"Of all the thousands of sleazy, trashy PG-rated paperback books published in the 1960's, those with the extraordinary covers produced by Eugene Bilbrew, Eric Stanton, Bill Ward and Bill Alexander stand out and stand above. This quartet of illustrators with interlocking lives and complicated connections produced an abundance of work. All were bright, light-hearted depictions of the darker-side of sexuality. All were also in the employ of a mobster. The work produced by 'The Fun Fetish Four' was aimed at baser instincts and somewhat abhorrent taste, but for the most part were harmless if a bit strange.
In addition to the artists, a fascinating gaggle of gangsters, smutsters, peddlers and speed-driven writers are involved in this story. This site collects and reproduces a series of posts placed on Dull Tool Dim Bulb during 2009. It will be obvious I have not edited or corrected much.
The publishers of these soft-core novels were hounded by moral crusaders and ultimately put out of business. The owners didn't comply with rules and regulations to begin with (using phony addresses, avoiding tax laws and featuring questionable content) Larger publishers who used 'better' illustrators and 'real' authors garner the most attention from legitimate collectors and aficionados. More accomplished (that is, more 'painterly') illustrators have had their work better documented, detailed and appreciated. As the books here were mob-commissioned, distributed in darkness and displayed under the counter more often than in racks, they are today scarcer than more legitimate and more often seen mainstream paperbacks, even those which fall into the broad 'vintage sleaze' category. Printed in editions of around 10,000 copies (a guess) they were fugitive literature, undocumented and born outside more established channels of publication. In fact, more traditional scholars and collectors sneered at them until several folks thanked below brought them back to life.[...]
I also found the fact that two of these artists were African-American quite curious and worthy of study. Black artists in general, and historically, have been neglected by the mainstream art and publishing world. In fact, dozens of the most important artists of the 20th century are African-Americans who existed on the outside of our understanding of art. That they would find themselves producing work for an underground certainly isn't unusual...Jazz and Blues arose from somewhat dicey circumstances after all, so why shouldn't the illustrators. Additionally, the story of how these young comic book artists hooked up with the Jewish Mafia and the fellows who photographed Bettie Page is remarkable indeed." — Jim Linderman, Vintage Sleaze