10 February 2014

In Appreciation of Syd Dyke, Illustrator

Writing here last week, I described Syd Dyke as unappreciated. I stand by that word. Apart from a few pieces posted a couple of years back at Fly-by-night, I've found seen no recognition of the man; and yet he was responsible for so many of the most interesting and attractive Canadian post-war paperback covers. Dyke illustrations are usually easy to spot: look for a peculiar angle and a ridiculous amount of entirely superfluous detail.

Just think how much time went into the staircase gracing He Learned About Women… (Toronto: News Stand Library, 1950). And is that check-in sign really necessary?

Lobby Girl
Gerald Foster
Toronto: News Stand Library
Another book, another lobby, another lobby girl. Unglue your eyes from those gams, head north and a bit west so as to dodge the blonde's bosom and you'll see: a potted plant, a bellhop carrying a hatbox and… what exactly? A crystal ball? And what's up with that that guy's dainty looking ring?

To say Dyke was the finest of the New Stand Library artists is probably not much of a compliment; with Paperjacks and New Canadian Library, NSL is responsible for many of the ugliest, most ineptly produced books to have ever come out of this country.

I much prefer his style to that of prolific NSL regular D. Rikard. The differences between the two illustrators is best seen in their approaches toward Al Palmer's Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street. Rickard's 1949 cover has Sugar-Puss walking beneath a brightly lit marquee, bringing too much light to what is a dark, if somewhat silly story. Dyke's 1950 cover, produced for the American market, better captures the novel's atmosphere, though it does make our two lovebirds, Jimmy and Gisele, look like pimp and prostitute.

Credit goes to both illustrators for capturing Giselle's breasts, "large and firm; a legacy of her Norman ancestry."

Bricks and mortar aside, Dyke shows some restraint in terms of detail with Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street. To be fair, the illustrator would on occasion go for something relatively simple.

Dyke's cover for In Passion's Fiery Pit (1950) by the Joy Brown (later Carroll) is a favourite. Don't blame the illustrator for the cut-off title, it's typical of News Stand Library.

What follows are four more of my favourite Syd Dyke NSL covers.

Never See the Sun
Hall Bennett
Carnival of Love
Anthony Scott
Strange Desires
Alan Malston
Too Many Women
Gerry Martin
He Learned About Women… Too Many Women.

After – perhaps before – News Stand Library literally went up in flames, Syd Dyke began working for Harlequin. There he showed a bit more restraint, but then the titles themselves were less quirky. He provided covers for books by Agatha Christie, W. Somerset Maugham and son of Napanee H. Bedford-Jones, but his specialty was westerns. Of all his Harlequins, my favourite is Hospital Nurse (1954), which fairly anticipates the path the publisher would pursue a decade later.

Hospital Nurse
Lucy Agnes Hancock
Gotta love those floor tiles.

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  1. Oh, I love these trashy, splashy covers -- which you probably guessed, if you've seen Thrilling Detective's latest "cover." I recognized many of the covers, but had never made the connection. Great job, Brian.

    1. Many thanks for the kind words, Kevin. As you might imagine there are more, many more, but I think these are the best. Incidentally, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Gerry Martin was a Canadian. But who? Sure sounds like a pseudonym, doesn't it.

  2. I always enjoy learning about the artists behind the covers. Thanks for the piece.

  3. Great post, visually and prose-wise. I think the crystal ball in the background of The Lobby Girl might be a gumball machine sitting on a counter.

  4. What about Hall Bennett - I can't find any info. A Canadian? Something about the restraint of that cover catches me.

    1. I think there's a good chance Hall Bennett was Canadian. I haven't found a sign that he or his book were published outside Canada. The fantasy, of course, is that the mysterious Mr Bennett was really a young Mordecai Richler.