authored numerous books, including Black to the Movies and Other Pop Culture Musings and MilesStyle: The Fashion of Miles Davis. My first introduction to Stradford was an awe-inspiring 2021 book about model and actor Steve Holland, The World's Greatest Illustration Art Model. It was a follow-up to the author's first Steve Holland retrospective, Steve Holland: The Torn Shirt Sessions.
The newest entry in the Steve Holland Library is Stradford's Steve Holland: Paperback Hero, which is in our wheelhouse here at Paperback Warrior. My office is wallpapered in hundreds of paperback book spines, of which, over half are probably sporting a painted cover of Steve Holland performing a breathtaking action pose while holding a gun, riding a horse, embracing a beautiful woman, or just gazing back at me with that “friendly but I mean business” stare. Typically, I buy everything with his face on it. The paperback rule of thumb is if Holland is on it, it's at the very least readable. It's like a signature of approval from the publisher, writer, and the character he embodies.
Steve Holland: Paperback Hero is 212 glorious pages of colorful book covers indexed by genres like Spycraft, War, Westerns, Sci-Fi, etc. In Stradford's introduction, he explains that he has over a thousand Holland covers in his database, and a 45-page checklist averaging 42 titles per page. He estimates it to roughly 1900 titles sporting cover art that featured Holland. This doesn't include covers that couldn't directly be linked to Holland, but perhaps featured a likeness. Needless to say, Stradford is the world's foremost Holland historian.
As a fan of vintage paperback fiction, I was thrilled to read Stradford's notes on the various series titles and novels. Each section features a few series titles and a summary of quantity, run length, and a brief description of the series. For example, the first section, Spycraft, features series titles like Coxeman, Nick Carter: Kill Master, and Man from O.R.G.Y. I was thrilled to see larger than life, colorful scans of the Killsquad series, featuring paintings by the legendary Bob Larkin. The artist is also featured in many of the pages, including four large panels of Conan paperbacks.
I love author Hammond Innes, but truthfully, I was drawn to the Avon paperbacks of the late 1960s. Those covers by Frank McCarthy are simply awesome, and Stradford focuses on that run specifically, with beautiful scans of the covers and a description of McCarthy's style. Another talented author, Jack Faragasso, is spotlighted in the Sci-Fi section, with a brief history and excerpts from an interview Stradford conducted. Some of Faragasso's cover art is featured here, ranging from Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon to Lyle Kenyon Engel's Richard Blade series.
Fans of men's action-adventure titles like Fargo, Peacemaker, The Protector, Jason Striker, The Penetrator, and The Lone Wolf are in for a visual feast in the Tough Guys section. Artwork by the likes of Mel Crair, Ron Lesser, and George Wilson are featured in full-page panels. A surprise to me was Holland on a cover of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger, painted by Frank McCarthy. There is also a larger section detailing Holland's modeling for The Spider, complete with black and white stills used for the various paintings.
Once again, Michael Stradford has provided an amazing, visual buffet of many Steve Holland paperback covers. The amount of full-panel book scans, diversified by different genres, really shapes the impact and historic clout that Holland made in the 20th century publishing business. It's uncanny how often he appears, but this volume details the artists and notable series titles that made it happen. Overall, this is another mandatory addition for any paperback reader and collector. Recommended! More info at stevehollandbook.com.