Sunday, November 28, 2010

Under the Covers with ... who?

Several card-holding members of the Silent Majority have written to make sure I know that our intrepid hero, Paul Marron, is not the only good-looking young man to appear on a long series of Romance covers. Of course Fabio has been mentioned, as well as less corpulent but no less magnificent figures such as Steve Sandalis or Frank Sepe and a host of others.

Given the fact that I've been selling these things since the reign of James I, this information naturally came as no surprise to me - although I'm always grateful to know that people are reading Stevereads! Yes, Paul Marron isn't the only guy who's made a nice little side-career in prettying up the real estate of Romance covers, and while I'm naturally partial to my guy (I realize these things are tricky to quantify, but I'm prepared to assert that I've settled on the best-looking young man to show up repeatedly on paperback covers), the point serves to bring up an interesting tangent to our little adventure ongoing adventure story here. Because the Steve Sandalises and the Frank Sepes and the Fabios are of course the rarity even in today's publicity-hungry days. In the blissful 72 years of the mass market paperback's existence, thousands of handsome men (and a surprisingly number of those who were most certainly otherwise - hope springs eternal, I guess, although the gambit looks considerably more pathetic when removed from the low lighting and alcoholic haze of the bar...) have graced book covers and gone entirely uncredited.

This has been intentional, naturally: publishers want their models to be anonymous so readers can mentally substitute themselves into the fanciful scenarios of those covers. The opposite effect is achieved if you put somebody with name-recognition into those images - then readers can't help but just think of that person (Daniel Radcliffe, Jared Padalecki, or whomever), and a significant element of wish-fulfillment is aborted. Plus, anonymous comes a bit cheaper than name-brand.

And yet, an irony attends - because some of those anonymous faces catch on - readers like them and want to see more of them. They're still anonymous (most of the time - faithful readers of Romantic Times will still be in the know, but most supermarket shoppers will just think "Oh, it's that guy! I like him!"), but they're obviously somehow conducive to fantasy. Some young men just have that kind of face - and the body doesn't hurt either.

So you have the odd situation of many, many young guys becoming well-known while remaining anonymous. Stroll down the aisles of any Annie's Book Stop and you'll see handsome face after handsome face - all without even so much as a paltry cover-credit.

Our young man today is one such candidate out of thousands. He's been on many dozens of covers - fans have obviously called for him - and yet he's no household name, no Fabio, no Frank Sepe ... and certainly no Paul Marron.

He has his preferences, as we can see, his preferences and his types. He's fairer-haired than our Paul, with a longer and less pouting face and a nose only a handsome young man could carry off at all. He has soulful, accessible eyes - not the dark pits of sultry menace our Paul has. And he smiles - indeed, he looks like the type who has to be told not to smile - and not just the occasional wry "I'm going to bed you without even telling you who I am" cocky half-grin of our Paul but the open, sunny smile of the American Midwest. This young man could not pose with a whip or a broadsword, and one suspects he doesn't even own a pair of leather pants.

And he's very likely not as chiseled as our Paul (although to be fair, who is?); I've seen him on dozens of covers, but never, to the best of my recollection, topless (or anything-else-less) and seldom even in a clingy T-shirt. In fact, he's a favorite of ample clothing – the vests and ruffled-shirts of the Regency period, or else a rancher's big fleecy jacket. All we need to do is recall how utterly miserable our Paul looked when sensibly layered to guess we're dealing with a completely different personality here.

Well, perhaps not completely different – our anonymous interloper clearly shares something of Paul's sexual voracity! The somewhat ridiculous cover to Criminally Handsome is the only one I've ever seen in which he's alone, and virtually every time he has female company, he's got designs on that company. Designs, and a signature move – he's doing that not-so-subtle hand-slide in almost every setting, a wonderful gesture that's both assertive and non-threatening. It's smooth; one can't help but think our Paul would approve, even though he'd never stoop to being so polite himself.

But who is this young man? Although I'm certain there are people out there in the wilds of the Internet who know him (hell, maybe he's got a blog of his own … perhaps even, gulp, a book-blog), I certainly don't. In this instance, I'm in the exact same position as any other random reader: I see these covers, and I say “Oh, that guy! I like him!” He doesn't seem to be working in the industry anymore, but for a while there, he was almost as ubiquitous as our Paul.

Speaking of whom! When we last left our hero, he was being tied up and shackled with abandon by a voluptuous vampire queen – and learning to like it. But this seemed to trouble him, and there were hints of a backlash on the horizon. Tune in next time to learn all about it!

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