Robert E. McGinnis – the king of paperback cover art

Today, people buy books on Amazon based on recommendations and reviews. But before that, people browsed in bookstores, airport kiosks, drug stores, and newsstands with precious little information to go on (unless the author was famous). That's why cover art was so important – shoppers judged books by their cover. And the best cover artist of the mid-20th century was Robert E McGinnis. A new book, The Art of Robert E McGinnis, showcases this major talent.

Cutting his teeth as a cartoonist and later a cover artist for pulp magazines like True Detective, McGinnis became the go-to guy for major paperback publishers, and soon after, movie studios. His posters for Breakfast at Tiffany's, James Bond, The Odd Couple, and Woody Allen's Sleeper are classics of the genre.

Here's what Len Leone, former art director at Bantam Books, had to say about McGinnis: "When I commissioned him to illustrate a particular title I knew I would receive something superior to what was being done. First of all, the guy could 'draw up a storm.' Second, McGinnis had, and has, a superior, almost sixth sense about color. I would marvel at this aspect of his art. He had a unique way of using color by not using much color. Yet strangely, his illustrations always appeared colorful – sensitively, selectively colorful."

And Don Smolen, former art director for publicity at the United Artists film studio said: "Perhaps the finest illustrator of women that ever was, was Bob McGinnis, or is Bob McGinnis to this day. If you wanted paintings of beautiful women, in my opinion as an art director, there was no one better than Bob McGinnis. That's how we came to Bob, it was simple. I didn't know anybody else that could do what he could do."

McGinnis, who was born in 1926, still paints today. From the introduction to this book of his work:

The most surprising thing to me is the grip painting gets on a person. I find that painting becomes more exciting as you go on; the deeper you get into it the more consuming the absorption. I used to do many different things – I loved trout fishing and camping and sports – but now all I want to do is paint. I can't really say why, but it's been true down through history that artists never just walk away; they paint until the day they die. They strap brushes to their arms, they're propped up, but they're painting.

See a gallery of McGinnis's work at Wink.