30 May 2009

Harlequin's Romantic View of the Past

Harlequin's sixtieth anniversary celebrations continue this weekend with the opening of an exhibit devoted to its cover illustrations. Look not in Winnipeg, the city of its birth, or Toronto, home of parent corporation Torstar, the showing is being held at SoHo's Openhouse Gallery.

Since it was announced a few months back, I've been wondering how the publisher would handle its first twelve or so years. As noted previously, Harlequin hasn't been much interested in having attention drawn to its early history. What to do? The answer is found in the exhibition's title: The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949-2009. Little place here for Joe Barry's Fall Guy, never mind the vast majority of books from the publisher's first decade. I expect James Hadley Chase's Twelve Chinks and a Woman was particularly unwelcome.

I don't deny that there's interest to be had in viewing sixty years of romance novel cover art; witnessing the rise and fall of the nurse, the rise and fall of the mini-skirt, and the rise and shine of 'inspirational' romances targeted toward born-again Christians. That said, aside from Doctor in Bondage, I find each individual title so very lackluster. True, the artists are technically competent, but like Harlequin's writers they follow formulae. The same notes are struck repeatedly, the same themes are followed, evolution is slow, change is subtle and at times microscopic. The parade of covers is the visual equivalent of Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe Express' – except that the latter doesn't go on for six decades. And it's beautiful.

So, I join the publisher's sixtieth anniversary celebrations by presenting, in order, my three all-time favourite Harlequin covers.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    The exhibition actually begins with a section called Rough and Ready: Harelquin Before Romance. In this part, there are 35 books and orignial cover paintings that have nothing to do with romance. Instead the focus is on stories of crime and the Wild West. I hope you get a chance to see the exhibition.